The Bronx’s Graffiti Legends TATS CRU
By Tiffanee E. Thompson
This Thursday, June 22, BXNYCreative will host an artist talk as part of The Art of TATS CRU exhibition currently showing at BronxArtSpace in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, NY. The event will be moderated by Street Art NYC’s Lois Stavsky, a retired high school writing teacher turned graffiti expert who was introduced to the TATS CRU by students who gravitated toward their artistry. Lois, like many others, knew early on that TAT CRU’s influence on the youth and the Bronx was rare and should be celebrated.
The front entrance of Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education on Simpson Street in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx is the most recent wall transformed by TATS CRU – Wilfredo Feliciano (Bio), Sotero Ortiz (BG183), and Hector Nazario (Nicer). I sat down with the “cru” to talk about their journey through the graffiti art form, representing the Bronx, the business of graffiti, and how it feels to be honored by the Bronx in The Art of TATS CRU.
l-r “Las Tres Hermanas”, “La Borinqueña” mural in the Bronx at Casita Maria, 928 Simpson Street Photos @tatscru
“We met at James Monroe High School here in the Bronx, and what we all had in common was that we were in a major art class together, and we found out that we all loved graffiti. Brim (Fuentes) started the ‘cru,’ he originally started a group called T.A.T with Mack Base and Bio. When I met Bio in high school I also started writing “T.A.T.” We started out as beginners and we just kept doing it until we established ourselves as graffiti artists,” explains BG183.
In the 70s and 80s when graffiti writing, tagging and bombin’ started to shape the backdrop of New York City–as seen on train cars, bodegas and apartment buildings–emerging graffiti artists like the TATS CRU were not seen as “artists,” but as “vandals.”
l-r BG813, CEM 2 & BIO in the ghost yard, 1984, NICER in London, 1985
“The MTA started fighting back, putting video cameras all around and starting a special police force in an attempt to catch graffiti artists,” BG183 tells me. “But as we got older, we started to care more about paying our rent, taking care of our families and trying to find ways to still be artists. On the weekends, we would still meet up and write, and people started to notice that other writers didn’t touch or tag over our work. A lot of artists loved the work we were doing and they started to respect and recognize our work. But at that time the community still didn’t want us to write and would sometimes call the police.”
The 90s brought great progress to the lives and business of the TATS CRU. In 1994, they acquired their first contract with Coca-Cola and their careers took off. This collaboration allowed them to make a name for themselves, advertise and make money for a major company, and have the funds to pay the landlords and property owners of the spaces they were working on. The way the work of the TATS CRU was received gradually shifted from a negative to a positive act for the community.
“Tats Cru x Coca Cola” Photo Courtesy of TATS CRU
The TATS CRU became known as “The Mural Kings” because of the large number of requests that came in for more street art and murals of neighborhood legends who passed away: from famous people like the rapper Big Pun, to regular folks, with memorial walls requested by family and friends to honor loved ones.
l-r “Big Pun Memorial Wall”, South Bronx, NY, Carmelo pointing out the wall he commissioned for his beloved cousin David Medina during the opening reception for The Art of TATS CRU at BronxArtSpace
BG183 recalls, “We opened up our business back in ’95 at The Point CDC, and we have been around for 22 years now. The Point has been a major help for us because they deal with people from the community, and that helped to increase our strong presence here.” Founded in 1993, The Point CDC is an oasis of art and culture in an often overlooked area of the Bronx. With the motto “Where Community and Creativity Connect,” it’s no wonder TATS CRU has been able to flourish within their walls.
TATS CRU office at The Point, Hunts Point, Bronx
“We have dedicated our lives to working and painting, and one of the things we pride ourselves on is being community artists,” expresses Nicer. “We have never been the type of artists to think that we are above anyone else; we are very approachable and very willing to pass on our knowledge to others, especially young artists.”
Today, it is undeniable that the members of TATS CRU–individually and as a group–are internationally known, with exhibitions and murals displayed in such faraway places as China and Morocco. Nicer tells us, “I recall traveling outside of the U.S. and seeing very little graffiti and then coming back to a place a year or 2 later and seeing it everywhere…we like to think we had something to do with that.”
l-r, TATS CRU Murals – Shen Zhen, China Photo Miguel Teck Arteaga, “Jardin Rouge” (left side) in Marrakesh
Upon viewing the exhibition in their honor, Nicer felt overwhelmed by the love and support– “I see it all as a blessing. To be able to do something you love, make a living from it, and have it accepted in your own neighborhood is truly what it’s all about.” The opening reception for the exhibition held earlier this month saw over 450 people come out to celebrate with the CRU.
l-r, BG183, NICER, BIO, TATS CRU opening reception at BronxArtSpace, Bronx, NY Photo @biotatscru
Thursday’s event will also include the New York City premiere screening of short documentary The Jardin Orange Project, a 20 minute piece produced by Miguel Teck Arteaga of TCKpro, Inc. that highlights some of the world’s most famous graffiti artists, including the Bronx’s very own, TATS CRU.
The Art of TATS CRU exhibition is on display through July 15th at BronxArtSpace, 305 E140th St in the Bronx, New York. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tiffanee Thompson is a freelance writer focused on contemporary art, travel and culture. She is a Bronx Native who loves to travel, attend museums and galleries and collect street art and art from emerging artists in hopes of opening up her own gallery and becoming a curator in the future. Tiffanee is the co-founder and editor of TheCultureBazaar.com and the creator of WrittenbyTiffanee.com