Interview: Meres

At the legendary 5Pointz, New York's Meres tells James Buxton about the changing face of graffiti and bringing hip-hop's five elements back to the community

Words Photography by Lee Bofkin
Photos from around 5Pointz by Lee Bofkin.

I meet Meres in his tinted out Jeep across the street from 5Pointz, a huge building in Long Island City which has become a landmark for graffiti in New York. The block is a living gallery for different styles of street art, from Wild Style to Wheat Paste and everything in between, 5Ptz is covered from head to toe in paint. A throwback to the golden age, it is an enduring testament to the city that brought graffiti to the global stage. Manhattan may have cleaned up its act but Meres is on a one man mission to make sure graffiti and Hip-Hop culture can still flourish in the form of 5Ptz.

I started seeing graffiti in Queens and got into running around catching tags in ‘87. I didn’t believe in the concept of All City, because to me if I didn’t hang out somewhere why would I write there. It was in ‘94 when I decided to switch over to piecing because I was catching a lot of beef; it was almost to the point where I had beef with people who didn’t know who the hell I was. I was pretty wack when I started, so I took the letters I did best, M E and R and then I added S at the end. There wasn’t any meaning to it, more what I was better at.

In terms of art school, I think being an artist does help in terms of getting into graffiti art. I don’t think it’s a 100% necessary.  I know some artists who can’t really draw that well but become pretty good at lettering. I did go to college for Illustration and in college I learnt how to utilise different mediums to create art. I also met a lot of artists and you get a chance to cross network with artists and learn different techniques.

Man on a Mission

I was in college from 1991 to 2000, on and off. I was a messenger a lot of those years which is good for graffiti, foot courier, sometimes bike, I’d tag up in the subways, scratchies, all of that stuff. Every messenger centre was tagged up. It’s funny how many writers are messengers. It would enable me to do my thing here and there. I learned a lot, not only from school but from other people. The art techniques help on canvases. Ultimately, it’s all hand eye coordination when it comes to a wall, all the art training in the world doesn’t prepare you for that.

Before I got involved, 5ptz was previously an organization that had graffiti for about 10 years, Fun Factory. In the eight months that they closed, everything got tagged, thrown up, bubble letters all over everything. I think there were two or three pieces when I got here. I think Fun Factory started in ’93, ‘94, they died in 2001. Since I’ve been here, this whole block got done and the front. Everything high wasn’t there either. That came to be the first time I saw the cherry lift, I was like wow, this building needs some colour, and a couple of years later, boom, the whole building was done.

When I got here I had to clean up, roll out the walls. It was lawless. I had to build it up slowly. Not only get the artists to come and paint, I had to get the bombers to leave us alone and just get people knowing that it existed again. It was a lot of work, but it’s grown to be something even more.

The thing I like is you see graffiti as the obvious thing here, but there’s a lot more than just graffiti, there’s every element present. So we have beatboxing, DJing, breakdancing, MCing. All throughout the summer we have free events, so all these things are present. It’s grown to be like a hip-hop centre, not just graffiti itself.

In the factory before were art studios and manufacturing companies. After the staircase collapsed the Buildings Department condemned the building. Now it’s almost primarily empty.

5Ptz is my company. I approached the landlord with a proposal to start up a similar based programme to Fun Factory but upgrade the art. Being that I’m an artist as opposed to the last guy who wasn’t, I have an understanding of what’s good. There’s a lot you can judge a piece on, in terms of composition, colour, getting a message across. I try to allow all different styles, so there’s a little bit of street art, graffiti art, graphic design graffiti, more old skool, edgy graffiti, stencils and wheatpaste.

We started in 2002 and it was our 10 year anniversary this summer. We did events every two weeks, we combined efforts with organizations like Dynamic Rockers, we had Artist Process here, (an art collaborative), we had Beat Boxer events, Def Jam poetry was here. We did events all summer. There are not many places in New York you can go for free and be able to do something and have a good time.

The Sound of the Police

I really try and keep the surrounding neighbourhood clean. I believe you don’t shit where you eat. So we roll walls if they get written on and there are no fights, it’s a very peaceful environment, in 10 years there’s been very minimum noise, so because of that the police have no problem with us. I think there’s probably more fights in PS1 Contemporary Art museum (across the street) than there is here, when they do the warm up parties in the summer. We don’t serve drinks, we’re a drug-free zone, even though they may not like graffiti, they don’t have a problem with us and they tend to leave us alone.

From Wild Style to Wheat Paste

It’s interesting seeing how graffiti now is kinda trendy and how it changes. I like doing Wild Style. I notice that it’s in style to be very simple, hard line and graphic design, kinda clean, and that’s what’s in. In the 90s Cut Out style was in, when you had no outline and it was all in shading and light. And then Jaggedy style and New York was at the forefront. Now it’s kinda shifted a lot to the West Coast and it’s interesting to see how it changes. I try to keep up in evolution and keep evolving my style as much as possible. In the last two years, I’ve been trying to do 3D illusion, so they’re in the wall.  It’s hard working in 3D because everything is skewed so it’s all eye tricks, but I definitely enjoy it.

The power shifts are gonna happen in graffiti, New York maybe one year, West coast one year, London, I know London’s  stepping up the game dramatically in the last few years, as well as Australia. Just being here in the last 10 years I notice a flux in Australian graffiti and UK stuff, so it’s pretty interesting.

Graffiti vs Street Art

Street art has got instant recognition, I think it’s partially because when it comes to street art, people can understand, there’s a message or whatever. A lot of graffiti artist lettering, it’s kinda self-promotion. People can’t necessarily read what they see and when people can’t understand something they tend to not like it. Some artists will be like, “Graffiti died when the train era died, graffiti’s wack now.” That’s not really true, because you take the same risk factor, if not a little more, to go out and do stuff on streets. There are cameras now, cell phones, now little kids have cell phones, now everyone can call and be a hero.

I think at some point, street art, the buzz I don’t think it’s gonna fade out but it might lessen a little. I think lettering hasn’t got it’s recognition yet fully and at some point will have the buzz of street art, which could be a bad thing, because everyone will jump on the lettering bandwagon and then there will be a bunch of hollow graffiti artist out there that don’t have any understanding of the history of it, that are just doing it for the fact that it’s in style.

In terms of artists I respect, Dondi for the fact that he did such clean, whole, car trains, he had various styles. I love Skeme in terms of style. The Seventh Letter crew on the West coast, they’re doing it up fresh. The Dare Rest In Peace is one of my favourite, there’s tons. I learn from everyone.

I approach it as a passion, if it was a business I’d be getting a full time salary by now. In all reality the whole idea of creating a museum and a youth centre has developed over time because there has to be something, you know, just having pieces on walls it’s not going to be enough.

I’ve been to London, Germany, Holland, Montreal, soon to be Geneva. In the US I’ve been to  LA, San Francisco, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Seattle. I like the scene in Europe, it seems they recognize the underground old skool. I don’t really like mainstream hip-hop. I think somewhere along the line we’ve lost our art form and it’s like corporations control what sells and who gets the deals and stuff. There were so many different variations in style and now it seem like everything just mimics each other and if you don’t follow what the formulae for success is you don’t get a record deal. Nine out of ten times when you do what you want to do, people will like it more.

Right now our official plan is to get a full calendar ready for next season to do some good stuff, keep incorporating all the elements and spreading knowledge to people that are curious minds, that come and don’t know about the art form.  I want the site to be one of the top sites for graffiti art.

For more info:
Website
Facebook 
Twitter