Christian Cortes is a contributing artist to 5 Pointz who has known Meres since the early 90’s. His former tag name was WAQS, a play on the word “wax” because of his “shape-shifting” abilities. Christian said, “You could take wax and make a record, candle, or sculpture. I realized that’s the way I am. I could work in the commercial field, with fine arts, specific graphic work, or something abstract.” Christian believes one of Meres’s most defining characteristics is his sense of humor. “He doesn’t take himself seriously at all. He never has. That’s why he makes those Joker characters,” Christian said.
It is draining. It is exhausting. But, it’s such a part of him and he is willing to fight for it on a daily basis. It's in his blood.
Although there were no Joker pieces up during my visits to 5 Pointz, I saw photographs. Meres’s current pride and joy is a production of Fire Marshall Bill in all his maniacal glory. Fire Marshall Bill is a humorous character from In Living Color whose safety advisories are against imaginative scenarios such as outbreaks of mentally ill elves. The production is especially interesting because it is interactive. He happily unveiled it for my viewing. The crowds of tourists gathered around, hoping to take pictures in what looked like a real-life volcanic scene. Meres urged some of the shy girls to pose in better-fitting fashion (“Pretend you are going to push her in the lava! Act scared!”) He gently positioned a toddler in the exact place where the three-dimensional effect of the piece would be most potent. The only thing Meres loves more than his art is the appreciation for it.
I noticed in my conversations with Meres and other contributing artists that they refer to themselves as writers, more so than graffiti artists. “Graffiti is a negative term. It was a term that was given to writers that means scrawling. Graffiti artists called themselves writers because they wrote, they wrote their name. It wasn’t until the media created a negative term to label us…” Meres said. The correct term is aerosol art, although Meres’s laissez-faire character doesn’t incline him to prefer either term to the other.
So, what’s your writing process?
Meres pulled out a box of chocolate-creamed Oreos from his center console. Between the muffles of his chewing, he said, “A lot of the times, when I paint, my mood will be reflected in the piece I create. Sometimes I’ll be in a bad mood and I paint, and it makes me feel better.”
I’m almost surprised that Meres is able to maintain an intimate relationship with his craft despite the constant demands of 5 Pointz. Christian Cortes, the man to credit the more demonic 5 Pointz pieces with, has a mental image of Meres “running around, making sure everyone is doing alright and trying to paint with one hand while holding a phone in the other.” It’s rare that Meres’s phone isn’t demanding his attention. In the midst of our time together, between the requests of visitors and artists, Meres’s phone rang nonstop – one time from a documentarian who missed a scheduled meeting (“Yo, what happened man? You got kidnapped by aliens?!)
Marie, the volunteer who moved to New York because of her affinity with its ugliness and “urban magic”, believes that 5 Pointz is Meres’s greatest joy. “That’s why he’s able to do it and is able not get discouraged. It’s because the reward is so much bigger than the task for him. It is draining. It is exhausting. But, it’s such a part of him and he is willing to fight for it on a daily basis, “ she said. “That is quintessential to him. It’s in his blood.”
New York City Councilman, Peter F. Vallone Jr., has been coined ‘Graffiti Public Enemy No. 1’. He passed legislation that makes selling graffiti supplies to minors illegal. “I’ve always been ambivalent about graffiti, at best. If it’s legal, in that case it’s art. On the other hand, it rewards vandals who have made their name ruining other people’s property,” he said. “I’ve seen some pieces that I would consider art. I’ve seen some that are still just disgusting tags. Art is in the eye of the beholder.”
So, what makes graffiti art?
“Let’s just say, you know it when you see it,” he replied.