REVS’ Underground Autobiography

Text is broken up by gaps in the wall: PAGE 22 (BTK) OF STILLWELL — WE WERE BOTH CHECKIN SHIT OUT MY PIECE ROLLED IN + THERE ON IR … ABOVE ME THAT … WE GO THRU THE … WRITES … THEN HE POINTS … A FEW SECONDS OF … HE NIPPED ME BUT I LET IT GO … BECOME FRIENDS—HE HAD A … WHO WROTE … I GOT TO KNOW … BKLYN WRITERS … NSA. ETC ONE DAY ME + IR … LUNCH AT THIS … ON SMITH ST — I BOCKROCKED … MEAT — HE DIDN’T ROCK … ASTOR DT CAUGHT ME + CUTTED ME IN THE BACK … + HE LET ME GO … LUCKY – REVS! | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Fuller | Click any image to launch a slideshow with more of REVS’ work

“To Joe Public: You might be askin yourself right now, what is this shit…what is this all about? Its about a kid who is just livin his life and tellin his story. The only one he knows how.”

So begins REVS’ autobiography, worlds under New York in the farthest folds of the subway, the words written in black on top of a white-washed section of wall. It’s an underground memoir: the stories of a New York childhood, adolescence, and adulthood etched into a space few can see and even fewer know how to access. A private life in a public place, both hidden and protected by the plexiglass windows that shield straphangers from the filthy subterranean world of New York City. Press your face to the window and watch the tags stream by, REVS standing out among the scrawls in huge white block letters, as though REVS had nothing to hide, as though REVS had nothing to fear, standing there on top of the third rail in the dark, taking his sweet time writing on the wall. He makes the other writers look scared, and besides you can hardly read their tags as the train rushes by. But REVS’ pieces jump out at you for their size, their whiteness, their audacity. “We think art should be dangerous,” REVS said in a rare 1994 interview. “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?”

PAGE 25 OF MANY 1/16/98 LUCKY ME, TOOK ALL MY DOE THAT I SAVED UP FOR 3 YEARS ABOUT 6 GRAND THAT WAS 2 JOBS — SODA CAN CHANGE + THE SELLIN OF SOME SHIT — MY LIFE SAVINGS — WENT DOWN TO ATLANTIC CITY WITH HOPE, J. YOUNG AND BLITZ — PUT IT ALL ON RED!!! AND CAME BACK TO BKLYN WITH 12 GEES! GEE. MAN IT FELT GOOD — IT WAS ABOUT TIME!! THANKX – REVZ | Photo courtesy of Mike Epstein

REVS is one of the most notorious graffiti artists in the history of New York street art. He got his start in the early ‘80s, covering New York in REVLON, his tag before he decided to cut out the “LON” during a suicidal epiphany on the Manhattan Bridge. In 1993, REVS started running with COST. Together they covered Manhattan in tens of thousands of posters and wheat pastes, blanketing the city in Krylon and vegetable starch. The city was their canvas, a stage for their humor (COST FUCKED MADONNA, scribbled in your subconscious after seeing it pasted to every WALK / DON’T WALK sign in Manhattan), their existential crisis (SPECIMEN REVS, taped to every trashcan in New York), or their need to let people know that, for a moment, they’d been right here. “I’m trying to let people know that I’m here during this time period,” COST once told the New York Times. “Let it be remembered or forgotten, that’s up to the people.”

PAGE 37 OF MANY 5/22/98 … ALWAYS FIGHTIN WITH EACH … TAN AND SKINNY HE REMINDS ME OF SPONE … REAL FOUL MOUTH … THEY USED TO CURSE THEIR MOTHER — IT WAS FUNNY — THEY WERE LIKE A COMEDY TEAM!! ID GO TO THEIR HOUSE + LISTEN TO KISS AND CHRIS WOULD RECITE “SATURDAY NITE LIVE” WITH “JANE YOU IGNORANT SLUT!” + WHEN THIS MAN WOULD GET MAD CHRIS WOULD TELL HER “HEY”… | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Fuller

NO RIGHTS… PAGE 38 OF MANY 5/22/98 THEN THERE WAS THIS FAT OLD LADY WITH A CANE WHO LIVED NEXT DOOR TO FELIX — SHE HAD DYED CURLY BLONDE HAIR — WED PLAY PUNCH BALL IN FRONT OF FELIX’S BUILDING + SHE’D STORM THE STOOP + RIFF HARD! SHE’D TELL US “GO AWAY” — “PLAY IN FRONT OF YOUR OWN BUILDING” … DONT LIVE HERE! WED SAY YEAH “FELIX” LIVE HERE + SHE’D SAY SO WHAT! … PLAYIN ON THE SIDEWALK OR HANGIN ON THE STOOP! SO WE… – REVS DOOLES- | Photo courtesy of Fredrick Douglas

Aboveground, REVS is prolific (even more so 20 years ago), his rollers massive and highly visible, inaccessible spots that clearly can’t be reached without 30 foot tall ladders or a harness system. Below ground, he’s a legend, a hero in the graffiti community. From roughly 1994 to 2000, he kept a subterranean diary of sorts, 235 “pages” total chronicling various thoughts and events in his Brooklyn-based existence. The New York Times has described his work as “feverish diary entries worthy of a Dostoyevsky character.” For years, he had the Vandal Squad (the NYPD task force committed to bringing graffiti artists to justice) and the MTA befuddled by what was evidently a massive safety breach that allowed someone to take his time chronicling his life in the tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Cops were reading the pages, trying to track REVS through the biographical details he supplied in his writing — his birth date, the hospital in Bay Ridge where he was born. Who was this guy, and how the hell was he getting away with this?

PAGE 91 OF MANY 2/20/99 THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS YUPPIES BACK THEN SCOOTIN ROUND IN THEIR SAABS AND BMWS – EATIN FAKE GOURMET FOOD AND 7 GRAIN BREAD MOST OF US GREW UP ON WONDER BREAD WITH PEANUT BUT & JELLY OR BOLOGNA SANDWICHES (WITH MUSTARD)! WATCHIN ZOOM ON T.V. OR SESAME STREET OR SIGMUND + THE SEAMONSTER OR FAT ALBERT OR THE BUGS BUNNY ROAD RUNNER SHOW — YEAH … WAKIN UP AT 5AM ON A SATURDAY MORNIN + WATCHIN CARTOONS!! WHATS UP DOC?? REVS | Photo courtesy of Dan Curran

After half a decade, REVS was ratted out, caught in the act, charged, and convicted. It turned out he was “a 33-year-old iron worker from a working class neighborhood, not so different really from any of the cops pursuing him,” as described in a segment of the This American Life episode themed “Cat and Mouse.” Not so different especially because he was in uniform when they found him — all these years he’d been dressing in a stolen MTA track worker outfit. Ryan Thomas Gallahard, for This American Life, continues, “Everyone who saw him with the buckets of paint just thought he belonged down there.”

​PAGE 143 OF MANY 10/14/99 PERSONALITIES — LOUD POLITICS IN THE HARDCORE WORLD … GAME I KNOW — WHOSE DOWN — WHOSE “COOL,” WHO AINT!! — A SOCIAL GAME … ANTI-SOCIAL PEOPLE! — JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE BUT HOT … DIFFERENT IS THERES NO OFFICIAL FORMULA, WRITTEN RULES OR LEGAL … JUST UNDERSTOOD ONES! BUT ITS STILL BETTER THAN ALL THE SHIT THATS OUT THERE — THE LITTLE SCAM AT CBGBS WAS FOR 1 PERSON DAY … GET STAMPED + THEN TRANSFER IT TO AS MANY FRIENDS AS POSSIBLE (FRESH INK) – REVS | Photo courtesy of OverUnder

REVS’ autobiography is a rare moment where New York’s infrastructure serves as both canvas and transportation, the past and the present co-mingling in his stories of growing up in a different Brooklyn while you ride under the present one, reading the writing on the wall. It exemplifies the fact that some artists use graffiti as their voice. And beyond a form of expression, graffiti is also a form of documentation. Today, subway cars are spotless compared with what they once were, but history still visibly bleeds from the walls just beyond the train windows. It’s actually surprising that there’s only one such autobiography in the subways, considering how many people have lived, worked, and passed through these tunnels.

PAGE 221 OF MANY MIR (BTK) DIED IN 87 — HE WAS DRIVIN ON THE BQE … SOMETHING HAPPENED TO THE CAR — HE GOT OUT TO LOOK — A DRUNK OFF DUTY COP SWERVED INTO HIM + KILLED HIM — HE WAS SUPPOSED TO PICK ME UP — I KNOW IF I WAS THERE … OUT TOO! IT AINT SMART TO HANG BY A DEAD CAR IN A LIVE LANE. BUT WHEN YOUR 18-19 YOU DONT KNOW NO BETTER — NOTHIN HAPPENED TO THE COP CAUSE COPS PROTECT YOUR OWN … ONE OF A BILLION INSTANCES… | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Fuller

MADE IN BKLYN | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

SELF-CENTERED | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

USE THE SYSTEM AGAINST THE SYSTEM | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

RUNNIN THRU… | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

FACTS OF THE MATTER | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

NONE OF THIS MATTERS | Photo courtesy of AeroFennec

Hannah Frishberg is a fourth generation Brooklynite and freelance writer and photographer.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.



One Response to “REVS’ Underground Autobiography”

  1. steve wilson says:

    Man… there is so much more to this story than what is printed here. It’s a shame someone with more knowledge on the guy didn’t write this.

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