October 15, 2006
Spray can saints
By Danica Lo
October 15, 2006 -- 'My mom still thinks I'm the biggest loser and the worst- dressed person ever," says legendary graffiti artist Claw, who has an eponymous clothing line and works as the fashion director of Swindle magazine. "But if I ever marry a doctor? Then I'll be a success."
Born and raised in Queens, Claw's signature "claw" throw-up (graffiti that falls, in scale, between a small "tag" and a giant "piece") was one of the most dominant visual street images of the mid-'90s.
"There was something in my life that I felt like I was missing," she says. "I didn't feel like I was here. Graffiti made me feel like I could do anything.
"You're walking, there's no one around - it's just this private little world," she adds. "It's a wild feeling of really being connected to your surroundings - you can just take a little piece, and it's yours."
These days, her trademark claw adorns T-shirts, bomber jackets, jewelry, hats and handbags sold at some of the most exclusive boutiques in the world - like shrine-to-cool Colette in Paris.
What about her work on the street?
"Do I really need to bomb the streets if people are wearing a claw on their chest?" she asks. "I don't know."
Since Claw has stopped bombing (writing illegal graffiti), she's reluctant to divulge many details about her prior pursuits. But with this week's pending DVD release of documentary "Infamy," which features her as one of six of America's most prolific graffiti writers, she may not be able to put her shadowy past that far behind her.
"I was really honored to be part of the film," Claw says. "It was time for me to tell my story - and I wanted to step up for the girls."
The documentary, directed by Doug Pray, who's previously made films about the Seattle grunge scene and hip-hop DJ culture, offers a voyeuristic peek into the worlds of six graffiti writers: Claw, Saber, Toomer, Jase, Earsnot and Enem - street legends from New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
The film follows its subjects as they scale walls, climb fences, and spray-paint walls, bridges, doorways and trains. The writers are well aware that their art is considered by many to be a blight and an eyesore, but they are mostly unapologetic.
"Graffiti belongs illegally," says L.A.-based Toomer, "TKO [his crew] is not a gang and it's not a Boy Scout troop - it's a bunch of vandals hanging out together."
"I don't want anybody telling me what to do," says New York's Earsnot, who's filmed openly tagging all over the East Village. "You want to take that chance of getting caught. And I'm going to do it again and again and again. You can make laws, but that doesn't mean that anyone's going to follow them."
Graffiti is ultimately a form of self-expression that's akin to marking territory - a public, in-your-face subversive, illegal assertion of street cred and the desire to leave a lasting mark somewhere, anywhere.
Toomer compares it to the monument at Mount Rushmore, where sculptor Gutzon Borglum dynamited a mountain sacred to the Lakota Sioux - they called it Six Grandfathers - in order to promote tourism to South Dakota.
"Why did people carve the rocks? Did they get a big kick out of doing big faces or did they want to leave a mark?" Toomer asks. "Who gave them permission to mark that s-- t up?"
Well, in this case, it was President Calvin Coolidge and a decree from Congress. But we get his point, anyway.