Alright so thanks for taking the time out to do this interview, can you give us a brief
introduction to who you are, what your history is in the graffiti game and
Where did the name meresone come from?

Thank you , my pleasure. My name is Jonathan T Cohen while I was Born Juan Rivera in the South Bronx and then adopted and renamed. I am half jewish half Puerto Rican.

I grew up in Queens, New York. I discovered or noticed my first piece of Graffiti in 1st grade in the school yard, it was a smurf by “smurfy” and my interest got triggered. I liked the idea of having an iconic Character and that’s how the Light Bulb was born around 1987. I played around with a few names, my adoptive dad was a printer and would bring home loads of paper for me to practice on. I was obsessed with lettering practicing the full alphabet and eventually Meres was the tag which worked for me and that’s what I went by mid-eighties and ever since then. It doesn’t mean anything I just picked my strongest letters and the flow I liked the most. I started in 1987 more or less and have not stopped since.

I eventually was getting in trouble, much to my mother’s dislike and she enrolled me in MAGIC “More American Graffiti in Control” which was a program in the Bronx, I met Zimad there with my homie crew member Topaz and yes the rest is history.

I started painting at Phun Factory in the mid-nineties and after it ended in 2001 I eventually took the building over in 2002 and renamed the program 5 pointz aerosol art center and ran it until it is a tragic halt in 2013. As much as it was a very time consuming pro Bono project it was a magical place and WE made it a magical platform for the culture. It can never be reproduced or equaled in my view.

I can say that I have never stopped, this is what I do, how I make a living, while I am extremely proud of my achievement at 5 Pointz and thankful to all the artists who contributed throughout the years I am first and remain a graffiti artist, before being a curator or an activist for artist rights. It all started and still happens due to my need to create and write my name.

So to start things off I really love your work! You have a really sick style, it feels very iconic to me so congrats on the level of mastery you have. You recently made a post on instagram highlighting the book Faces of Graffiti, can you tell us a little bit about your involvement on this project and why this was so important to you?

I met the author at 5 Pointz, she is a psychologist by trade and a photographer and really encountered graff for the first time at 5 Pointz. While she had obviously seen and experienced graff, this was a place where someone like her could speak and exchange with people like us. I guess she got hooked and started this project shooting black and white portraits in NYC and back in Sweden of artists who inspired her. She worked really hard on this project and I love the aesthetic of it, and the time she truly dedicated to the culture. I guess it went full circle with her training as a licensed psychologist. Maybe she captured much more than our portrait and rather our essence or being.

On your bio on your website it mentions that your educational background includes the “New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology’s illustration program.” I’m curious did being a graffiti artist start after taking this program or was graffiti always a part of the picture? Why did you choose fashion illustration as your major, was this something you wanted to do before deciding to dedicate yourself to graffiti?

I started graff way before FIT got in trouble, enrolled in Magic, got my G.E.D and then enrolled at FIT, while I spent more time in front with by bag loaded with black books I did learn a lot and the years there exposed me to many techniques and medium and may not have encountered solely painting on the street.

You also mention on your website that you’ve traveled quite a bit over your 30 years in the game, how did your work become so famous that you ended up traveling all over just to paint on walls? How did you build a career like that, it’s interesting to me that you basically got paid to see the world!

I am not sure how it happened, a good mix of luck, talent and definitely hard work. That’s the magic of the artform in some ways it is more recognized and loved in other countries than in its birthplace. I actually missed and had to cancel a bunch of festivals in South America, including Brazil and Ecuador in 2015. I got extremely sick and almost transitioned and could not travel for a while. I am very blessed to be alive and healthier now and I was diagnosed with Lupus and since then I have had a great team of doctors who have improved my quality of life tremendously.

What is your favorite documentary or book that covers the history or major players of
graffiti and why?

Documentary : Style wars of course, and Wildstyle

I think once it is finished and done I will be very excited about the 5 Pointz documentary we have been working on for over a year now. It is self-financed with no sponsor and will stream and be screened for free. Just like 5 Pointz was for the “people by the people.” It will also enable me to solely rejoice thinking about that part of my life and close that chapter, in some ways. While 5Pointz aka 5 Pointz creates is still an active non-profit with multiple projects since the white wash including in partnership with citizen M, I am anxious to tell the story of our home for 11 years we have shot most of the interviews pulled crazy archives, and will start editing before the end of the year. It is a true passion project.

Books are the most classic like subway art, Broken Windows Burning New York, I really miss the old school magazines like crazy kingz and graffitism, back in the day way before instafamous syndrome, you would wait anxiously for the new one to come out. There was something so sacred about seeing the multicolored pages and seeing who made the cut. I still have all of them much to the dislike of my better half lol.

One of the other things I like about your work is your very entrepreneurial approach to work. You sell limited edition work for fans of yours on your website and it looks like you have a multitude of income streams, I’m just wondering can you touch on how important that is for a creative person and how did you go about building your audience?

I try to keep things balanced, I want to always have affordable art, for the fans who have supported me from day one and may not be able to afford a canvas.. I want that art to be truly touched and produced by me, hence the light bulbs figurine which are real light bulbs which I sand, hand spray and every face are hand-drawn. It matters to me and that’s how no two are alike. Prints are always based on original artwork which I then gets photographed and then produce but again I do small runs, so my audience can get something limited (50 to 150 runs) yet affordable.

As an entrepreneur freelance artist, you cannot rest, you have to continuously maintain your income while experiencing that need to paint, and in my case, I need to care and be passionate about what I put out. I turn down brand collaboration because I don’t believe in the core values of a brand, and I’d rather do a self-financed mural than a job if I am not aligned with the client/ agency. It is a choice. But so far I have always been able to collaborate with like-minded people and put out I think good work.

I have been truly enjoying studio visits, again that’s a choice, but I truly enjoy meeting collectors, walking them through my journey and my style evolution, and doing direct sales. While I see the value of gallery representation and the excitement of launching a new body of work, I love creating commissions based on one on one interaction and reflection. it all works.

I guess I am super blessed to have an audience and a fan base which appreciates my work and buy my art. I don’t take it for granted and I am always equally thankful.

I also never forget that a few decades ago our art form and our pioneers had to pave the way and were not as recognized nor valued as they may be today. They never gave up and kept on painting so that’s kind of my motto “I don’t do graff and I am graff”. I embrace the evolution of the culture, try to support my peers and represent an artform I am so proud of.

What kind of music do you listen to when you paint?

Depends on my mood. From deep house to nineties hip hop to instrumentals, but for sure Marley Marl Dj Js1. My girl has gotten me really into jazz, and for canvas painting and studio time I love Keith Jarret, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, but also classical ( cello Mainly suites of Cello by Back by Pao Casal). For mural and large production more high energy

For people wanting to thrive as an artist and make this their career, what kind of advice would you give? It seems like your approach was that you did anything and everything from body painting, to graffiti to canvas to make your way. Is that accurate?

Yep. Work hard, be patient, don’t compromise, figure out your voice, stick to your aesthetic, stay humble (always), and push. Never be content, and reach for the stars or moon, or the next spray can, whatever will get you where you want to be. I also feel our artform has evolved we don’t do today what was done in the seventies, and there is no shame in evolving and being an artist. I still love the illegal aspect of the culture and feel New York in the last 2 years has recovered that nineties feel, I ll be driving and noticing a sick handstyle and I smile, yet I also relate and appreciate the current scene and making a living and partaking in the actual art market doesn’t automatically make you a sell-out. Rather it showcases the culture today and what it has to say. Standing still brings you nowhere.

Any crazy travel stories you can share? What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to and where do you hope to go next?

I have crazy food allergies, and back in 2012, I was in Geneva to work on the NVY hotel, murals, and all the headboards in the rooms. The hotel owners had 5 other properties so I could eat at any of their restaurants, my food allergies and limited diet had been shared. The first night while they had the perfect menu for me I had a crazy allergic reaction ( cross-contamination) so I went on to having pasta for 2 weeks. lol What always bugs me out is that I can be in Germany, England, France, and I will always hear out of nowhere a loud “YO MERES ” while the world is vast and there is a lot I still want to see, it is also so small it seems. I really hope to spend time in France next year, to paint but also to spend time in my partner’s homeland. Marie was born and raised there, and we truly deserve time together. I want to see where she grew up, her roots ..etc.. South America, I want to see my crew mate AK47 in Brazil and definitely want to make my way in Argentina.

Any shoutouts you would like to give? Where can people follow you?

Shout outs? So many to Pink Lee Quinones Futura Daze. Old school who inspired, to Henri Chalfant Martha who documented. Special shout to Stay high his birthday was a few days ago, and he was a special artist who is missed
to all the one we lost during covid including gentle soul NIck 707. Mad love and respect to the new school hustling and elevating. My crews CBS, OTM, SHK.. and finally to our audience, to the fans, the art lovers, the critics, as long as they stop and look, it keeps us goings. Check me and my crew out at the following links:

Meresone Instagram

5pointzcreates Instagram

MosaBowery Instagram

Also the 5 pointz website will be relaunched for the documentary announcement!