interview by: Joe Thunder
Interview with East a.k.a-Este , a spray paint artist in Denver, Co who has painted all over the word. Este is a veteran of the game and has been painting for nearly 30 years! Este paints with his crews DF, ATT, TAC, SM, BSB, FEDS, Hit Men & the Zulu Nation
So where are you from and how did you find your way to The Mile High City?
I’m originally from a small town in Indiana but moved to Chicago at a very young age, after my Mother & Father split. Job ops were slim in the rural area we were living so Mom moved to the Chi! I ended up coming to the Denver/Boulder area in 98′ in order to visit my wifes sister who was living here with her husband & son. A friend of hers needed someone to watch her flat for the summer while she was away in Boston. We volunteered & have been here ever since.
How did you get into graffiti and what made you start painting?
I got into Graff via mags & album covers that I would find by digging thru the periodical section of the local library & at my local record stores. I had been b boyin since 79′ & was in constant search of inspiration & materials that would let me on to what was happenin’ in New York. I would find small articles about b boy crews & artists like RSC, Futura, Dondi, Faze, Fashion Moda gallery, etc… I still have those clippings too! At the record shops there was an abundance of album covers that were completely done up by guys like Doze, Stash, Haring, Futura, Seen & Duster, so many fresh joints! I would just sit in the aisle for hours sifting thru albums & staring at the artwork… it was AWESOME! I remember the release of movies like Wild Style & Beat Street like it was yesterday! I used to go down to the video rental place offa State st. to rent Wild Style every week! I had dozens of sketches that I bit from Lee, Dondi, Revolt & Zephyr by putting the movie on pause while the trains were rolling by or when they would pan to walls in the Bronx! Ya just can’t recreate that kind of unknown & mystery anymore, it was still so new & developmental back then!
How did you choose the name Este?
The name Este is simply a derivative if East. I also write: Aste, Oster & Est. They’re all just East in various languages. I was given the name East by my 1st mentor, Fesski Fess of OMC. ACW. crews. I was writing Grafix 102 at the time but he would constantly call me “Eastside” since he lived on the southwest side & I was east of him… it got shortened to just East!
How would you describe your style?
My style tends to be aggressive at times and kinda cartoony at others. My letters are a direct stem from my b boy mentality. They should have swagger and movement almost like they’re dancing but when its time to really get down and “bust mugsy” then they tend to get lower, stretched out and more aggressive looking. Like being in the cypher just hangin with your boys, havin fun, tryin new moves but then somebody from a rival crew starts to downrock and do house moves in your cypher…then its time to flex!
I know your always traveling around the US and abroad, where are some of the most bizarre places you have painted?
The most bizzarre places would hafta be these funky lil spots in small towns around the Midwest. Ya find these random spots under bridges, along riverfronts, abandoned buildings and think that nobody is ever gonna see these and years later ya realize that kids went down there to do whatever, saw your pieces and it started an entire scene on accident. That’s happened to me a couple of times while randomly meeting guys at paint jams or Hip Hop events. It’s crazy; I sparked an entire scene in Little Rock just from painting a riverfront wall in a drunken stupor one night…random!
What’s the hottest or craziest spot you have ever caught?
I caught all kinds of ill spots all over Chicago. In the subway tunnels, on rooftops, etc. But two spots tend to stick out the most to me as far as “crazy” is concerned. One would be this rooftop that Dase and I spotted from the highway in Kansas City. There was this great wall on top of this abandoned warehouse that we just had to hit. So we went to the building to climb the fire escape and saw that half the steps were missing from various levels. We made our way shimmying up the handrails and utilizing what few steps were still intact. When we finally made it to the top we saw that the entire roof had fallen in and the only thing left was this approxomately 2ft ledge around the roof’s perimeter. The drop from the top was 5 or 6 stories and you could see straight through the roof to the bottom floor below. We ended up clinging to that 2ft ledge, painted the wall and made our way back to the fire escape. Dase went down first and made it with no issue but when it came time for me to go all kinda shit went wrong! I wasn’t even halfway down the first stair set when a stair broke out under my feet and I went down instantly. Luckily the escape was really narrow and I was holdin on to either side of the railings so when it fell, I tensed up and the railings caught my underarms leaving me dangling there. As the step made its way down it took out a shit ton more of the steps causing a huge crash at the bottom of broken, rusty stairs. Dase had to hop out the way to avoid being hit by all the metal pieces and schrapnel. I pulled myself up and clung to the railing closest to the side of the building and made my way down by shimmying along the beams on either side of where the steps used to be and holding the handrails. When I finally got to the bottom we both just yelled out loud from frustration and pent-up energy! We couldn’t believe what just happened. At the bottom of the fire escape I wrote on the wall: stay off the building and roof, fire escape is broken and roof is caved in! I hear that it was painted again though by somebody years later.
The second crazy spot is when Quisp and I decided to paint on top of a grain silo in Kansas that was visible from a main highway. Those things can be as high as 10 stories. We got to the silo with 2 giant duffle bags of paint only to realize that the ladder we were intending to climb was only an inch or two wider than 2 fists put together. But being young and determined we went at it anyway, stopping several times along the way due to exhaustion. When we finally got to the top we just laid there for about 10 minutes, catching our breath and laughing at how stupid it was to have climbed that shit. Never again would I try that because going down was even worse! Haha…
Now you have been painting for almost 30 years, that definitely makes you an OG in the game. I know you have a good chase story…
Some of my boys and I were painting under a bridge in Chi, not too far from a sketchy area near Roosevelt & State. We get close to finishing when we hear the roar of engines coming from all directions. A ton of undercover patrol cars swoop in and cops are jumpin out with guns in hand. I immediately take off runnin thru this field headed toward Roosevelt St. Bridge. I get maybe 100 ft or so and I hear a cop’s voice on a blowhorn say “Stop or I WILL shoot you!” He follows up by firing 2 or 3 shots in the air and yells “The next ones won’t miss so put your hands up and walk back!” I stop, walk back and get cuffed up. He starts askin me where all the guns are. I’m like “We don’t have any guns!” He ends up taking our crewmate Ages behind the wall we were painting and proceeds to kick the shit out of him. We could hear it all goin down but couldn’t see any of it. No evidence. Turns out that there was a gang war over in the neighborhood offa State and when the cops were called in they stumbled upon us instead! Bad luck f’sho.
What do you think of the new generation of writers?
I don’t have a single, all encompassing opinion about the new generation of writers. Things may be very different from when I was coming up but certain things remain constant. There are dope writers and there are wack ones. There’s writers that take it easy and writers that pay the dues. I simply take each moment as it comes and form my own opinions based on each individual.
There is a fine line between those who see graffiti as art and those who see it as a crime, what are your views on this?
Sometimes, in order for the views of what is accepted as art, people need to be shocked or disturbed first. Through this method people will take notice of it and start to form opinions. It’s no different than what was done at the end of the Renaissance when Da-daaist movements took place. Those artists were often ridiculed, arrested and even mobbed during their shows/performances. But now you can go to most any major museum and see examples of their work. Graffiti will inevitably have its time as a major art movement albeit the underlying goal or not.
For all the toys out there can you give them a few examples of spots that are off limits?
Crew yards, legals that aren’t theirs, churches & any type of sidebusting. Sidebusters are the biggest toys of all! Tryin to get a tag on a wall right next to a reknown writers piece for exposure makes a toy look even more toy. Sidebusters are the bottom feeders of the Graff society!
Do you see yourself as an artist or a graffiti writer?
A true Graffiti writer is out there in the streets payin dues, gettin up, and gaining street cred thru pieces and bombing. I’m retired from that scene so as much as Graffiti was my life and existence for so many years I would hafta fall into the “urban artist” realm these days. Gotta move to the side sometimes in order to make room for those who are younger and bolder! Nobody wants to see my old ass try and climb a rooftop!
Do you have a favorite piece of all time (were, when, and with who)?
That would hafta be the first rooftop I ever did on the line in Chi! Its was 1986, southside of Chi with my 1st mentor, the legendary Fesski Fess. That memory and thrill will NEVER be duplicated!
What are you working on currently and what plans do you have for the future?
Currently I’m just enjoying myself by painting with various people, travelling around and trying to experiment by pushing my styles and techniques. Graff is an ever growing, ever changing scene and I’m just content to still be actively painting and to have any sort of relevance. The future looks to be more of the same.
Any last words?
Big ups to all of my friends and crewmates that keep me inspired as well as my sponsors for supplying me with the paint and means to keep pushin’ forward! Landmark graff shop in LA & www.004connec.com! I also can’t end this without giving ALL THE CREDIT to my past mentors who taught me racking, style, ups, history, technique and er’thing I know in order to keep myself going till the end. Fesski Fess, Hit Men Bombing Crew and the greatest crew Chi has ever known, The Feds! Thanks for the shine Unda$treaM, and as I always say: Keep it Zulu!!!