Graffiti artist Zexor goes in on Bushwick history
How long have you been doing graffiti?
Roughly eight years on and off.
And what made you stop?
I had a very personal situation that happened. I ultimately attempted suicide. I always went back to the fact that my dad wrote graffiti—I thought I could put my pain and stress into [that] outlet. But it pretty much caused more pain and stress in the long run. But I’ve created a name off of that. I’m trying to transcend from that, from being a graffiti writer to a little bit more of an artist.
What's the project you’re most proud of?
Over the summer I worked on a video with this guy from Sweden. The website is called Tags and Throws. I was able to work with them and create this video about summertime in New York, and it came out pretty well. I was bombing and just showing what my neighborhood is like, telling my story a little bit and showing my styling of writing graffiti. It’s my summertime in New York. Also, my first solo show, which just happened [last] Friday. It’s a really, really big thing for me. The turnout came out pretty well. So yeah, so far that’s been the biggest thing, my graffiti show and this art installation at a gallery.
Tell me about your neighborhood, Bushwick.
I was born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was predominantly a black and Hispanic neighborhood with Italians. Growing up was rough. In 1972 the riots during the blackout desolated the neighborhood and no one wanted to live there anymore. All the white people moved out, all the Jews. Really anyone who was bringing money to the neighborhood moved out. It became pretty much a ghost town in Brooklyn. All the stores and building were burned down and pillaged. It was fucked up. That led on to the whole crack era, and the 90’s being really rough.
You had to fight for things and stand up for yourself. I was stabbed at 14, I saw girls getting pregnant at 12, some of my peers that I grew up with are dead or in jail. Luckily for me, I didn’t follow suit. There are also really good things about my neighborhood. There was a togetherness. Even though there were lots of bad things, there were certain good things, like you could walk to school by yourself and never had to worry about anything because everyone looked after each other. It was fun. You played basketball in the streets; football, handball. There were barbeques all summer long and snowball fights all winter long. It was loud music, people having a good time.
Nowadays, the neighborhood is really stale. It’s up and coming. It went from a very segregated neighborhood, to a very gentrified neighborhood, where no one wanted to live and now everyone wants to live. The rent that I paid growing up was like $450 for a two bedroom apartment, which is now like a $3000 apartment in a neighborhood that was fucking filled with crack vials and red and blue tops. It was kind of insane. Crack vials literally covered the concrete. I remember, around 2006 I left for about a year to Pennsylvania. I came back around 2007ish, and I remember asking my mom, “What happened to all the crack vials?” They literally disappeared overnight. You didn’t see anymore needles on the floor or crack vials anywhere, which was a very big thing for me to notice.
And then cops. Cops never came through my neighborhood, they never walked down the block. Only detectives. To see blue and white cops walking down the streets, I knew the neighborhood was going to change rapidly. By 2008, you started to see white people. Gentrified, over-privileged kids who come to this neighborhood, don’t bring anything to the neighborhood. They live here for a year and then move out because they start to see what the neighborhood actually is. It’s a rough neighborhood. They like to stick to that one zone, but the second they step outside the zone they start to get robbed or worse shit happens to them. And it just sucks, to say to them, you know nothing about this, maybe you shouldn’t be over here. Maybe you should do a little more research, don’t believe everything you read online, maybe it’s not as safe as you think. There was just a shootout on Melrose St. and Knickerbocker. And people are like that’s crazy, but its not that crazy. When I was growing up, Melrose was a pretty crazy block, people were getting shot there all the time.
It’s nuts to see such a rapid change in my neighborhood. Where people don’t even say hi to you because you are a certain color, or have a certain physique. It’s really fucked up. Having a barbeque outside, and people are complaining that they are getting smoke in their window. Like fuck you, I’ve been having barbeques my whole life. It’s kind of sick to think about. It’s really, really fucked up.
Do you do something to keep it the way [you want it] to be?
I’ve done my part. I had an issue with [street art project] the Bushwick Collective. They claimed the neighborhood, and they never used anyone from the neighborhood in their fucking collective, which is insane. If you’re going to be apart of the Bushwick Collective, why not have people from the neighborhood? Or graffiti artists? The guy who ran it was very anti-graffiti. Now, most of the artists in the Bushwick Collective are graffiti artists from either Brooklyn or New York. They use a lot people from Bushwick. It’s kind of dope that I made that significant change within that organization. It became a little televised, I got in a couple newspapers.
I think Complex did a little video about it. They asked me to be in it, but I didn’t want to be in it. It’s very amusing to look at now, and be like wow, I did a little change in my neighborhood. But its not a big deal, it’s not a big change. I can’t change gentrification. Gentrification is ultimately just capitalization. People think it’s cheap, but it’s really not as cheap as you think it is. So it’s cool.
What are your future plans as an artist?
I am [partial] to graffiti. But as an artist, I’m trying to transcend into that next step. I’m looking for bigger galleries and bigger things. I’m trying to open myself up and open my brain to more artistic ways, and to incorporate my neighborhood. It’s really rough to find your niche in the artistic world. Most people don’t want to buy graffiti. I would love to sell my story, maybe one day. But like I said it’s very niche, it’s very hard to do these things if you don’t have a very strong supportive background. As of late I’ve been having stronger supportive background but its hard. Being an artist is very hard. Only time will tell what I can accomplish.
So to wrap it up, what’s your favorite office?
To be honest, a rooftop in Brooklyn overlooking the Williamsburg bridge, most likely the south side of Williamsburg. Just painting and shit. That’s my favorite office, the streets, the ghettos, the many neighborhoods that I’ve walked, the bullshit I’ve been through. That’s my favorite office. I guess that or train tracks. I walk a lot of elevated tracks. A lot of MTA elevated tracks on my free time to clear my head. I guess that could be my favorite office in a way. You should walk the train tracks with me one day.
Check out more of Xexor's work here.