Five members of TATS CRU, the first and only graffiti art crew to gain props in their community, New York's beleaguered Bronx, and also profit from corporate America, jointly delivered a talk on "The Journey From Subways to Urban Media Marketing," in the Stata Center's Kirsch Auditorium, on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Bio, Nicer, BG183, HoW and NoSM -- the young men used only their "tags" -- represented the 10-member CRU. As they spoke, they displayed images from 25 years of urban artwork, ranging from rollicking subway car writing to dramatic memorials to outdoor ads for Coca Cola and Chivas Regal.
"We're the link from the corporate world to the street. But if you'd told us 20 years ago that we'd be using a computer to print our work, or we'd be a company that employs six artists, whew," said Nicer, one of CRU's three founding members, along with Bio and BG183.
TATS CRU arose "back in the day," meaning 1980, when Ronald Reagan was president and rap music meant Grandmaster "it's a jungle out there" Flash, they said.
"Subway cars were the world's largest comic book. When I saw those 'rolling canvases,' I thought, 'That's what I want to do!' Back then it was a misdemeanor in New York -- now it's a felony -- but it was so powerful, so compelling, to see those cars go from Brooklyn to Manhattan to the Bronx. Millions of eyes could see your work in a day! Graffiti is about fame. It's about sharing your art with the rest of the world," said Bio.
For BG183, the most stressful time in his CRU career was when he was painting memorial walls. These giant visual obituaries, often commissioned by grieving family members, were "tricky," he said. "We'd be painting the walls, and the mother or friends would be crying, throwing themselves on the ground. It affected us."
TATS CRU -- the TAT used to stand for "Train Art Theater," now it's "Top Artistic Talent" -- stopped painting subway cars in 1987. CRU members still live in the Bronx and mentor younger artists in their community, said Nicer.
"Those kids in that gray neighborhood -- we used to be them. Writing is their way of sticking their arms out of the crowd and saying, 'I exist!'" he said.
The CRU's talk on its hip-hop trip to the top was part of the 44th annual Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence Program. The aerosol artists also led student workshops in mural making, with the collective goal of producing works inspired by Hurricane Katrina.
For information and a sampling, visit www.tatscru.com.