PART TWO: MAKING A NAME
Leonard Hilton McGurr grew up on 103rd and Broadway in Manhattan during the boom years of train bombing. As a youngster in the 1960s his eyes were drawn to the bustling graffiti scene, searching for his own vision in 1970 as a 15 year old. Looking up to SNAKE, CAT 87, STITCH I on a local level as well as all-city legends PHASE 2, FLINT, and STAY HIGH 149, he mostly ran with ALI as one of the Soul Artists focusing on the 1 and 3 trains.
The former Futura2000 began as a “toy,” more fan than hero and far from even scratching the surface of local legend status. But the numerical portion of his artistic alias spoke to a grand view and a particular ambition that was absent from others painting around him. “My name is a direct response to 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY from Kubrick,” he explains. With many writers employing street numbers in their names, he "was looking for something unique; something about Futura2000 sounded good at the time.”
I was always influenced by graphic design and I wondered if spray painting could be action painting.
After an accident in a train tunnel—a friend of his stepped on the third rail and was badly burned—Futura spent the years 1974 to 1978 traveling the world in the Merchant Marines before returning to New York to focus on his work with new passion. Rather than playing with his own take on wild-style lettering, Futura began to carve a separate path. “I started painting in late ’79,” McGurr recalls, “I was always influenced by graphic design and I wondered if spray painting could be action painting." Though it was far from Jackson Pollock, his distinctive style—abstract, atomic forms written over lush sprays of dense color—diverged from the popular character-writing style of his graf peers and soon found favor in another world, the bustling downtown New York art scene.
Back when hip-hop was rubbing shoulders with punk, Futura headed a few miles south of his home turf with his friend Fab 5 Freddy and began kicking it with the likes of Patti Astor, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. "I met Fab after he did his famous Warhol-esque soup cans subway car," recalls Futura, "He was working with Lee Quinones at the time and was the obvious connection to the downtown scene."