this interview that I had printed out last year and thought that there may be a
lot of people who have not read it. Written back in 1994, I think it would be
good for the Wooster readers to remember who took the paste up and turned it
into something dangerous and started a Street Art phenomenon that is world wide
style="clear:both; padding-bottom: 0.25em;">
Cream of wheat paste:
Cost and Revs - graffiti artists
Interview Glenn O’Brien
/>I remember the days when a subway train illegally painted by Lee Quinones
would roll into a station and the people on the platform would spontaneously
applaud. I remember artists like Lee, Zephyr, Futura 2000, Lady Pink, Crash,
Daze, SAMO |C~ (aka Jean-Michel Basquiat), and Keith Haring putting art out on
the street for free. But graffiti isn’t what it used to be. Style is all but
gone, and thi outlaw practice, once a field of ambition, daring, rebellion, and
improvisation has largely reverted to a form of unconscious egoism and
There are still a few sparks of unauthorized
public art out there, though.
I think I might have noticed Cost and
Revs at the beginning of their careers—I remember seeing some of those
conventioneer stickers that say “Hello My Name Is around town with their tags
marketed on. But I didn’t really latch on to them. really noticed them a year or
so ago when I started seeing their 8 1/2-by-11-inch wheatpaste posters all over
New York. And I mean all over. Most visible was their use of the backs of
“walk/don’t walk” signs—it seemed like they’d hit just about every intersection
in Manhattan. Each poster had the name COST or the name REVS and a qualifying
word or slogan: Specimen REVS. COST was here. Machine REVS. COST is dead.
Turkish REVS. COST fucked Madonna. That one made me laugh out loud when I first
COST and REVS also do larger works, which they call
“rollers,” because they make them with paint rollers on walls. One of them is
visible in a Donna Karan DKNY ad that shows a New York landscape; COST and REVS
are a part of the landscape. They’re getting more elaborate these days. They’ve
hit SoHo walls with guerilla canvases. They’re doing authorized murals. But
they’re still taking their message to the street with determination, sincerity,
wit, and guts.
Cost and Revs are a couple of New York kids. White
Kids. New York etched in their accents. Being in their mid 20s, they’re getting
a little old to be kids, but they’re kids as long as they keep doing what
they’re doing. What they’re doing is getting up everywhere, making their mark,
making a name for themselves in the landscape. It’s unauthorized nonprofit
public art. It’s not made for museums or foundations or galleries. It’s not made
for speculative investors or dealers or critics or collectors. It’s made for an
audience of their peers.
One day I noticed a poster with a phone
number on it: COST (212) 592-4133. I called the number and couldn’t believe what
I heard—the speaker wasn’t Cost or Revs, it was an old lady. You could tell
from her voice that she’s cashing a social security check. If you can believe
Cost and Revs, she’s in her 90s, and she goes by the tag Graff’s Grandmother. As
in Graffiti. She gave an eloquent oration on how her boys Cost and Revs were
holding up the standards of graffiti in an age of decline. A few months later I
caught up with her again. She explained that she had been in the joint, where
she was “runnin’ shit,” and she recounted, in her ancient tremolo, how she had
been in the same prison as Mike Tyson and how she had explained to the champion
that he needed some spiritual values in his life and how that had led to his
/>conversion to Islam.
Graff’s Grandma hasn’t been on the hot line in
recent months, Cost and Revs hav been issuing their own funky but grandiose
manifestos, but I just checked in with the line now and there she was: I am the
only Grandma of Graff. I am the wisdom, the engine, the teacher behind the Cost
and Revs machine. I built these boys and I built them to last. As you can hear I
am no joker and neither are they. They are merely henchmen to me and purely
servants to New York City. They are art outsiders looking in on life and
watching and learning from other people’s stupidity. They are the sugar in your
coffee, the sauce in your spaghetti, the salt in your stew. They are everything
you’ve ever wanted but haven’t realized yet, so take it from me, kiddies, the
Grandma of Graff says Cost and Revs are the move. Or as Cost and Revs say, “Move
over.” Either one. Both are true.
I talked to Cost and Revs recently.
Cost talks more, but when Revs gets revved up he is declarative and passionate
about what he does.
COST: We met in ‘85, then went our separate ways.
About a year and a half ago w were doing things that were similar so we started
hanging out again and combine the mission. I think we brought wheat-pasting to a
I was intrigued by graffiti since I was eight or
nine years old. I’d read the walls and I’d wonder how it got there and want to
do it. When I started to get some time to myself I found myself buying markers
and trying to write on the walls, on dumpsters, on doorways with my friends. It
built from there. I never stopped.
I respected a lot of graffiti
writers. When I was young I was really impressed by Zephyr.
I’ve always liked Lee’s stuff. He put his heart and soul on the wall, and not a
lot of guys do that. I really respect that a lot.
GLENN O’BRIEN: Who
is the Grandma of Graff?
REVS: A wise old lady who gives us
direction. She’s an old-timer. She goes back to when Kilroy was around.
/>COST: She guides us. She instructs at times on what to do and how to do it.
She’s got the wisdom.
GO’B: What’s your relationship to graffiti?
COST: Some people say it’s an eyesore. I think it’s a spice, a treat. It
livens things up. I’m trying to let people know that I’m here during this time
period. Let it be remembered or forgotten, that’s up to the people.
/>GO’B: How many posters have you done?
COST: Somewhere between 75
and 100. Some we put up 1,000 of, some 500, some 50. Graffiti’s changed in the
‘90s; nowadays writing your name on walls, just putting it up everywhere, is the
same old same old. Scrawl on the streets, writ on the trains then it gets
cleaned the next day, talk a lot of garbage—I’m too old for that now. You’ve
got to try something different.
A lot of young writers are looking
for trouble; we’re not trying to hurt anybody, we’re trying to do something
positive. We’re trying to change philosophies a bit. Change everyday life. We
want to open people’s eyes up when they walk outside their house, let them see
something a little different. There’s not much left for me to do in the graffiti
world, I want to stay as far away from that world as possible. Stay away from
the in graffiti-crowd. I just want to be a lone wolf.
GO’B: What were
your favorite posters?
REVS: Turkish REVS has no meaning whatsoever.
Machine REVS: I’m a hard worker, work like a machine. Specimen REVS: I’m just a
specimen of a larger whole. It’s kind ofabstract unless you know me.
/>GO’B: What kind of messages do you get on the hot line?
people have threatened our lives. Some people tell us, Keep going.
They’rewaitin’ on our next move. They’re rootin’ for us.
COST: A lot
of graffiti writers call. Some have beefs to settle with us: we try not to go
over people, but sometimes someone will say, You went over me here. O they don’t
like what we’re doing. We’re trying to change graffiti, which is all about using
spray paint. I don’t think it’s all about spray paint. I think you can use other
REVS: Others say they love what we’re doing and we’ve
inspired them. We get old people saying we’re ruining the city. We get marriage
COST: Some people think Grandma is the Grandmother of
Grass instead of Graff. They think she’s a weed lady. We get a lot of hot girls
rappin’ to Revs.
REVS: Right now we have some violent information.
Words of wisdom for the everyday public. Opinions on things. We like to shake up
the system, have high impact.
COST: We’re saying we’re not graffiti
guys anymore. What we do has a graffiti attitude because we’re promoting our
names, but we’re on the art tip. At this point we might be the most outlaw art
in the city. Not too many people are doin street artand basically street art is
GO’B: Postering is an old New York tradition. For a while
the police went after clubs featuring bands that did postering.
We took it to the extreme. People think we’re vandals; that’s not what we are.
We want to put things up that will be appreciated by people. We’ve painted a few
murals and we’re doing more—we did one on Lafayette Street called Mount
Crushmore. It’s Warhol, Keith Haring, and me and Revs on a mountain.
/>REVS: We also did King of the Pigs, with Rodney King, on Elizabeth Street and
Houston. We’re basically insulting everybody.
COST: The police
department for their stupidity and Rodney King for his stupidity. He’s no great
REVS: We’re not insulting the good cops, just the ones
who abuse their job. Mos people want to take one side or the other, but to us
both sides are wrong. It may bea little harsh but it’s got to be said.
/>COST: Today all you see is “Knowledge is Power” and “Safe Sex.” That’s the
basic message from everybody. I’m not saying that’s bad, but we’re coming from a
little different angle.
REVS: We think art should be dangerous.
Everybody’s into safe art, doing safe things in their studio. We’re bringing
danger back into it. It’s got to be on the edge, where it’s not allowed.
COST: We live on the edge and that’s what makes it good.
/>REVS: The art world is too sissyish for us. There’s no raw quality.
/>COST: The galleries are too quiet. You sip a little champagne.
/>REVS: lt’s got to be real crude. Crude.
COST: Rude and shit.
REVS: Graffiti writers do have a message. It’s just that
nobody knows what it is. It’s not a strict statement, it’s a way of life.
COST: It’s revolt.
REVS: It’s considered mindless vandalism
by most people but there’s really a lot to be said about a guy who scribbles his
name on the wall. Why would a guy risk being hurt to do that?
It’s territorial. It’s leaving your mark.
REVS: It’s to say, This is
what I produced while I was alive.
COST: We don’t even have a choice
in the matter, we have to do this stuff. It’s not like we planned out a career.
It’s about putting our lives on the wall and letting people decipher it from
there. I always say, We’re going all the way to the top with it. Or all the way
to the bottom. And either one is fine. I don’t want no middle ground—being an
average Joe. Put me on the top of the pile or the bottom of the pile. Either is
fine, just no mediocrity.
REVS: Some people use the front door. Some
people use the back door. We’re crashing through the side of the house. We’re
gonna level it. Nobody’s going to deny us. It sounds like a megalomaniacal bad
attitude, and maybe it is. But that’s okay.
COST: We don’t think
we’re big shots. I consider myself the little guy out ther trying to claim my
piece. But we’re gonna get what we’re shootin’ for because we’re not gonna stop.
There’s just so long people can ignore you in this world.
O’Brien, a former stand-up comedian, is a contributing editor of Allure and
creative director of advertising at Barney’s, New York.
1994 Artforum International Magazine, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group