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The Beginning of an Artistic Generation

There is no way to pinpoint the first masterpiece ever done.  The early writers we have spoken with, however all agree, that the first subway painting was done on an IRT Subway train by SUPER KOOL 223.  Although, there were outlined signatures traced back on the subways before SUPER KOOL 223s masterpiece, by such writers as EL

 MARKO 174, LIONEL 168, and CLIFF 159. However, It was SUPERKOOL 223’s discovery  of a larger spray nozzle


 that allowed many of his work to be filled in, at a faster pace.  The beginning concept of a masterpiece was to allow one writer to stand out from hundreds of signatures, which appeared on the same subway car.  This would introduce the era of the STYLE MASTERS. Improvements on lettering became very necessary in distinguishing one from hundreds of  writers who duplicated SUPERKOOL 223’s original approach to painting.  Writers such as PHASE 2, RIFF 170, TRACY 168, PEL, MAD 1, FLINT 707, and PISTOL were some of the first, of many who created innovative elaborate letterings.  As

a result, this became the foundation that many writers followed.  In the early 1970’s, as these letterings and styles traveled from borough to borough (such as  Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens), many from those areas copied and improved on what they saw.  Therefore, each borough developed a style they could call their own.  The masterpiece, often referred to, as “A Piece” for short, would change from different shapes and sizes (like Blockbusters, Wild Style Burners, Whole-Cars, and Top-to-Bottoms).  The Bronx writers were credited to welcoming in the era of the

 masterpieces similar to Manhattan writers, whom first introduced the  whole concept of “getting up”. Subway outlaws  salutes the artists who have shaped this art form.  The following photographs are some of our enjoy the tour!








was the original king of the 2 and 5 subway line. Here he pulls off a stretch out SUPER KOOL EXPRESS. TRACY 168:  SUPER KOOL improved on his lettering, as the years went on, which not many people ever speak of.  SUPER KOOL and LEE 163 were the original kings of the 2 and 5 train lines.

RIFF 170 was an early style master of the early aerosol era.  He painted under so many names in his career and almost single handedly mastered the aerosol alphabet.  More on RIFF 170 in the future: ALE 1: Phase 2 and RIFF 170 set the trend on how art looked on the subways, in the early 1970's.  RIFF 170's style was ahead of his time, and to this day you can still see his influences in many paintings, done by the newer generation.















I’ll tell you a story about two young boys back in the 1970’s, that did not have access to the museums.  Their eyes weren’t allowed the beauty of a Monet or Picasso.  They were just two young street kids, with nowhere to turn.  Something was eating them alive.  A need for beauty, a desire to appreciate something beyond bricks yearned to be awakened.  One train that rode south bound, along Manhattan's 10th Avenue's cobbled streets during the 70's, passed P.S. 98, on towards the projects where Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) played ball as a boy.  

I was one of those young kids that knew Graffiti was art.  I saw it as beauty on the old cold trains.  It was an expression to someone like me, who did not have an outlet. Every morning I went with my pad in hand and tried to scribble down the names, like PIPER 1, with his thin lines and dots for designs, and JACE 2, with his massive thick lettering (that eventually had to be sawed down to J - 2).  I had the good fortune of watching rough pieces, turn into masterpieces.

 I saw the coming of APOLLO 07, STAY HIGH 149, FRANK 207, JULIO 204 and far too many more to mention.  As a boy, these were my artistic heroes like what Seraut was to a child in his day.  Mine were more than artists, they were rebels, rolling the streets at night, putting color where gray mixed continually in New York.  Their art spoke.  It whispered, poverty does not breed ignorance.  Their art screamed, and I mean screamed loud to me!  The giant foam caps offered me hope, that I could be bigger than what I was.  Graffiti is an art, yes a rebel art, an inner city art.  Keith Herron taught the world that!
As a grown man, I now look back at those days with joy.  I wonder where the artists have faded to.  I wonder if they will ever know that it is they, that made me go see the Mona Lisa in Paris, the Van Gogh museum in Holland.  It is they that made me look inside and find my art, my self worth.  They are the ones that cultivated the conviction inside of me, to be who and what I am to a certain degree.

My final words to the taggers, the burners, and even the toys like me, thank you!

Frank M. Ahearn


 was an early subway killer from the early 1970's, who outlined this black signature with white.  TRACY 168: This was a great era in writing. Guys were just slapping shit up on the trains, not even thinking of how it would impact others.  It was all just trial and error. Whatever mistakes that were made later became a standard way of doing shit...It was kind of wild.


Many early pieces were just thick Jif foam tags outlined with a skinny cap, in a darker color.  SNAKE 131 was an early subway killer from the Broadway lines, in the early 1970's.  But he was not the only SNAKE to kill the Broadway number 1 line in the early 1970's.  SNAKE 1 of the famous 188th "Writers Corner" had a strong presence on the line.  As a result, the two fought over the name.


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