You might not know his work by name but you have seen it. Cruk’s murals, commissioned or otherwise, dot the cities landscape. The dude has been going hard for years. Growing up in the tenth ward, tagging since birth, and working with every crew with initials. I met up with Cruk outside Richmond’s Bar on Main St.
The local graffiti artist was doing a mural for the bar and had just finished up for the day. Covered in fresh paint, he gestured to the upstair’s patio. “We will probably hear each other better upstairs’. Over drinks and chain smoking cigarettes, conversation came easy and careened from topic to topic. Cruk schooled me in everything from graffiti to the history of Colonel Sanders. In the end, we spoke about getting into graffiti, how it feels to create, and Rochester’s art scene.
How did you get into Graffiti?
I grew up with graffiti all around me. The first time I tagged a wall was most likely in the bathroom with a marker. At that point in time, your hand style is what tells somebody you are a true graffiti writer. My hand style suuucked. I was trying to get a hand style down. I practiced every piece I could find and looked at tons of graffiti. This was before the internet so graffiti was hard to find. We used to have pen pal crews. You see all these magazines and shit with people’s styles and you try to replicate that. My brother was a graffiti artist in my early years so I was very drawn to it.
When was the first time you tagged a wall?
My first piece was piece under the Genesee Park bridge under the highway. There was something that drew me to that wall of color. My dad was an artist who showed me a lot of stuff. Realistic drawing and portraits and stuff. There was something to graffiti that drew me in that direction. I never found a sport I liked so graffiti became my sport. It was something to break bones for. Getting arrested by the cops all for getting better at your sport. Graffiti is the sport of art. You can sit and paint in a black book but that is missing something. Graffiti took a hold of me to the point. I grew up in a rough area of town, a lot of crazy shit happens there. you can’t find comfort.
Where did you grow up?
10th ward. Dewey and Driving Park area. Graffiti was big when I was growing up. Then it died off for years. It shut itself down. I always felt like doing art at my desk or in a notebook was meaningless. It didn’t have that adrenaline that I needed. There is something about that. You look at all of these billboards around us. These people pay for advertisement, but at the same time, it is all corporate graffiti. Do I really feel bad about going over a billboard? I don’t have permission but you didn’t have my permission to post your big bald heads every fifty feet. It is that rush of doing something dangerous. But I still having the comfort in doing something that is art. I’m not painting beautiful scenes of beaches or Bob Ross sunsets. Even though Bob Ross is a huge influence for me.
Oh yeah. Absolutely. That guy went and found all of the shortcuts.
When did you take the name Cruk?
When I was in Wilson Magnet. I got kicked out of School Without Walls and they sent me over to Wilson. This dude came up and said that he heard I got kicked out of school for stealing cars and started calling me a crook. I started scribbling that around all over school and the letters just kind of fit. My old tag name was Neo and people started calling me a Nazi. The name [Cruk] just kind of stuck along with Tell Lie Vision. The meaning of crook always stuck with me. The definition is the end of a shepherd’s staff that saves the sheep from drowning. I dig the religious undertones of it. Saving the flock by doing something you love.
How did you start painting with the FUA Crew?
Originally Congo saw me when I was a teenager doing graffiti. I was rollerblading by Dewey Ave and I busted my ass right in front of a store. I saw Range and Congo laugh their asses off at me busting my ass. I had a bunch of my stickers on my helmet. They came up and took my helmet and walked off. It was just a congregation of dudes looking at my helmet. I thought I was fucked. I was tagging that area for a while. I knew they were FUA so I thought I was fucked. Next thing you know I am talking to them. They are still holding my helmet, and asking me questions about graffiti and this at that. I told them where I grew up and where I was tagging. At that point, Congo took me under his wing. He showed me how to airbrush and gave me my first graffiti job for Distorted Customs.
Before that, I was at Cobb’s hill or at the train yards. I was always out there painting. But it was definitely Zone who really put me under his wing. I call him my godfather. When my brother left town as a kid I was left off in the distance. Zone was one of those people. It’s funny, back then he was still in Crime Stoppers. We used to be smoking and I’d joke if I turned him in we could get more weed. He took me in and helped me develop my style. I had the style but I didn’t have the technique until Zone put cans of paint in my hand and showed me how to paint. They were all accomplished artists at that time and I was just fifteen. They gave me a chance.
What was your first mural?
My first mural was from the Congo job. Distorted Customs off Broad St. In that building I had to write their name on the wall. It was actually Spain that I worked on that with. I was painting with him consistently throughout the years. I was in BPF (Bullet Proof Family) with him. when that separated I went to John Lofton and got down with HFK with Spain. Spain saw me drawing in a book in the lunch room on my first day there. He saw I was doing graffiti and decided he was going to show me something. He throws up ‘Spain’ on a wall at school then I took out a big sloppy shoe polish mop and threw up a bigger one. Next thing you know we are best friends. His cousin was Evak from FUA Crew. I ended up getting down with Evak. Spain had kids and fell off a little bit. It was two years of putting in work before I could fully rep FUA.
Do you still use your other name, Tell Lie Vision?
Absolutely, I do it everywhere I go. Tell Lie Vision has the most meaning to me as an artist. I woke out of a bad dream one day and drew this thing then fell asleep. It was weird. When I woke up I thought it was a good idea so it became a tag for me. It is like an alter ego from the Cruk FUA. if you go back and watch one of those ‘Not Me Not Now’ commercials they filmed one in front of a Brooklyn mini-mart. My tag is on the icebox outside.
How many walls do you do a year?
It is an inconsistent number. It is whatever I can fit it. Whatever leftover paint I have can turn into a train or a wall.
What is it like being a graffiti artist in Rochester?
We are a very close-knit city, every knows everybody here. If there is a problem there is a way to resolve it. There are a lot of new cats coming up and getting into the scene. There could be beef depending on crew sanctions but for the most part, that’s not a problem. FUA is the only main crew here so no one is really going to fuck with you. We all paint. We are all in it together trying to make it happen. The graffiti lifestyle died for a while and its slowly coming back. The problem is it is becoming fashion. The difference between a lifestyle and a fashion is kind of heavy. Just because you use spray paint that does not make you a graffiti artist. You can do street art but there is a difference. It is a big battle right now between the street art world and the graffiti world. This is not acceptable for a lot of people. There are people who put in a lot of dangerous work. Out on a highway sign or on a train. They don’t want to see their life become a fashion.
Rochester is a big city but also a very small town. We are not here to bring each other down. We are here to bring each other up. If I see a kid painting I will walk over and put a can of spray paint in his hands. When I was taught how to paint with my legs as well as my hands and to use my whole body that changed my world. It became one of my biggest tricks. So every time I see a kid out there learning and trying I will give them a can and show them about how to paint with more points of control using your body. With the collection of artists we have here in Rochester we want to see everyone get good.
What’s it like painting when you get into the zone?
Honestly, maybe there is something left in your DNA from when your ancestors went to war. This is the war of words when you are out there doing something you know you are out there illegally. You are not harming anyone and it doesn’t last forever. You could do the best piece in the world and it will get taken down eventually. Someone will scribble a dick on it. Technically I don’t even do art I just put a pretty background up for people to draw dick and swastikas on. When you are in your element you have a brief moment of freedom. It is a complete removal from the normal art world. Half of you says fuck it and throw up what you want the other half hopes everyone sees it. In the end, it is self-indulgent. It is never going to be a respected art but at the same time it can be like punk rock is to classical. It is a different realm of people. A subculture that risks everything they got to make an image happen. There is always going to be a rush when you do it. There is a rush and an intuition that wakes you up in the middle of the night to go climb a building and make graffiti happen.
Richmond s, Drew Nye, Roam cafe, Dubland Underground when it was going. These are the people who saw what we did and supported it. Biggest shout outs to Bone’s family and my FUA family and my HFK family. Without those guys I’d be nowhere I’d be stuck in my own brain. Biggest shout out to Snoe Boogie and Zone, I’d be lost without those dudes. This world can suck you up really fast.