by Yazmin Colon
What is art? I feel that the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. Who is to judge and say what art is, when there are so many views and opinions. Everyone has their own focus, like the lens of a camera. We can all look through the same lens and yet focus in on different aspects of that what we see. Again, what is art when it comes in so many shapes, sizes and colors?
I myself was raised in these Brooklyn streets in the 80’s: the era of graffiti, taggers, writers or as some consider it, vandalizers. Our art galleries were the trains flooded with graff, the RIP murals that went up next to the community bodegas. The people we considered artists were the names that you seen thrown up no matter what borough you traveled to. Jesus Saves was one of those very artists. Being raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, I remember seeing a Jesus Saves tag. Today I have the honor to release an interview done with this graffiti legend who has been around for 20+ years in the making.
BWB: Where were you born and raised?
Jesus Saves: “I was born in West Islip, Long Island. My parents moved to Bushwick back in 77. I was only 3 years old and have been here ever since.
BWB: From Spain to Jesus Saves. When did that happen? When was that first itch, that time when you put that marker to the wall and caught your first tag? I know you are now a church man when did that happen?
Jesus Saves: I was 18 years old when I started writing Spain and caught my first tag but I was just tagging just to tag. At that time every one was doing graffiti. It was the thing to do, even if you weren’t a tagger, writer you still had to throw something on the wall. Graffiti was at its biggest back then and so was hip-hop. It was one of the elements of Hip Hop, just like break dancing, b-boying, dj-ing etc. I was raised with people doing art, graffiti all around me its all I seen. So at the time I chose the name Spain because I speak Spanish and I’m real white, that’s the name that every one called me so I started writing it. To this day people still call me Spain. I go by MC Spain as a gospel rapper. As a graffiti artist after giving my life to the lord I changed it up and started writing Jesus Saves. After I started writing up Jesus Saves that’s when I really got passionate on hand styles and graffiti and wanted to be everywhere. I like the fact that I am repping Jesus as well as reppin myself as a graffiti artist and that’s the beauty of it. I think that this is a beautiful ministry that God has given me. I can represent for the church crowd and the street crowd.
BWB: Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn was a pretty rough era in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. What were some or one of the best memories you have of Bushwick from that era.
Jesus Saves: “The best time for me was in 80-85. In 85 I was about 11 years old. That’s the age I remember we would go to the handball courts in 111 park today known as the park of I.S. 347 Junior High school on Starr and Central and there was mad graffiti everywhere. All over the handball courts, all over the school, the trains were getting bombed, it was crazy. We would bring rolled up carpets to do our b-boy dances. My uncle would lend me his boom box, and I remember at that time we were always playing Latoya by Just Ice, Run DMC, Just Blow and Menudos, the Spanish band. They did a concert at Knickerbocker Park. It was crazy, those were really good times.
BWB: Do you consider yourself a graff artist or a street artist or both?
Jesus Saves: I would say both. I do street art. Street art to me would be like catching tags but I’m also a graffiti artist, I do murals, canvases, I love art, and what I do is art. Graffiti is art. Sometimes I like to consider myself as a graffiti artist/writer. A writer is someone who catches tags, an artist is some one who gets productive, puts in beautiful colors and beautifies their pieces. I’m a little bit of both but I’m trying to be more of an artist than a writer because I know that God is opening up doors for me to the point where I don’t have to be a writer anymore. Being a writer I’ve had a couple of arrests and did 30 days in Riker’s Island for the amount of arrest I had for tagging. I want to avoid that life. In ‘95 I was all over Bushwick, by ‘97 I was all city. My tag was everywhere.
BWB: Have you hit up places out of the country and if so where and what’s your favorite piece?
Jesus Saves: Yes for sure, I’ve done murals in Spain, I’ve done over ten pieces out there. Caught mad tags in Barcelona, and Valencia of course. I stopped by Paris for a week on my way to Germany. In Germany did a couple of murals, which are the ones I love the most. I also have done murals in Puerto Rico and just got back not too long ago from Dominican Republic where I did like ten walls.
BWB: What was one of your best bombing experiences?
Jesus Saves: I would say when I was homeless for three weeks. I was a free man. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I mean don’t get me wrong, I had nowhere to live but I would make sure I showered by my mom’s and eat, but again I was a free man. I could bomb anywhere I wanted. All I did was walk. There were times I would walk from Bushwick to the Bronx just catching tags. I’d rest at a park, fall out for a bit, and do it again. I was still selling canvases and was still doing art shows, so when one of my pieces would sell I’d go buy paint. I always had paint even back at my mothers house I had stashes of paint. I’d go pick up about ten cans, five white five black and just leave. Leave from Dekalb and Tompkins in Bed Stuy where my mother lived at, and walk all the way to Manhatten and Central Park, just walking catching tags on everything, even vans. One thing I didn’t do was tag on clean vans, only if they were already tagged up. I can say I was lost, this being back in 2005, which was the year I think I caught the most wreck. I was all over Dykman Washington Heights, then I’d go to downtown Manhatten, SoHo, the Village, Tribeca, everywhere. Would go the Bronx, and I’d get lost, I’m telling you, I was everywhere. But I can say those where the best experiences I had in my graffiti life, those three weeks, so free I felt like a bird. Didn’t care if I would get locked up. I got a lot of heat, vandal squad was looking for me. They said I had so many tags that they couldn’t even tell what borough I was from. It was crazy, but those three weeks was the best. At that time I had nothing lose.
BWB: How do you feel about the change that’s coming to Bushwick, the new art scene?
Jesus Saves: I mean I’ve seen a lot of changes honestly. When I look around now I’m like, wow, we’re in the future. Its like we in Manhattan, so the art scene has become very advanced, we have a lot of European artists out here painting as well, so Bushwick is getting its recognition worldwide. People are coming out here to paint, and Bushwick is making noise graffiti wise and in the street art world period. In general Bushwick is changing, new condo buildings. People are complaining because rent is going up, but it some ways it’s better. Bushwick has become a very safe neighborhood, more police than ever before. Back in the days in the 90’s for me it was sweet, there were no cops anywhere. In the late 80’s and 90’s before I gave my life to God I remember my and my boys would hang in the corner just smoking weed, and drinking 40’s, all the drugs and drug buildings. I mean lines of addicts getting served. Cops nowhere. Where was police then? They were nowhere to be found unless something crazy happened. But now they are everywhere.
BWB: From one artist to another, what would you be some advice you would give to other artist coming into the Bushwick community?
I wish them a lot of blessings. I wish them the best, to get productive and to take advantage of being in this neighborhood. Bushwick is a blessing. Being an artist Bushwick is one of the best places to be in. It’s the heart of art. Get your recognition, legal if possible, things aren’t the way they were back in my era. You can get caught a lot faster. Promote your work online, promote it in the streets. Stay out of trouble.
BWB: What would you tell the native graffiti artists/artist who have been raised in Bushwick to help them handle the new wave?
Jesus Saves: Just go with the flow. We had a good time in the past. It was one of the best we seen. People come and go, but we have to embrace other artists and show them love. Make them feel welcomed because through that you build connections and we can combine and as artists in Bushwick that’s what we need. That competition stuff to me is wack. No one is better than no one, we all are artists. God has blessed us all with a gift. Let’s just do what we love. We have to give Bushwick a good name.
BWB: What are you currently up to?
Jesus Saves: Well as I said I have given my life to God. And I look at everyone as a blessing. I’ve been working with some kids in other churches teaching them the skill of graffiti art and inspiring them not only with graffiti but also as a gospel. Graffiti artists for Christ. These kids love art, hip-hop, and Jesus, so we allow them to be themselves and still practice their religion. Times have changed, we have to be more open-minded with our youth if we want them to be inspired and understand that church doesn’t have to be boring. So their love for hip-hop and graff is accepted in its positive form. It’s all about building the connection with them.
Jesus Saves has proven his talent not only here but many places out of the country as well, as you read.