Q. You have been writing graffiti on freight trains since 1971. When did you notice aerosol art on freights, and what where your first impressions?
The real onslaught of aerosol started in the Nineties. At first I wouldn't draw on a car already sprayed... Snob, I suppose, but I didn't want my work to be associated with the spray assault. Gradually it became apparent if I was going to continue my own marring of the cars, which was no less individually assertive than the bold irreverent spray, then it would be necessary to try to find a clear spot, even if it was on the ladders, or under the ladders.
Q. Also why didn't you want your work associated with aerosol art?
Coming from a long tradition of chalk and paint stick graffiti, practiced mostly by railroad employees, although motivated perhaps by a sense of alienation and animosity toward the railroad, nevertheless they knew for their graffiti to be tolerated they had to keep it on a symbiotic relationship, and not be disruptive or malicious, as apparently the spray paint practitioners had no qualms bridling their expressions as they were covering the car numbers and air date records, as well as the work of longtime graffiti artists.
As another isolated individual in a vast system of cold practicality, I felt a certain kinship with self-expressive outrage release toward social inequalities, but at the same time had a vague sense of fear I could be easily pin-pointed and punished. This paranoia plus the awareness of the railroads' hostilities toward graffiti, since it hastened their enormous expense of applying AEI transmitters on every car, and the installation of AEI (Automatic Electronic Inventory) readers in every yard, account spray paint had gummed up their system of video cameras to compare the actual consist of the inbound trains against the supposed consist in the computer, gave me pause to reflect on my own graffiti. Given it wasn't meant to be provocative proselytizing for revolution, but merely boxcar icon sloganeering as equilibrium device for my own sanity.
Change the world, you'll only make matters worse, as John Cage said. And certainly for the worse in my case should I be busted. A Zen Existentialist seeking harmony and peace, and not discord. Extreme Narcissist Deflecting Blame. I utilized spray to a degree in my graffiti by cutting stencils into 8½" by 11" collages, then spray painting through them with white paint on dark cars until the stencil became too laden with paint, then flat black the stencil for reduction to stampsize on the photocopier to be composed into stamp sheets as documentation of the dispatch. Had a delusion I could sell some as an edition, but ended up sending them out as exchange with other mailartists and stamp makers. Slay Spray was only one such stencil I applied to spray that had covered my own icon, as retaliation for this disrespect. I have since abandoned this practice. Most of the stencils were done in the late Eighties.
Q. Do you think that aerosol graffiti and the type of graffiti you do could coexist in the long run?
Of course... It must. To keep it free, even if it must be done surreptitiously, the boxcar has evolved into an open public forum. Aesthetically it might be offense and ugliness, but we must remember which side of the Berlin wall carried the graffiti. Until we become a police state, and Big Brother has us all under surveillance, there will be graffiti. Given it is highly unlikely we'll ever achieve the utopia of social contentment. Once stole a quote from someone, to use as a caption to my drawing; "In a happy world, no one would need philosophers". Later I witnessed one that someone had amended with; "Nor fucking train doodlers!"
Q. Who are some rail artists that influence you (aerosol and paint stick etc.)?
The Colossus of Roads icon design is a variation on the original Bozo Texino drawing. Herby's omnipotent presence in the vast network was an early inspiration.
Q. What do you mean by calling yourself a "Zen existentialist"?
Guess I'm saying,as I've said in a boxcar icon caption,"Practice Non-certainty".In a patently absurd world trust your intuitive guidance for individual responsibility,yet ponder the equation of "Well,Which is it?",if you have time. Zen quote,"A frog rises up with the same force with which he leaps in".
Q. What do you think of death and does it motivate your art?
"O Death!" Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends. O Death, won't you spare me over for another year!" Decidedly my icon titles frequently refer to Death and Sorrow. As my inevitable demise becomes closer and closer, still I harp on the platitude of mortality. Vita Brevis. Papercide Park. The tenuousness of life as thin as a sheet of dissolvable paper.
Q. After 30 years what keeps you going?
It is hard not to despair when you see so many of your icons covered with spray, but the realization of the impermanence of the drawings has always been a constant, now spray is added to the wind, the rain, the Sun, which obliterates the lines of admitted resignation.
Q. So the desire to counteract impermanence is what keeps you going?
Ultimately transitory nature can not be counteracted. To maintain a presence in the rail net one must assume the drawings made today are replacing the ones evaporating into the ether of yesterdays before. Breakman of Monotony. A Zen Koan says if something is boring for 5 minutes give it ten, if it is boring after ten give it an hour. A day. A year.
Q. Aprox. how many trains have you painted?
That would be hard to estimate. Been at it nigh on to thirty years. Some days only a few drawings, some days over a hundred. And long stretches of none at all, those periods when I questioned the harm to my psyche of this obsession. Invariably I returned to this "Equilibrium Device", unable to figure a more productive outlet for my expression.
Q. Have you every been caught for writing graffiti?
Actually was caught once by a Special Agent (Railroad Police), who had staked out a cut of auto racks. I was tagging the auto racks when I noticed him at the north end of the cut. Thinking it was a hobo I crossed over to other side and began tagging back toward my truck. Almost in a sprint, he caught up with me as I was opening the pickup door, identified himself as being a Railroad Bull, and questioned what I was doing. I told him I was an employee and walked him over to the first car of the auto racks and pointed to the first icon I had applied. He recognized it as being a familiar character, and said there had been some theft of tires and batteries from the autos since they had started the block swapping in that area. Assured I was only a thief of space and idea, he let me go, and said my presence could scare off potential thieves and welcomed my continued practice. This was quite some time ago before the auto carriers were enclosed and the aerosol assault had started.
Q. You seem to be quite well read... What are some important books to you?
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac; Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre; Slaughter House Five, by Kurt Vonnegut,Jr.; Politics of Experience, by R.D.Laing; Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut,Jr.; Duchamp, by Calvin Tomkins; Zap Comics, by Robert Crumb; Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut,Jr.; The Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac; The Stranger, by Albert Camus; Maggie Cassidy, by Jack Kerouac; Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck; The Americans, by Robert Frank; Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor; Paterson, by William Carlos Williams; Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain; Being and Nothingness, by Jean-Paul Sartre; Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs; Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller; Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck.
Q. Do you ever write with partners?
I have tagged with other people, where it was mostly every man for himself, and I've had people go along as witnesses, but never collaborative drawings with another graffiti artist.
Q. Do you plan on retiring?
Yes I hope to retire from the railroad in two years, but if you mean quit the drawing activity, I doubt if I will as long as I'm able since it has turned out to be my major opus.
Q. Do you have anything to say to the aerosol kids (advice, complaints, etc)?
Yes, be free and careful.
Q. Any last words?