Balancing the Elements – Tattoo Ideas, Artists and Designs

For 40 years, the streets of the world have been covered with his name. Fernando Carlo, Jr. fell in love with tagging when he was just 10 years old, but from the first time he wrote “Cope2” on an MTA 4 train, he was hooked for life. We spoke with the artist about his roots, the golden age of train marking, how he made his way through galleries, and more shortly before the opening of his latest show, “Balancing the Elements,” at Inked NYC. Here is Cope’s story, in his own words.

Photos of Monica Alonso

To grow

I was about 9, 10 and grew up in the South Bronx with my mom. We took the train to visit family members, so I always saw the graffiti on the subway cars and it was explosive. Just watching the names go by, I thought it was just normal. I asked my mum what it was and she explained that people just write their names on the trains and it’s not allowed. You stand at the station and here comes BOOM! A big “Blade” or “Comet”, “Tracy168” or “Pnut2”, those are the names I remember when I was a kid. Large, clean letters in a simple style. It drew me in, the energy of it.

His first tags

My cousin Chico was a local tagger in the neighborhood. One day I’m at my grandmother’s and she had this big marker, it was a Pilot marker. It was the first time I held a large marker in my hand. He’s like, “Let’s go for a train ride.” We had moved to Mosholu Parkway and the last stop on 4 was Woodlawn Road. We got on the train, we got in the back car, and when the doors closed from Woodlawn to Moshulu, he just started tagging the chairs, the windows, the doors. This was called motion bombing. Then, when we reached Moshulu, we went down, we went down the other side and we took it back. After that, when I went to my grandmother’s house and he wasn’t there, I took the marker out of her drawer and went on my own train trip.

The marshalling yard

I met some local taggers and they knew where the 4 trains were parked in the yard. I went there for the first time and it was like heaven. You see, all the trains were parked under the Tracy Towers, so we went there and it was a whole other world. You would see big chunks on all the trains, it was crazy. That was it. I started sneaking in there and I remember the guy said, “Never touch that rail under that piece of wood or you’ll get fried.” I would go to the yard and you would find half-empty spray cans and I would take them and start labeling the trains. Before you know it, I started to evolve. I started looking at the parts outside and started noticing parts from Deli167, Mark198, Comet, Blade, Pnut2, Kit17. These are the guys who really inspired me.

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Get girls

It was about having fun and getting known. When we hit 13, 14, we started having girlfriends. Girls always liked graffiti back then. If you had your name on the outside of a train, BOOM! It was, like, a moment two, three girlfriends you had. They never believed at first you had to show them the writing on the train when you quit school or you had to actually do it on a piece of paper. Then I started taking pictures of my trains in ’82, ’83.

Procurement of supplies

We used to go to the Woolworth back then and steal everything, man. I went in there and came out with a pocket full of everything: film, a Kodak 110 camera, spray cans. We took it, we put it in our coats and we escaped. We were kids, we didn’t care. Woolworth had crazy spray paint. They didn’t start locking it until the late 80s, but kids were still popping the locks and getting spray paint.

Become king

In the 80s, it was all about trains, taking the king of a line. And once you took the king of 4, you moved on to other lines – the 1, the 2, the 5. It was difficult because you had other graffiti artists claiming that line, and if you come on their line, they didn’t like it. I used to start scratching my tracks with no-names, but I would just go harder.

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

The end of an era

When the trains died in 88, 89, it was over. The new trains arrived and they got rid of all the tagged subway cars. I guess they got a budget and went really strong. First they painted all the trains white in 84, they were destroyed. It was the dumbest decision ever. How stupid is the MTA? It’s like a canvas, it’s like saying, “Come paint my train!” Then they started getting rid of them and dumping them in the ocean, scrapping them or sending them to museums. Before you know it, we got new trains and that was it. It’s gotten to the point where if you paint a clean train, it’s immediately polished. A lot of people got out. I grew up. I had two kids, I was in my twenties, I had two jobs, so I just painted walls.

go inside

I had jobs, so many jobs, I did everything: security, construction, carpentry. I had to do all the work you could think of and just got tired. But I was watching these guys who came before me put their work on canvas. I would go to shows and see guys like John1, SEEN, Dondi… you walk in and look at a Dondi painting and it says $10,000. $5,000. It takes me a month, two months to do that, I was like, I have to make the transition and paint on canvas.

Sometimes it’s hard because you have the ‘trying to stay real in the hood’ thing and move on to making money off your art and they’ll start saying you sold. But I’ve learned in life that it doesn’t matter, you gotta do what’s best for you. As long as you’re honest, you’re real, and you’re not hurting anyone’s feelings, you’re not selling yourself. People have to understand, I have children. I have bills. If I can sell art, you want me not to sell art because you want me to “stay real in the hood?” The hood does nothing for you, just makes it worse.

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Find his place

When I first started doing canvas I was only doing bubble letters and wild style pieces and they were a hard sell. It was really difficult to get them into the galleries. You could do a little graffiti show at a graffiti store and sell a little canvas for $200, which was cool, but you’re trying to sneak into the galleries. Luckily in Paris, they had a few galleries. In Paris they really, really liked graffiti so when I started going to Paris I started connecting with people and that’s when they started accepting my bubble letters and really love my story.

Balancing the Elements

I wanted to enter a little more into the contemporary scene. So I asked, how can I invert my style while keeping my elements? I was watching one of my idols, Basquiat, and how he used to take paint and just roll or prime over a stain and tag. Then prepare another spot and label. I said, here, I can do it with my style. So I would bombard the canvas with tags and vomit, then I would prime it in certain corners and when it dried, I would do it again. So I started doing diapers. That was it. Add some splashes and people started going crazy.

I started showing in more galleries but I was able to keep my tags, my wild style, my bubble letters. I was always balancing the elements, but adding a bit more art to it, because I wanted to show people that I can do anything.

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

Photos of Monica Alonso

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