Baltimore, whether you know it or not, has continued to be an East Coast graffiti epicenter, producing some of the most prolific writers the United States has known. Coming from the not so soft streets of B-more, Eli has traveled many paths as a graffiti writer, from prolific street bomber, to steadily rocking metal, and now finally, rocking burners in more obscure wall “landmark” spots to be discovered by generations to come. Eli took a moment to discuss with us his evolution as a writer and what makes Baltimore so unique.
What drew you to graffiti and how many years have you been writing?
Friends. My friends originally drew me to graffiti, them and seeing my own work up. Admittedly, I was a late bloomer in the graffiti scene. I didn’t really start writing until I was out of high school around 2001.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got in your crews and what they mean to you?
My good friend AREK had a lot to do with me getting in B.A. and N.S.F. I’ll never forget either night. One was in a train yard in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania while painting trains and the other was while out partying and drinking. The other crews I rep are K.G.P. a Denver staple and H.O.D. a crew i grew up idolizing.
What was your first painting experience like? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Even though my friends got me into it, I’ve always kind of preferred to paint by myself. My first time was lonely, but not regrettable. It was some drainage ditch in the country that unfortunately is probably still there. I have a picture of it on my Instagram.
In a time when the internet has destroyed the idea of regional styles, you have a distinctly “Baltimore” style of writing, especially with your handstyles. Do you think it’s important to stay true to where you came from/came up?
Yes I feel it’s important to stay true to where you come from. It most likely influenced a lot more in you than you know. Some real subliminal shit.
What areas of life do you draw from in terms of inspiration and ideas?
Ha, maybe I’m high but i don’t even understand the question. I guess I’m not sure where my inspiration to paint comes from. If you boil it down to the most common denominator, I’d have to say the desire to write on stuff.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first picked up a can?
My answer is probably more of a general life answer than a graffiti answer. It would just have to be, to know not to take everything so seriously. Nothing really matters.
How did you get your name and what’s the meaning behind it?
Originally i wrote ELIXER. But I hated doing x’s then, so i dropped the XER. I was not aware of the biblical Eli when i chose it and it doesn’t have any real meaning to me other than some dumb word I’ve chosen to write continuously for over a decade now.
How is your outlook on graffiti and how you operate today different from when you started many years ago?
I started off just bombing, highly visible spots , very legible letters so everyone can read it. I used to absolutely hate piecing but recently I’ve moved to Colorado and my focus is more on painting walls here that no one else has, in hopes of them lasting a long time. The scene here is very different than Baltimore. There’s a lot of money here for buff and they take full advantage of it, so now I look for more inconspicuous spots.
What do you think it takes to make a well-rounded, respected writer, both in terms of putting in work and character?
I grew up on the belief that to be well rounded you need to have a a good tag, be up and be able to piece. Traveling is also important to being well rounded, but that’s more of an everyday life thing too.
How do you balance growing up and handling adult responsibilities with staying active as a graffiti writer? Do you think it’s possible to do both fully at 100%?
I never handled this too well. I’m just NOW learning to juggle real life and the graffiti world, I have a real respect for writers that can do both. Although with my current job I’m free to catch tags and explore while at work, so that helps me get up and learn my way around.
What are your favorite surfaces to paint and why?
Anything raw would be my go to—cinderblock, brick, concrete and steel. Always steel.
Can you tell us one of your best bombing/chase stories?
Back in 2002 in Maryland there used to be a big Colt45 Malt Liquor factory right off the beltway. It had a giant wall that was very visible from the highway. Me and a buddy went there around 3 A.M., the factory was open 24-7. He chose a spot on the corner of the wall, me more to the center of it. We were about 75 feet away from each other. Were there about 25 minutes, I was done and packing my stuff up when something caught my eye off to the left were my buddy was still painting. It was a cop car. I’m not really sure why he didn’t notice, but he didn’t. So I yelled out to him right as the cop was exiting his car. Then my buddy runs towards me and the cop chases him towards me. So I run right. There was also about 4 inches of snow on the ground. It was dark and I couldn’t see where i was running, then at the last moment my eyes adjusted right as I was about to run right into a line of bushes about chest high. I tried to stop myself but my momentum carried me forwards and i ended up doing a somersault over the bush and landed on my back, knocking the wind out of me and throwing one shoe off in the distance. As I was getting up my buddy goes running by at the end of the bushes with the cop right behind him, i don’t think either saw me.
I watched the cop chase my boy to a 10 foot tall fence about 100 feet away, he grabbed my boy while he was climbing the fence and I ran away from them with only one shoe, in the snow. Now I’m running right to the cop car at the corner of the building, expecting one to come out of nowhere and grab me. So I ran past the car and down the service road of this factory with one shoe in the snow past workers taking smoke breaks, to my car. before I could leave another 2 cop cars pulled up. One parked at the exit of the factory. So i reclined the seat of my car and just laid there. I did see the beams of flashlights cutting through the cabin of my car. I just laid there. my foot was frozen and scratched up from running on the pavement and snow. Eventually the sun came up and the workers got off work for the night, so all these cars were leaving at once. So I just blended in with everyone leaving to go home. My buddy got caught and the cop dragged him through the snow and ended up spray painting his hands before arresting him and taking him to jail.
How do you feel about writers who can rock a really technical wild style piece but then struggle to put up clean hand styles? How important do you think the tag is in the big picture of being a graffiti writer?
PERSONALLY I would consider them a graffiti artist. Not to be confused with a graffiti writer or just old fashioned vandal. And to each his own, I feel tags are the essence of graffiti. That’s where it all started and built from.
How do you think the next generation of bombers should go about learning the ropes and history of this culture? Do older veterans have a responsibility to relay what they’ve learned?
If it’s something that you’re into then why wouldn’t you want to learn the history of at the very least your area. I don’t really feel they necessarily have a responsibility but it would be a nice thing if they felt so inclined. If anything I would think it would be more of a responsibility to pass down the history and great stories.
What’s about coming up in Baltimore helped form the person you are today, both in and out of graff culture?
Honestly it probably didn’t have a lot of positive influence on me, in the culture or out. It can be a crazy place.
If you could only pack five things in your bag other than paint when going out to bomb, what would they be and why?
1) Gloves-obvious 2) Cash-bar money and cab if necessary 3) Knife – tool/protection 4) Fat caps – obvious 5) A joint- obvious
If you could reverse history and take graff to the early 90’s by changing just one thing about how it has evolved, what would it be and why?
I don’t like how popular street art has become. It’s just not for me. But again, to each his own.
If you were raising a son, would you want him to pick up graffiti? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t push him to pick it up, but I wouldn’t discourage it either. If he did I would just push for him to be careful.
What non crew writers out there are killing it? Who’s work do you like?
WYSE, MIKE, AEST2, RIME, HOER, CERK, to name some.
How important do you think it is to maintain your spots and keep less experienced cats out? Do you see it being done enough these days?
If it’s a spot that means something to you, then it’s pretty important, I’m sure it doesn’t happen enough but i know it happens.
Do you plan on painting forever or do you ever see yourself retiring?
I don’t ever see myself saying, “I’m retiring.” I plan on always catching little tags and putting up stickers when I’m too old for this shit.
And last words or shout outs?
Thanks and much respect to Arek, Jase, Swek, and Later. My dog Kira and my girlfriend Kristen.
For more of ELI’s work check out his instagram
Interview by Paul Lukes