When cogitating about an aged warehouse, only a handful of thoughts and emotions can be generated. One of them is certainly not beauty. 5 Pointz, however, seems to engender the sensations of beauty, awe, and inspiration with just one visit. An outdoor art exhibit in Long Island City of Queens, New York, 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center consists of a 200,000 square-foot factory building where aerosol artists from around the globe paint colorful pieces on the building’s walls. 5 Pointz is widely known as the world’s “graffiti Mecca,” where any aerosol artist is allowed to freely and legally paint whatever and whenever he/she desire.
The name 5 Pointz was given to the area to signify all five of New York’s boroughs coming together as one. There is a “z” at the end instead of an “s” to distinguish it from Five Points, Manhattan. Originally, aerosol artists from all around the city came to express themselves and take advantage of the free area. Today, however, because of 5 Pointz’s widely-known reputation, artists from around the globe come to share their artwork at 5 Pointz. Artists from Japan, Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Holland, and all throughout the United States have painted on the walls of the building. Famous graffiti artists who have personally painted at 5 Pointz include Cope2, Part, Tats Cru, Tracy 168, and Stay High 149. The area has also drawn several hip hop and R&B musicians as well, including Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Kaz, Rahzel, Mobb Deep, DJ JS-1, Boot Camp Clik, Joan Jett, and Joss Stone.
The factory itself was built during the mid-1900’s and housed several manufacturing complexes. After several years, however, the building had become abandoned and dilapidated. In 1971, Gerald Wolkoff had purchased the complex and started offering inexpensive rent to beginning artists. ”I have a certain passion for people in the art business,” Wolkoff states. Even today, Wolkoff allows many beginning artists to have a space to work within the actual building complex for very low rent. In 2009 a 450 square-foot studio was listed as renting for $600 per month. “This gives an opportunity for hundreds of artists who could not have other spaces. It’s a place for them to begin, to start, to have hope, and to dream,” stated Yigal Ozeri, a successful painter who opened his studio 18 years ago. The collective area that houses over two hundred artists within the building is known as Crane Street Studios. Besides housing Crane Street Studios, the building complex also contains several garment-industry enterprises. Often times many of the dumpsters outside of the building will contain pieces of cloth.
The name “5 Pointz” only refers to the outside of the building. Originally, however, the outside was known as the Phun Phactory. In response to the harsh laws against graffiti, Pat DiLillo, a plumber who was a fan of aerosol art, met with Wolkoff in 1993 to propose his idea of the Phun Phactory. Together, they developed a program known as The Graffiti Terminators. They hoped the program would encourage artists to display their aerosol art in a formal manner, thus reducing the need for graffiti vandalism. ”I have no problem as long as they do it tastefully and don’t endanger themselves,” Wolkoff stated. After several years, however, the project was eventually abandoned due to lack of participation.
After being shut down and nearly destroyed by vandals, the Phun Phactory was reopened by Jonathan Cohen, an aerosol artist, in 2001. Over the next five years, he transformed the block-long complex into an outdoor art exhibit space he called “5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’.”
The official founder of 5 Pointz, Jonathan is best known by his signature tag “Meres One.” Born and raised in Flushing, he adopted his tag as a teenager because he felt that M, E, and R were his best letters, calligraphically. He started to take an interest in aerosol art at the age of thirteen and eventually formed a graffiti crew with his friends when he was nineteen. Known as TheDeadly4Mula (TD4) crew, Meres and his group of friends are still active aerosol artists to this day and often collaborate together. During the mid-1990’s, Meres had studied art at the Fashion Institute of Technology and began to hone his skills in aerosol art. A successful artist, Meres has worked throughout New York and the United States, as well as in other countries such as Holland. Many of Meres’ works can easily be identified by his signature light bulb expressions. He maintains a small exhibit in the actual building complex which is open during the spring and summer. He one day plans to convert the complex into a graffiti museum. He is currently seeking certification for 5 Pointz to confer tax-exempt status and allow tax-deductible donations. He also plans to open a school for aspiring aerosol artists, complete with a formalized curriculum that imparts lessons in teamwork, art history, and entrepreneurship in addition to technique.
Meres feels that aerosol art should not be confused with graffiti. “Graffiti is a label for writers who vandalize. Aerosol art takes hours and days.” Random tagging is against the rules at 5 Pointz. ”There’s nothing artistic about a tag,” says Nic 1, an aerosol artist who is friends with Meres. ”A tag is just expressing anger or whatever. You can tag blindfolded on the phone. Pieces are considered art.” Meres stated that it’s his dream to have the building 100% covered. He’s come very close, with art covering the outside walls, the rooftops and the loading dock, not to mention the air shafts and the trucks parked outside. As long as you have contacted Meres beforehand, anyone is allowed to paint at 5 Pointz and no one is turned away. The face of 5 Pointz is continuously changing, with artists painting over old work and adding their own. How long your work stays up depends upon its quality; the times range from one week to one year. The artists who have painted at 5 Pointz include amateurs, as well as experts. Some of the artists include Meres One, Nic1, and The Kings of New York. Several other famous artists have also painted here, but many of their works have been erased due to building changes that resulted from an event occurring last April.
On April 10, 2009, Nicole Gagne, a 37 year-old jeweler, was seriously injured when part of a concrete fire escape she was on collapsed. An active member of Crane Street’s artist community, she was rushed to Bellevue Hospital and luckily recovered. The artists of 5 Pointz, led by as Meres completed a mural along the main building’s side reading. “Get Well Soon, Nicole.” That same month, the New York City Buildings department ordered the largest building closed after citing it for numerous building deficiencies, including that the studio partitions were built without permits. Wolkoff was shocked at the building’s current condition, including the concrete stairs, stating he had used them often himself. He met with the Buildings Department of New York to get a proper certificate of occupancy and began to reconstruct certain parts of the building in order to be reapproved. From installing emergency lighting to reordering its fire sprinklers, Workoff dramatically changed the infrastructure of the building.
After the reconstruction, many of 5 Pointz’s best and most distinguished pieces were gone. Throughout the summer of 2009, Meres reassembled his TD4 crew and began to reconstruct 5 Pointz. Sometimes working for more than 10 hours a day, Meres was finally able to bring 5 Pointz back on its feet before fall.
Speaking from experience, physically being at 5 Pointz is a truly unique and phenomenal experience. Surrounded completely by walls of artwork, you are immersed by the beauty of graffiti and the culture it brings with it. On a given day, artists, musicians, rappers, dancers, and photographers can be found at 5 Pointz. After reading this essay, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to ride the 7 train and experience this place for yourself.