Meres was born in the Bronx but grew up in Flushing. Raised Puerto Rican and Jewish, he says he’s not religious at all. “I believe everyone’s temple is within themselves. You have a right to do good, and that’s it. I don’t really believe in an afterlife or all that.”
We are an inside-out museum. We are the walls. Our canvases are 10 times bigger. You stand in front of a mural and its triple the size of the biggest canvas at the MoMA.
His mother, a former retail employee, now works for an exterminating company. His father used to be a printer. Their feelings about Meres’s relationship to graffiti have evolved over the years. Meres said, “It has grown as I’ve come to be able to make money out of it. You know, they’re old-school minds. They understand now why I love it the way I do. They just want the best for me, you know? The fact that I am able to make money off of it, it makes them relieved.”
Any profit that Meres makes through graffiti isn’t from 5 Pointz. His work there is a “labor of love”. The payoff comes from instances such as when a mother wrote to him expressing that her child’s visit to 5 Pointz was the best moment of his life – “Things like that are what help me continue staying here and not get paid and still be able to run it. Those are the things that help.” Meres makes a living by freelancing as an artist. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, ABC, and Def Jam Records commission his work. He does ads, video shoots, canvases, houses, and galleries.
Meres started dabbling in graffiti in ’87 or ’88 when he was just tagging. “The negative aspect of it was what lured me. I started doing it because I was into the adrenaline rush of doing it illegally,” Meres said. From there, it was a matter of getting better and transitioning from tagging and throw-ups to piecing and productions. In Meres’s words, “There have been different chapters of graffiti in my life.” But, he has always loved every element of it.
Like many other “graff” writers, Meres went to college. He was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology and majored in illustration. Somewhere down the line, however, he decided to halt his pursuit of a degree.
Did you just not like it?
“No, it’s just somewhere along the line I was doing this place and taking illustration. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do so I was like, ‘You know what?’ I love this place. I love the graffiti art. I think I want to put all my energy into here,” Meres said.
Before 5 Pointz’s inception, the building was known as the Phun Phactory. Opened in 1993, the Phun Factory was a similarly based organization where graffiti writers were able to practice their craft without worrying about fines or some mandatory vacation time at the Rikers Island Inn. It was the place where Meres started doing productions and eventually became attached to the place. As Meres was explaining this, a group of young adults walked onto the loading dock while listening to an older gentleman explain the history of 5 Pointz. Meres hushed midsentence, listening to the man.
“I love listening in on tours and to all the incorrect facts they give, “Meres said. “I was here the other day and he was saying ‘Oh yeah, they scaffold the whole building’, which isn’t true. So I started talking to them and he was like ‘Oh, what’s your name?’ I was like ‘Meres’. And, he goes, ‘Oh wait, you wrote it. Would you like to give a few words?’ I don’t like to do it because they give these tours and charge these people. I don’t want to give them information. If you don’t know it, it’s bad enough you’re making money off of us.”
After the closing of Phun Phactory in 2001, the warehouse was abandoned by everyone except vandals. After typing up a two-to-three page proposal for Jerry Wolkoff, the property owner, Meres began running the place. “The easiest part was that,” Meres said. “The hardest part was being able to run it – being able to deal with all the bologna I have to deal with out here. You have to watch the walls, you have to watch the roofs, you have to make sure there are no fights. You’ve got to give tours. It’s a little bit of everything. I also have to deal with the scribblers and taggers and make sure they kind of respect what we are doing.”