As an artist, community member and activist, I am committed to preserving the art and history of graffiti. This art form was born in the 1970’s from the hardship and frustration of inner city youth. New York City was in crisis and graffiti became a form of protest against societal inequity. Graffiti had the power to express in words and drawings the need for identity and acknowledgement. The graffiti art created by these young people was immediate, confrontational and beautiful. I became part of the movement and established the Odd Partners Graffiti Crew.
Many new art movements have their origins in transgression and so it was with graffiti. Subway cars and city walls became the canvas of graffiti artists. Tagging a subway with your name was a means of establishing your existence as a “writer” and “bombing” a [master]piece on a train’s entire surface was a way of claiming fame. My tag was James Top, not my given name but the pseudonym I chose to express my hope and desire to reach the top in my community, in my art and in my life. I continue to use that name today because I am proud of it and my friends and colleagues in the field who also continue to use their tag names. We have matured sometimes through great hardship and have become valued citizens and leaders of our communities. My desire now is to give back and contribute to society.
My current approach to graffiti art is to find safe and protected areas in which to create murals that are welcomed by the community and the art world. As the co-director of the Graffiti Hall of Fame, I am able to help new and established artists do that. Through my teaching at colleges and other public venues, I am able to open the eyes of a new audience for graffiti art and to guide individuals interested in creating their own art. My work with disadvantaged children and adults has become a vital part of my life. I know in a very real way the obstacles that they face. My life has been filled with such challenges. My personal and artistic motto is “I’ll find a way.” My optimism about life is strong in spite of setbacks and problems. Through my art and teaching, I am dedicated to helping others find their way.
Watch James Top's Television Show
Manhattan Neighborhood Network
Sundays at 1:30am
James Top on NPR