The Rush Arts Gallery in Manhattan, New York recently hosted A Hip-Hop Moment. Curated by Jah C and sponsored by Alize Coco, the event saw an evening celebrating all the elements of Hip Hop. The gathering primarily focused on graffiti legend David “Chino” Villarente, a longtime artist and subsequent historian and ambassador of classic New York graffiti culture around the world. There was also a crowd-sourced Q & A with Villarente, as well as the debut of Jah C’s single “Classy Girl” featuring Jaison Spain.
After giving a demonstration of his graffiti abilities during Jah C and Spain’s performance (which also featured breakdancer Chrybaby Coize performing the real Harlem Shake), Villarente discussed his latest release the World Piece Book. The third book in a series documenting graffiti pieces, this installment highlights pieces from 34 different countries around the globe. As Villarente explained, the significance of the “piece book” in graff culture goes back to when aspiring graffiti artists would pass around a notebook to their favorite artists and try to collect “pieces,” signatures painted for them in their pages. Being how secretive graffiti culture is, often the only proof that one has met some of the more elusive artists is by collecting their signature in their piece book. Villarente’s three releases have served as “fantasy piece books” of sorts, collecting these signatures from graffiti’s most respected names.
When asked if there was a cause today that would inspire a new tag, Villarente stated that “Chino,” after a lot of soul searching, was merely a nickname. It was the easiest thing for him to gravitate to, and he’s met Chinos around the world who’ve had to explain to others that they weren’t him. He went on to say the environment in New York City when he started doing graffiti was very different, with very lax laws on quality of life offenses. Now, in a post-9/11 world, we’re in an era of surveillance that’s changed how people write graffiti. Today, getting caught once risks felony charges which could severely hinder young writers for the rest of their lives.
Villarente also discussed the influence of Keith Haring on his work, the graffiti world prior to Hip Hop, the difference in graffiti around the world and his thoughts on the current state of Hip Hop. Most notably, he noted how overseas (particularly in Germany) the elements of Hip Hop are all celebrated together, leading to the surprise of the locals when they discover he doesn’t breakdance or rap. He closed by discussing how well received the Piece Books have been in graffiti culture, as well as how surprisingly successful they’ve been with young readers.