22 février 2017
Mythical abandoned Queens factory, considered for 20 years as the world temple of street art and hip hop culture, Five Pointz was destroyed, in the name of real estate, one night of November 2013. Flashback on the amazing story of a place where all paradoxes reigned.
"This is the biggest insult to the history of graffiti. He painted on the work of at least 1,500 artists." This morning, Tuesday, November 19, 2013, Marie-Cécile Flageul wakes up heavy-hearted, her eyes swollen with tears and her voice hesitating when the New York Times questions her about what many artists consider as an artistic genocide. Native of Brittany, this young Frenchman, arrived in New York after her studies, is then one of the spokesperson of the Five Pointz.
A free space of exhibition(s), a spot of shooting and photo shoots, a place of celebrations, parties but also and especially a place where the urban Art, street Art first, reigns in master. Five Pointz is a true open-air museum. This former factory abandoned in the middle of Queens, in New York, stands proudly facing the MoMA PS1 which is peacefully in the other side of the street. At its side, the Court Square Diner, a restaurant, very yankee between the neon lights that sizzle until dawn and the comfortable benches, where the regulars crowd stuff themselves with burgers and others Fish and Chips.
This is the biggest insult to the history of graffiti
Overlooking this scenery, Metro Line 7 flies over the corner and offers a breathtaking view of the building wrapped in graffiti. By venturing a bit higher, the roof of the Five Pointz gives the ability to the brave to admire the incredible view of Manhattan and its skyscrapers. It was the decor that one could see on the Jackson Avenue, but this image belongs to the past. Yet, the International Express is still on the line 7 and the Court Square Diner is still serving burgers, but it was Five Pointz that gave color and life to this neighborhood of Long Island. And all that remains today are memories.
Philadelphia, 1960s. A certain Cornbread submerges the walls of Philly's signature to attract the attention of a young woman. Failing to attract the attention of her contender, he quickly aroused the interest of the local press, which, instead of being critical, challenges him: to claw her signature in places as impossible as the other. Considered still today as one of the main foundations of street art, Cornbread lets himself take the game and even goes so far as to pose his blaze on the private jet of the Jackson 5. This Media coverage will put the urban scene of Philadelphia in boiling and initiate vocations throughout the city. The graffiti-vandal method that boasts both degradation and forbidding is now popular.
While the received wisdom made New York as the cradle of modern graffiti, the Big Apple took hold of the small paint bomb in the 1970s. At that time, railway transport exploded and the number of trains between Philly and NY multiply. For the graffiti community, train and subway cars are the right plan for getting messages and measuring themselves. Philadelphia then challenged New York through this, and New York responded. The cultivation of wild graffiti then explodes in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens. In parallel, other triggers initiate the movement. Maga Danysz, a street art gallery owner, said: "In the sixties, the transformation of American society is profound: in addition to the development of the metro, there is the architecture of cities that are changing: concrete and walls have invaded the landscape, which has become dull and banal, and, at the same time, the first commercialization of paint bombs, and social changes are very strong: suburbs are appearing, advertising is becoming more and more invasive and aggressive.”
Then in full effervescence, the New York urban scene sweats through all its pores. Graffiti, tags, frescos but also dance, hip-hop and rap symbolize the artistic insurrection of that time. Maga Danysz continues: "In the 1980s, graffiti was inspired by all the other subcultures or countercultures that surrounded it: comics, tattoos, cinema, music. Phase 2 is a legend of graffiti but also a renowned DJ from the hip-hop community, bringing together music, dance, DJ and graffiti, so Graffiti and rap have grown together, like two brothers."
The subversive nature of the graffiti, the messages it carries, often political, aggressive, visual and committed, its illegal aspect gives rise to a gigantic game of cat and mouse between those who color the streets and the authorities. So much so that, in the early 1990s, an anonymous plumber in New York will embark on a vain struggle against this vandalism that is damaging the walls and unknowingly found a space that will become graffiti Mecca a few years later.
Pat DiLillo, a 40-year-old disabled plumber recovering, notes the proliferation of graffiti on the walls of his neighborhood of Woodside. Motivated, he created the movement Graffiti Terminators promising to eradicate these visual nuisances. Accompanied by his crew, he tirelessly repainted doors, streetlights or walls covered with graffiti, but found that they were again covered a few days later. The mission is vain. He then said that the best way to avoid wild graffiti is to legalize them by providing a dedicated and authorized space. Between Hunter's Point Avenue and Court Square on line 7, the metro overflows an old water meter plant daily. The building is abandoned, delivered to the squatters and obviously covered with wild graffiti of all kinds. Jeff Wolkoff, the owner of the premises, was seduced by the project presented by Pat DiLillo, who proposed to replace these tags with works by street artists, thus making this abandoned brick pile more presentable in the eyes of the public. Queens anti-gang leader Mariela Stanton said: "This is an art program, not a criminal justice program. We are giving young people the chance to do something positive, rather than disfiguring buildings". In 1993, Graffiti Terminators was officially abandoned for the Phun Phactory project. DiLillo will never lose the irresistible desire of the graffiti artists to become the most beautiful spots of the city, but its initiative will have given birth to a unique place in the world.
In 2002, Meres One succeeded to Pat DiLillo. His real name is Jonathan Cohen, a New Yorker born in the South Bronx in 1975 and raised in Queens. He has been practicing graff ' since the age of 13 and, after studying Art at the Fashion Institute of Technology, he has covered his works with many walls throughout the United States. Meres One is quickly noticed thanks to his symbol of the bulb with a face expression. This logo becomes an iconic figure. Step by step, the amateurs make the connections between this symbol and the works of Meres. So goes the real success for him. But it is by taking over the Phun Phactory project that he will transform forever his destiny and the one of these 20,000sqm of walls.
Exit Phun Phactory, Meres One renamed Five Pointz in reference to the five boroughs of New York. Endorsing an unofficial function of curator and playing his status of superstar of the graff ', Meres One then decides to structure Five Pointz to make it a major artistic crossroads of the world street art. Success is immediate, alongside anonymous artists, the world's greatest graffiti artists have left their stamp on the walls of the Long Island factory: Stay High 149, Tracy 168, Lady Pink, SPE or Tats Cru... Five Pointz boards have also attracted several hip-hop stars such as Doug E. Fresh, Mobb Deep, Joss Stone and Jam Master Jay. The goal of Meres One by creating Five Pointz was to be able to present talents and open minds by exposing this new form of Art. This is a winning bet since in a few years it is one of the ten most visited attractions in New York.
Threatened many times by closure for financial reasons, Meres One constantly struggles to ensure that Five Pointz is recognized as a pillar of American culture, a New York heritage building. The rigor, inventiveness and fierceness of Meres One will allow Five Pointz to become the rallying point of the world's urban and hip-hop culture, gleaning numerous nicknames such as Street art Mecca, the United Nations Graffiti or the Vatican of hip-hop, among others. But in 2010, the first clouds gathered when owner Jerry Wolkoff announced that he wanted to question the deal that existed with the Five Pointz Aerosol Art Center of Meres. Faced with the gentrification of the Queens, Wolkoff plans simply to shave the old factory to invest 400 million dollars in a project to erect two skyscrapers housing 1000 luxury apartments.
But the fame of the Five Pointz, its cultural importance and its frescos allows Meres One and its artists to hold on against Wolkoff and his team of billionaires. After several months of fierce battle between support committees, petitions, legal remedies, procedures and even attempts at redemption, nothing works. On the night of 18-19 November 2013, under police protection, Jerry Wolkoff had all the buildings repainted in white, covering over two decades of graffiti.
"I imagined the torture that it would be for everyone to destroy the works piece by piece, so I said to myself, do it all at once and put an end to this torture once and for all." justifying his act as a necessary evil. "In one night, Jerry Wolkoff has ruined twenty years of work. We compare graffiti to vandalism, but he is the real vandal, and we are going to make him pay!" then declares Meres One. "Here, when people come, they say: what is this Moma next to 5 pointz? Not the other way around," says the Kid Lew graffiti artist, while Dreddy Krugger, MC of Queens attached to Wu Tang, asserts "This is not just the Art that has been repainted. It is a whole memory that is erased". Too late, the Five Pointz lost its fight.
It is finally shortly before the month of February 2015, that the colorful history of 5 Pointz definitively ends. The few remains still intact have been reduced to dust. In addition to saying "It is like an old friend that has gone " following the total demolition of the building, in an attempt to counterbalance his image of a big bad wolf, Wolkoff also advised that approximately 1115sqm will be devoted to artistic studios. Not sure if this is enough to forget 5 Pointz and its demolition preceded by the whitewashing.
At a time when the pioneers of hip-hop have a hard time launching a museum in the Bronx, where the New Yorkers would do anything for a piece of Banksy, where Mayor De Blasio gargles his so-called urban culture, New York gentrifies here and there over the graff. And thus swallows a part of its own legend.
Matthieu Lainé's, alias Graffmatt, passion for painting was revealed in parallel with his passion for street art and hip-hop culture. Fascinated by the artists and their accomplishments, Graffmatt goes down the street to carry out, in situ, numerous photographic reports. He then uses his photos as sources of inspiration. Great fan of the cardboard support, the artist loves the flexibility of this format as well as the inscriptions that are stamped there. Figurative and expressive, his works are executed in two stages, which Graffmatt describes as "first the dynamic elaboration of an abstract/graffiti background and then a more detailed and calmer work, contrasting then with the background".
Graffmatt needs to immerse himself completely in his world, accompanying his pictorial work by listening to urban music. The choice of the musical style will be reflected on his works, some sounds prompting him to use dark shades, while others will push him to bright colors.