Sunday, 9 May 2010

Crack and Shine - book review

Photos from Crack and Shine, used with kind permission. Care about the copyright? Buy the book and check the copyright stated there.

Graffoto rarely reviews books, usually because we just drool over the pictures and don’t understand the words. One book that has “4Real” written right through it is Crack and Shine and having completed the secret ritual necessary to buy a copy, we were so impressed we felt compelled to shout out “buy this one”.

The book determinedly asserts its’ mission is to be a real graffiti book on real London Graffiti and targets an audience interested in graphic design, illustration, art history and contemporary British culture. The curious and the disbelieving will also learn a heck of a lot.

The book is a compilation of anecdotes and reflections, reminiscences and polemic about writing (painting) by graffiti writers of yore and today, clustered around a stunning set of “insider” pictures from shoeboxes under the beds of writers backed up by stunning photos by Will Robson Scott.

Drax - Electro Magnetic Intercourse

The most compelling and gripping anecdote is “The Farringdon Burglary” by Bozo DDS in which a troop of legends including Fuel, Fume, Elk and Teach crack the underground labyrinth under Farringdon, break into the building which later housed legendary club Fabric, find a bong and a lump of hash in a skateboard shop office, open a sealed one foot thick vault door and finally, what was the point, oh yeah - paint trains. Painting the legendary Farringdon yard, “Fuel produced a lighter and shone the way like a scene from The Lord of The Rings” while Fume hits his carriage with three tins in one hand, two in the other, tins sticking out of every pocket and “painting like a four armed Indian God”. The pace of the story and the epic brazenness of the escapade take your breath away.

Inside the yard

Reflecting upon the then versus now, drawing on the technical advances in paint in recent times, Diet DDS pays tribute with “it’s mad to think to that people like Fuel did whole cars (front to back and top to bottom) with no fatcaps” (the interchangeable spraycan nozzles, skinny or fat caps for fine lines or covering big areas). As Diet says in his final words ”Oh how things have changed”.

The words of the graffiti writers themselves expose the lie in the myth that graffiti writers are mindless morons universally suffering a lack of education, discipline and morality. The book documents the inner thoughts and motives of a scene whose fundamental concern is expression, so it should come as no surprise to find such articulate and also entertaining writing.

Yeah, 1995 (Check the E, pinch yourself and remember - not done in a legal Hall Of Fame!)

It’s not all effing and blinding and ducking and diving, Siege talks brightly about the quality of flow in graffiti style and gives an illustrated breakdown of the composition of the outline, “the first letter is a good place to start”!. Drax WD talks about the picking a name , spreading the name and becoming the name; Hefner contributes not words but black book character sketches, NEAS DPM writing from prison serving time for graffiti crimes defines the death of a mate as his core motivating impetus.

NEAS (contributing while inside)

Many of the stories are straight narratives of hair-raising exploits, and bragging rights are hard earned in this game. Other stories focus on the reason d’etre, they explain the actual substance of the pieces, not in a technical writers way but more in the way a burner is telling a pictorial story. Prime in “War and Piece” explains the content and pictoral structure of a top to bottom whole car painted in Christmas 1990 with Fuel, “One Thousand Sacrifices 2 Revolt/Revolve” among other things “is heavy with metaphoric symbolism of all kinds of change and death and rebirth.” For anyone intrigued by the scene but not a part of it, this writing is incredibly enlightening whilst always remaining very readable.

The first two chapters are a Teach/Elk double act. Elk captures the essence of a mission to trespass and write graffiti in terse, staccato style “Tunnels, Tube trains, wires, electricity, fear, danger, trepidation, anxiety, tension, dirt, lights, concrete, friends, spray-cans, plastic bags, colours, tags, pieces, a world that few people ever see, hear or smell.”

Elk, Fuel, top to bottom painted in Farringdon

The words and thoughts of the frontline writers are presented with sharp and un-filtered passion, the book wastes no space on explanation of terminology so a reader from outside the culture has to pick things up from context, repetition and plain old making sense of the bleeding obvious.

Britney Spears Is The Devil - Mace, LWS, ID

Prime eloquently identifies one of the big obstacles blocking outsiders from complete insight when he opens his piece with “One of the hardest things to do when giving an account of an intense experience is how to communicate those small personal details that make a situation really something to write home about...the “you should have been there” factor.”

TPG (graffiti - occassionaly done in a pink panther suit)

The key is the quality of the writing. Even Sput, an overseas writer seemingly contributing in a non native language, manages a poetry of expression and sense of spirit which permeates the only slightly Borat-ish foreigner’s English.

My favourite photograph in the book is Fume, under-exposed, standing on an elevated parapet, surveying a tube train intersection. In silhouette he could be a manager in casuals but the languid stance just says “i am comfortable here, this is my domain”. Asked what makes a hardcore writer Fume keeps it simple but generous “A true writer has to have the balls to just get in there and just go for it..good style or not just to get in that yard and paint that train is good enough” though he stresses you must be doing this regular basis. Mind you, a mere week after first tagging a train in a yard, Fume says he was out piecing with Rate, so evidently the hook-ups came thick and fast. When you understand a guy’s prejudices you understand his life and Fume is pure comedy, dissing country bumkin writers with their horrible style, easy train yard access across fields and the nearest shop for munchies 7 miles away and closed most of the time.

One of the most provocative campaigns in the street art niche in 2009 was 10FOOT dogging anything on walls which wasn’t graffiti. He explains his anti Banksy stance in about 100 words, which is about 95 more than he usually writes. The single most significant and important art intervention in 2009 was his writing “say no to art fags” across a Best Ever piece despite or possibly inflamed by their lame attempt to beg his indulgence by giving him a shout in the top corner of the piece. Anything that compels street artists to raise their game and get real is a good thing, though curiously this specific critique feels diminished by being revealed as a performance captured by Will Robson Scott’s camera.

Art Critique? sod blogs and mags...... 10Foot

Treating their couple of pages like a care-in-the-community opportunity for derelict comedians, ATS crew suffer the indignity of having their pages mis-labelled ATG, now that’s gotta hurt. LDS (“Line Dance Steppers”) crew chose to convey their guide to entering a yard, painting and photographing the result in the medium of written and illustrated dance step instructions “bending right knee forward, outline with Montana fatcap, bend left knee forward straightening right leg.”

A key viewpoint universal through the book is that painting steel, getting into yards and painting trains is the pinnacle of excellence, it is the real hard core graffiti act. As the anonymous member of TPG puts it, for one type of writer graffiti is a weekend hobby done with other dads, for the other its an obsessive way of life.

Let’s not get carried away with the notion however that it is all noble ideals, brothers-in-arms and innocent harmless adventure. You have to wince at Fume’s recollection about nicking a train driver’s bags, chucking away his spare clothes, scattering his sandwiches over the track, trashing a working man’s day to day possessions, pretty low.


Crack and Shine is a glorification of train painting through homage to the panel spraying heroes and their lives. There’s also a bit of roof top and trackside action but hardly a legal in sight. The book came out in Summer last year, despite having pre-ordered this copy didn’t arrive until two or three weeks after the launch. This review has been a “back-burner” scribble since but it takes a while to go through a book cover to cover a couple of times when you actually read the words. Aparently it was hard to find at the start but now it is listed on Amazon. Whatever, if you haven’t got a copy yet make getting one your next mission. Small beer really compared to the episodes you find between its covers.


artofthestate said...

Great review. This book gets under the covers of graffiti like no other. Anyone open minded enough to read it will find it leaves a lasting impression.

Spray paint said...

Great write up. On order.