Interview of the famous TATS Crew twins How and Nosm. 20 years of graffiti, infinite styles, thousands of murals, chase stories, graffiti all over the world and pure talent.
FC: Where are you from? Tell us about your beginnings and your discovery of graffiti.
We were born in the Basque Country of Spain and raised in Germany. We got involved in graffiti around the age of 13 through older friends in a small suburb of Duesseldorf. We had seen the movie Wildstyle, but it hadn’t clicked in our minds yet. Back then we were also skateboarding and most skaters were tagging as well so we got introduced to different styles and the background of the movement by some more experienced writers. Getting around on our boards and putting up tags was a good way to get up. Slowly we made our name through tagging and doing throw ups, and after a year or two we did our first pieces.
Things developed really quick from then on, and we moved from our suburb to Duesseldorf—where we started to focus more and more on productions. When painting illegally, it was difficult to finish a huge production along train tracks in one night, that’s why we started doing legal murals in the day time, and continued to satisfy our urge for the illegal on different transportation systems. We found a balance.
FC: What's the meaning of your names?
There are no specific meanings to the names, we just picked the letters we preferred back then.
FC: What crew do you rep?
We’ve had our own crew called RAL (right and left) since 1992. How came up with the letter combination and then Megx from Wuppertal, Germany joined, followed by Nosm. We’ve also represented Tats Cru since 1997. But we have crew affiliations all around the world—with some of the most respected artists out there.
FC: What was your interest in art and what led you to create all those things?
Well, we got introduced to art early on by observing our Mother’s drawings and our Father’s interest in paintings .We also lived in such a small town with basically no entertainment, so besides crime, writing was one of the few options…and being raised on welfare, writing was free of cost. We wanted to create our own world to escape all the drug abuse and poverty we were witnessing. Maybe it was also the desire to get respect and some appreciation from those who didn’t believe in us— we had to prove them wrong. We also have somewhat of a never ending energizer battery, being two helps a lot. We push each others limits, have a great friendly competition going on, and include it in our works.
FC: Tell us about the beginging of the TATS Crew adventure, when you arrived in New York in 97.
We had the opportunity to visit new york in 1997 because we were offered a free place to stay at one of our sister’s friend’s houses.When we arrived at JFK Airport, the yellow cab didn’t want to take us to our address and we thought he was kidding. We both had our typical rap video scene in our heads were the white cab driver doesn’t want to take the African American to Brooklyn. Remember Gangstarr? Pretty much like that, just the other way around—the cab driver being African American and us white. Well, he finally agreed to take us, but locked the doors on us at our destination, the Willis Housing Projects in the South Bronx.
We were looked at and treated like aliens. We didn’t mind the pissy elevators with crack viles, and our ability to speak Spanish fluently helped us out a lot. Prior to our departure one of our dj friends showed us Fat Joe‘s record “Jealous Ones Envy”, with the address of his hip hop store called halftime in the Bronx on the back. Once we were in New York, we looked up the store and met Brim who back then was in charge of the store and Fat Joe’s new clothing brand. Brim was a retired writer and hooked us up with Bio’s beeper number. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get in contact with Bio—a friend showed us how to use a beeper number. So we set up a date with bio,bg 183 and nicer at a wall they were painting, but we got lost and thought they were messing with us since we weren’t known much in the graff world at that point. But in reality it was just our lack of knowledge about NY street names and abreviations. Long story short, we finally made it there and introduced ourselves.
I think we caught the crew by surprise—being twins and speaking Spanish. It was a good start for a still strong friendship. Before we went back to Germany we were officially introduced to the rest of the crew members and it became our job to represent the crew in Europe and everywhere else we travelled in the world.
FC: Are you now living in NYC or are you representing TATS crew in Germany?
We are now living in the United States as German/American citizens—and we represent the Tats Crew at all times.
FC: Tell us about your Tats 'headquarters' in Nyc, many artists came to paint, do you have any story about it?
The Tats Cru headquarters is in the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx, just off the 6 train subway line. It’s been there since 1995, in the facilities of the community development center called The Point, a non profit organization with that provides different cultural activities. We are the only ones in the facility that are for hire, meaning for profit, but we still volunteer for workshops and other free projects to benefit the community we work and live in. Artists come from all over the world to paint, a lot of them we don’t even know. The walls of our office have been in music videos like “Classic/Better Than I’ve Ever Been” with KRS One, DJ Premier, Kanye West, Rakim and Nas, the Hip Hop Music Awards introduction, and multi Grammy Award Winning musician John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”.
FC: How would you define your work and what inspires you?
Our body of work speaks for itself. We have a lot of different approaches to this artform—ranging from canvases and sculptures to walls and murals...our work doesn’t need a label. Inspirations are drawn from all kinds of everyday life experiences and surroundings, which can clearly be seen in our latest works and styles.
FC: What’s your taste in movies, music, and books?
We are both movie maniacs to the point that our wives keep complaining about how many movies we’ve seen. To be honest with you, we watch any kind of movies.we’re pretty impressed with the high quality of 3d movies and some of their their storylines. But be it acion movies, dramas, or foreign… we dig it all. Most impressive lately was slumdog millionaire, but we figure a lot of people agree with us on that. Similar with the music, we like all kinds. Books are different though, they have to be about history, sociology or other factual information material. Sorry, but fiction doesn’t do it for us. Books in our view are for education.
FC: Favourite quote?
Ni de noche ni de dia nos deja empaz la Policia!
FC : Favourite color?
White, black and red.
FC: Name an artist (or many) whose work you respect and admire (in the graffiti movement or not!)
Many New York graffiti classics, Picasso, Klaus Kinski.
FC: If your style was a music band or a song? Which one would it be?
Style and Flow:
FC: You guys created a letter style inspired by typography, visual effect, interlocking perspectives... How did it started? Did you get bored of the classic widstyle rules or 3D thing and all that letters that we see again and again all over the world?
At the end of each year we do a kind of a recap, look back at the work we’ve done, and set a goal of what we’ll do the following year. So this year we decided to do exactly what you just said “Letter style inspired by typography, visual effect, interlocking perspectives”. We thought it was just time to do something different, after so many years of doing similar styles, and we wanted to stand out from the crowd—and so far we’ve had a very good response. The original goal was to do 100 blockbusters, and while trying to reach our goal we got funkier with it and started to play with the letters and backgrounds in a more free way than usual without much of the typical stuff that you would expect from us.
After about 80 or so walls we got a little tired of it though and so we’re now going a different direction… which we won’t tell you, so we can really develop our idea. :) If you look around in the graff world you can clearly see that to be on the top of the game, you have to follow a certain style—and we don’t really dig what’s going on right now, no offense to anybody. Besides that, we don’t want to look back in 10 years and see that we had the same style over and over again with zero development. Reinventing your style is very important because there is no better feeling than seeing your name in a different light. Sometimes you just have to dare and break free from that constant pressure of having to deliver piece after piece. Many times we’ve heard others say “so are you gonna do the 3d style you guys are known for?”. Come on, we’ve been around for a while, and by now you should know how versatile we can be—‘cause we are definately not painting to please the crowd. Dare to be different!
FC: What's you rôle during a big TATS Crew wall?
When the current active members of Tats Cru come together to do a big production we usually sit down a day before and plan out the wall. First we come up with a theme, which is usually spontaneous and could come out of any of our heads. Once we have the theme, which is very important if you want a unique and original wall, we do some sketches, figure out where the styles will go, and the rest we usually improvise. Everybody in Tats Cru plays a different roll, although all members are basically capable of doing anything. BG183 usually takes care of the photo realistic stuff and portraits, Nicer is very good in cartoon/bboy style characters, Bio is the letter master, and we often take care of the backgrounds. Sometimes we’ll have drawn out our own characters and will place them in a nice flow with the rest of the images on the wall, or one of us will do the styles—all depends on how we feel that day, ‘cause in the end it’s all about enjoying yourself while you are painting. Once we have the basic stuff cleared out, we grab all kinds of different brands of paint and get to work .
More TATS CRU WALL
FC: What was your most adventurous and dangerous graffiti?
It's very hard to say what was our most adventurous and dangerous graffiti experience--after more than 20 years of painting graffiti, and visiting more than 50 countries... but the front runners would be painting for druglords in a notorious favella under the Christo in Rio de Janeiro, doing one of the first wholecars on the Hong Kong subway system, doing a wholecar on Australia's biggest train, getting shot at in Bogota, Colombia, being locked up in Oslo, and doing major work for corporations all over the world.
On Sept 11, 2001 we left new york for Bogota and had quite a rough time over there. Not only did we wake up to watching the twin towers collapse on TV, but we also had our own violent experience that day. We bought some Colombian spray paint called Abro, which is very popular in South America and the Caribbean, and were ready to go to paint a train layed up near where we were staying. We waited until night and went with some of our non-graffiti friends that knew the area. Now they didn’t have any experience in painting trains but they assured it couldn't be hard because nobody was doing it there. But we already knew that South America has a weakness for extreme private security and since this was a nostalgic train, the only train like it in the whole city, we thought different than them. So once we entered the yard through a shitty fence, we walked slowly to the train. Now we were hyped up and our friends were being very loud and drunk, which didn’t help either. Then suddenly How saw a shadow by a tower and pointed out that they had machine guns. Still, our friends said they wouldn't do anything—little did they know. Not only did they shoot at us, but a big fucking rottweiler lookalike came running and barking towards us—and we all decided it was time to be out.The dog was unfortunately to fast for us, so one of our Colombian friends simply stopped and kicked him in the head. We got rid of that problem, but we were still in fear of the passing bullets when Nosm busted his ass on the traintracks and dislocated his big toe. Somehow we managed to get away and it was time to drink away the pain. The next day some voodoo doctor Nosm visited put his toe back in place, and we got to do our first wall—that wouldn't have been complete with out a police chase.
We also recently went to Dominican Republic and had quite some interesting experiences out there to. The paint is really shitty, but they do have a lot of different brands, so we had to try out a bunch of them to find the ones we like the most. None of the caps we brought worked good on the cans, so most of the stuff we did out there was with standard caps, and we have to admit that it’s fun to have to paint with what is available. You forget how good you have it back home. Once we had our paint we just went out in broad daylight and painted on wall and thought we wouldn’t get in trouble. But we got stopped a bunch off times by armed security who pulled out pump guns and revolvers on us. Most of the time we got away telling them some lies or by giving them a couple of dollars. You can buy anything there, and police are very corrupt and dangerous—we feared them more than the thugs. It’s a very poor country with many extremes, but filled with beautiful and friendly people.
Its worth a trip—but do not stay in one of those shit resorts where they tell you it is too dangerous outside. It is—but walk around the South Bronx at night…its the same thing. We enjoy places like that a lot because it feels like back in the day when you had to go hunt for good paint, and just go out there and paint what ever you want without any headaches over getting permissions for walls. Besides, you don’t have to worry about what you can and cannot paint on the wall. You have a lot of freedom there which is very healthy for your creativity.
FC : What’s the characteristic of a How piece, then of a Nosm piece, finally of a How and Nosm piece? :)
We both have similar styles and flow, and manage to combine our styles very easily since we work so much together—basically all the time. It’s hard to describe our own style, when we feel that we have several different syles. Not to be arrogant, but we can switch it up pretty good and sometimes we’ll do stuff that you would believe we painted. It is very important to us that we can express ourselves the way we want. Just check out our website or our links and decide for yourself what style we have, because we don’t want to limit ourselves by just naming one particular style or having only one message for you. Hopefully we’ll evolve more and in a different and new ways so that we won’t get bored—and can have the motivation and energy to continue doing our part in the movement.
FC: What makes a good piece?
A piece is always about style. Style comes from clever moves and connections, putting arrows on the right angles and spots. But the main thing, is that there is a strong foundation in the individual letters and the thing as a whole. It can be a two-toned piece and prove pure style. All the slime, ice effects, drips, and gimmicks are just there to make a style (a simple piece) more funky. That’s a piece to us.
FC : Does Graffiti makes you free?
It depends on the situation really. To be able to paint at any location, anywhere in the world, at any given time is what we would consider freedom. Though we must admit that once it turns into an addiction, and painting becomes a necessity, it’s always a torture inside your mind. It hardly ever leaves you alone, and that makes one feel trapped in their own mind. So based on that, we would say that graffiti makes you feel free, but freedom has its price.
FC : What do you like in graffiti?
You can’t ever really get tired of writing. Everyday there are new ideas and ways to make this whole thing interesting again and again. That’s what’s really satisfying about graffiti. But to be honest, the illegal part is what we like the most. We’re able to express ourselves without any restrictions—and we think that is the essence of it all.
FC: Did your views on Graffiti change over time?
Definetly! When we were younger we used to be like most writers only focusing on the illegal part of the movement, ignoring any other angle of it. Partly because we didn’t know, and partly because we wanted to “keep it real”. But nowadays we are open to any kind of approach, if it’s a smart one and artistically executed. At some point we weren’t doing panels for the simple fact that a wholecar had to be done—why do only half the job?..Close minded thinking, but it did produce quite a collection.
FC: You're from Germany, and you arrived in New York in 97, you must know very well the characteristic of the European vs american graffiti ? What o you think about level, technique, do you think there are different school now with internet ?
It’s sad to say but the level that Europe and other countries are on is definetly more advanced. Consider the fact that most high quality spray paint brands come from Europe along with all the tools for them. So it’s natural that Europe is technically more advanced. There are a huge amount of new comers that keep pushing the limits. New York was able to stay on top in the ‘90s with the support of Europe. New life was given to city…and now look at all the new things that have developed in LA. It’s easy to tell where their influences come from. The whole internet thing is a completely different universe. Graffiti has been global for a while, thanks to some individuals of our graffiti community, but what we witness now is something else. You can be a star just by being online. Now that’s something, and if we’d had that before, a bunch of us could have saved thousands of dollars by not taking all those trips and doing intense self promotion—but that’s what separates us from the toys.
FC: How do you see street-art in 10 years?
It’s hard to say where street art is going to be in 10 years. As far we can tell now, with all those insane law makers giving out excessive jail terms for painting to young free-minded spirits, it is all leading up to the only feasible conclusion. Decrease. Decrease in the streets and on the transportation systems. But it will be highly respected in the gallery world—as another artform alienated from its original context and transformed to fit into a society that is designed to keep us uniform and controlled. But lets worry about tomorrow...
FC: Who’s the owner of the street?
The People. And we are the people.
FC: What are your worst and best habits?
Our worst and best habits are defined by our Virgo characteristics. For some people our controlled and exact execution of things in not only with our art, but in everyday life is quite annoying. We are always on time, and that is a great strength in our business. Once we set ourselves a goal, it has to be reached under any cicumstances. Determination is behind our every move. Sometimes it goes to such an extreme that we forget the fun part… but I guess the result is the satisfaction, and that leads to fun as well.
FC: You practice other forms of art, tell us more about the sculpture works
For the last five years we have been focusing a lot on other aspects of graffiti and how to approach our art differently than we usually do. We have been working with quite a few different tools and medias such as metal, glass, and wood. Furniture and sculptures are the result of these experiments. That way we’re able to reach a larger audience.
FC : Your favorite time to graff?
We must admit that painting in the day time is the most convenient way for us. Be it for the murals or the underground approach. Society is blind to what happens in the day and takes things for granted. Situations simply don’t solicit the questions they would if they were happening at night times. Besides, most suspicious behaviors are witnessed when the sun goes down.
FC : A list of words that represent Graffiti (unlimited).
Well,we prefer to call it writing for the simple reason that the pioneers of this whole movement didn’t come up with the term graffiti. Words like New York, damage, vandalism, big and effective, quick and illegal come to mind….
FC: Any favourite story about your graffiti adventures?
To be honest there are so many great stories of adventures we have experienced throughout the years. In previous interviews we have told about a few, so the one that comes to mind right now happened in Perth, Australia in 1999. We had been traveling through all major cities in Australia with an immense energy. We were accomplishing great results and had reached our last part of our trip. Perth. The weather was so incredibly hot, somewhere in the 100s. We did some canvas work and a mural, but were more focusing on the transportation system. Especially hyped up by the fact that all the locals were doubting our success on the new system. No end to end was ever heard of and a wholecar sounded like a ufo. On our own we went to study the system. We found a remote and deserted spot to us, but with cctv and all around security. It was impossible to do it by day, so we decided to stake it out at night—a dry desert-like area with no humans in sight. Only private houses and their annoying barking dogs as we approached the lay up. The yard was lit up like the yankee stadium. We then realized that security had moved the cameras to our benefit. We had a blind spot so we got to work and dug our way underneath the fence, painted, and had that car running in the morning. The whole thing went so sweet we decided to attack the following night when security wasn’t going to expect anybody. Come on, who would be so stupid and go back to the scene of crime, right? Well this time we came more prepared and brought huge ladders along with us. Hiding in the bushes we heard steps running towards us and we thought...ok this is it…they got us. But then we realized after dropping all our stuff and going for cover that it was just a family of kangaroos. Relieved, we went back and leaned our stolen ladders against the fence and stepped over it, pulled them over to the side of the trains, and situated them in a way that would allow us a fast escape. We got to work on a wholecar. Everything was running smooth up to the point when we were about to finish…as always...a security guard spotted us and started running towards us wielding his walkie talkie. Thinking to ourselves what a idiot he was not to quietly sneak up on us, we made our way very calmly to our little bridge, walked over it to the other side, and pulled back our ladders. We were very pleased to see the security guard upset on the other side—and history was made and our wholecar ran through perth….great photos in the city center with Shimes’ huge mural in the background.
FC:How would you describe street art and what makes it different than graffiti or would you say it all falls under the same umbrella. Do you think it's totally different?
Street art is another new word created by the conservative media and our society in order to benefit them. Most writers have created plenty of art in the streets, and that’s not just tags or throw ups. Kust have a look at Magic’s chairs or Ma mano’s hands. Does it sell more because it is called art? Yes. Is it something new? No. The new thing about it is that anybody can do it now, with the smallest amount of effort. Copy and paste an image stolen from the world wide web and glue it to the wall outside. The so-called artist doesn’t even have to have the guts to act illegally. Not many glue & sticker individuals get stopped by pedestrians or the police. But as soon you bring out a spray can you are creating controversy and attention. Most so-called street artists are less creative than writers. We know how to use different tools in different situations. Besides, we know how to write—that’s one difference. And we do not mind criticism. Writing is to this day still not fully respected as art…but street art is? Hmmm…
FC: What's coming up in the next few months? Show, production, book, videos etc…
We have quite a few projects coming up. We mentioned in prior interviews our 30th anniversary book for the Tats Cru. We are still working on it, even though it gets pushed back here and there. It’s such a huge undertaking that needs a lot of time, and we are busy around the clock. As we speak we have just finished a project in Hong Kong that is connected to an event we did in Milan earlier this year, in the Museum for Contemporary Art. It will be finished at the end of the year in Dubai. There is also a third trip to Rio de Janeiro planned this year, and some more personal productions.
FC : Where can we found the video you made with your Brother summing up your graffiti travels?
Most videos can be found on line…you know where to look at.
FC:What's your real goal?
Our goal is to live happy and stress free. It’s sad to say that besides personal happiness, it comes down to having enough money. But a modest income, and the ability to persue our art in any form and at anytime is the ultimate goal that will lead to us having fulfilled lives.
FC: Any words of wisdom?
Official How and Nosm site
FC: Thank you How and Nosm.