JAMES, “WHEELCHAIR”, 61, UPPER WEST SIDE
Who calls you Wheelchair?
You see the back of my wheelchair? It says, 3D + C. 3D is a graffiti crew that be tagging up around here. They just added me on.
That’s nice. How did you meet this crew?
By being out here on the streets. I’m going on eight years now.
Why do so many graffiti writers hate each other?
Oh, because the competition is so tough. Graffin’ is a very creative art that people can use to do right things instead of bad things. They could put pretty color on the buildings or the flower pots—any of that stuff. They can detail cars. They challenge each other because graffiti is like, “This is who I am. I want to be recognized. I want to be known. So who you be, you’ve got to show me.”
What’s the most dangerous place the 3D crew has hit up?
All over. If you walk along Broadway, “3D+C” is kind of popping out here. They climb up really tall, too. I never seen them do it but I would do it for them because they do it for me.
Do you write?
No, I just sit back and tell other people to do it. It’s all for fun and games, but I’m 61 and they young. But back in the early 70s and stuff, a lot of graf kids used to do it on trains, and a lot of them because professional artists around that. It’s still the same way now that graf kids can still become professional artists, but they just don’t recognize their own abilities yet. You have a mechanic who knows how to fix cars. Everybody has their own knowledge of things. So if someone else sees this knowledge, this art, and they think they can profit off it, they gonna get ‘em [laughs]!
But I think graffiti writers are kind of famous for not being able sell their art. I just don’t think there’s that much of a market for graffiti art.
There’s no such thing as graffiti art—it’s just art. Everyone has a very distinct writing style. See that “S” on the store’s sign? Now, not everybody would make that “S” to satisfaction, but you can pick one graffiti kid who will make it to perfection.
Who’s your favorite graffiti writer?
I don’t have no favorite—they all is good.
But there are some that are pretty bad. You got to admit. You like all graffiti?
Even shitty tags?
There’s no shitty tags because they’re tagging.
How about if I just wrote…ah, “Wackboy…99!” right there. That would be a pretty crappy tag.
Well, no, because everything represents something.
Has the 3D squad ever been busted by the NYPD vandal squad?
Naw, not yet. But everybody pays each other. It’s all a business.
Who pays the graffiti writers?
They pay they self, right, by competition. In they hearts they gettin’ paid. They don’t want no money, they don’t want that. They just want the challenge[laughs]!
You and my father are nearly the same age. Something he doesn’t understand is graffiti. He thinks it’s terrible, and if you don’t own the property, you shouldn’t be writing on it.
True that. True that.
What would you say to my father?
I would say, “Excuse me, sir. You right and exact.” Graffiti writers damage people’s property, but if they could be put into a position to do as they do, then they won’t damage no property. If you go to Brooklyn, there are certain walls that have Tupac, Biggie Smalls because they’re legends. Someone will put [their images] up on a wall and everyone can come by and sign they names.
It’s not only about that. See, here in Manhattan, it’s all about business. They don’t want they property damaged, but if there’s a crack in the sidewalk right in front of their building, they would say, “That’s not my fault.” I would sue them and the city.
You also have an earring.
I had the left since I was about 13, and I put the other in when I was 29.
Why did you take out your right earring?
No, they both in. See, this one time a missus—
–No, it’s out.
It’s out? My earring ain’t there? Oh my god I lose my earring? It was solid gold.
A girl gave it to me as a token of her appreciation for me always being around. She had gone and bought some little gold loop earrings and she said, “Yo.” She gave me a gold one and took my steel one and put it in her ear. Man, I didn’t know I lost it.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
No, great news! See, if you had never told me I would never had known, OK? And if she had walked up on me—and me thinking it was there—me and her would have gotten into it because she would have believed I took it off to sell it [laughs]!
Now you’ll have a chance to explain.
And I appreciate that.