Review of El Principio: An Essay by Jayson Edlin


By Jayson Edlin (Terror 161), Nov. 22, 2009.

The best graffiti show of my lifetime was held last night but you’ll probably never hear about it. Jeffrey Deitch had nothing to do with it : neither did any wealthy European “connoisseurs.”

It wasn’t held in a gallery and there were no street art superstars or work of former graffiiti artists who dropped the letters from their work to please the art world. It was a one man show by —The Man—Lee Quinones.

Quinones is  known as the most dilligent “transit worker” of the mid to late ’70s for the barrage of whole cars he left in his wake. His post subway gallery career has seen his work hang in the collections of Eric Clapton, Agnes b and countless museums. But the eccentric Quinones decided to put on a show for those closest to him in the Lower East Side apartment in which he grew up.
The elevator made several stops on its way up to the 15th floor, each one providing a sound bite of salsa music blaring or the smells of Puerto Rican dishes wafting through the air.

The body of work consisting of the blueprints for some of his whole cars and handball court murals were rescued from a scrapbook that had fallen apart long ago and saved in a vault until Quinones (Thank God!) decided to hang them in sparse frames on the walls of his boyhood home and illuminate them with strings of Christmas lights. The works done on paper with design markers form the blueprint from the most important body of work ever done on subways by a single artist.

The import of the drawings is best understood by those ancient enough to recall the trains Lee rendered in the seventies rolling through the system that transformed the IRT’s into a rolling Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seeing the original sketches for iconic whole cars such as Heaven is Life , Earth is hell and The Egg Shell Men reduced me to a star struck fan akin to those teenybopper girls who used to scream at the sight of The Beatles.
The unobstructed view from the apartment’s window revealed a tranquilly flowing East River and an unobstructed close-up of the Manhattan Bridge, which seemed like it was tied in with Lee’s Christmas light motif.
While people ate pasteles, Lee gave an informal tour of his former home: “This was my father’s room. This was The Fabulous 5’s war room where we planned out our whole cars. This was my room. (His was the room with the killer view of course.)

Unfortunately Lee’s mother a.k.a. MOM101 a resident of the building since 1954, was asleep when I got there. I would have liked to have met the lady whose son did top to bottoms and window downs honoring her while most of us hid our art from our mom’s for fear of punishment, confiscation of photos, blackbooks and other ephemera.

Juxtaposed amongst famous graffiti artists and movie stars who sauntered in and out of the now almost vacant apartment (Lee’s mom is now the sole occupant) was his infant son Benicio dancing to the music, which is kind of amazing considering he only mastered the upright position  a few short months ago.

When I started writing graffiti in 1973 I was searching for an extended family to replace my own dysfunctional one. Last night’s soiree made me proud to be a member of the same tribe that produced Lee.The lucky few attendees gleaned a rare insight into the greatest subway artist of a generation’s methods from the front lines where the plans were all hatched. Nothing was for sale which is only fitting because the work is priceless. I believe the art world will figure this out too, probably when Benicio is celebrating his 50th birthday which is why the work heads straight back to the vault when the show’s over.

Published by admin, on November 23rd, 2009 at 9:36 pm. Filled under: Uncategorized4 Comments

4 Responses to “Review of El Principio: An Essay by Jayson Edlin”

  1. So def so def

    Comment by ravi on November 26, 2009 at 6:29 pm

  2. beautiful work, history and perseverance!


    Comment by william on December 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

  3. Excellent piece by Terror. Lee your event was amazing. The works were outstanding and to be able to see them all together was a marvelous and special moment for me as a fan. The fact that the works/studies still exist is amazing and I am thankful that you or MOM101 preserved them. Nuff respect always.

    Comment by ket on February 20, 2010 at 7:32 pm

  4. I bow down humbly in the presence of such graetenss.

    Comment by Kaed on May 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm

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