Mastro is a household name in the New York City graffiti scene and beyond. He grew up in a time when the subways, highways and parks were still colorful instead of dull grey-tones and harassing ads. In addition to being a prolific graffiti artist, Mastro is also considered the #1 body-painter at music festivals across the US. His life is always on the move to where the next party’s at. Fortunately, we had some time to catch up with Mastro briefly in Brooklyn, New York, before he sets off on his next journey.


BKLYN NEVILLE:  Mastro, it’s always shocking when people say that they don’t know you, but for those guys and girls who have yet to experience and enjoy your presence, introduce yourself.

MASTRO:    My Name is Mastro, born and raised in the Bronx currently reside in Brooklyn. I stay traveling literally almost every week out of the year. You’ll find me writing on stuff, writing in a city near you. Wherever I’m at I tend to paint a lot, or little or somewhere in between.

Coming from the Bronx you must have been surrounded by graffiti and hip-hop, where did it all begin for a young Mastro? What drew you to graffiti?

It started out for me in the Bronx in Mars Park. You had the MPC crew which was pretty dominant out there back then. There was a super market that’s now a CVS, Echo and Cap had a whole bunch of stuff running. I lived right by the 4-, 5-trains. Those were the first people I spotted. I didn’t realize what it was but I liked it ‘cuz I kept seeing it around the neighborhood. I Kept seeing more MPC things and was just like “What’s that? I like that.” That was when I was maybe like 5 or 6 years old. I didn’t start writing until I was 12 or 13 and even then I was still like bleh. Just average. Garbage. I was just your average garbage young kid writing but by then I started recognizing all the TFS kids that were bombing like crazy. You had kids that were up everywhere like on the highways from TVT crew. Guys ranging from Jest, Nes, Med, Heze, Kaz3 and Tor. All these guys had throw-ups everywhere and it was just like, wow, I like this a lot and I like doing this. I wanna see more of this. I wanna get involved with this. Then you know I started writing and that was that.


What is the first piece that stopped you in your tracks and where was it?

I used to take the 6-train to grade school. In Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st Grade you could still see bombed out trains. You didn’t know what it read yet, you just saw colors zooming by. Fast-forward a few years to the early 90s going to the Pelham Parkway Amtraks. Spotting guys like yes2, Ces, Sub & Emit who had pieces that were like, “Oh shit you could do more than just a throw-up?” You can do exotic lettering and pieces and wildstyles and have them sit there and not just be on trains. That spot in particular played a vital roll because I noticed it kept getting done up more and more as I was coming into graff. I was basically just going there to peep what the hell was happening and starting to understand the language and read it and be like, “Ok that’s a wildstyle. That’s a straight letter. That’s a little character production” et cetera. Those were the type of guys that first caught my eye. Then obviously in the streets and all around the Bronx you had Wane everywhere. Those guys are essentially very vital to my style of writing and my start up in graffiti.

NYC was a tough place when you were growing up. The Bronx was burned down and the crack epidemic was in full effect.

It was cracking.

Is there a specific memory from when you first started bombing that stands out as an “Only in New York” moment?

Yo, it’s funny because, yeah, the crack epidemic was cracking. There are a lot of silly memories. First of all, when you watch all these videos and documentaries about the Bronx burning, The Bronx Is Burning, Rubble Kings stuff like that, you need to understand it really looked like that in the south Bronx. You had abandoned buildings. You had busted up cars that were somehow set on fire, and that was ok. To me just walking around near Yankee Stadium or going places on my skateboard, it was so surreal that this was New York. This little section, banged out buildings. Stuff you don’t realize or understand like drug transactions when you’re a kid. But when you look back at those memories, now I realize why these cats were hanging out on the corner posting up. You start realizing, I was walking by hookers and junkies and shit and it didn’t even phase me. This seemed normal. It seemed to breathe naturally. It was the end of that coming into the beginning of hip-hop. There were still fights regularly. Everywhere you’d see it, in front of candy stores, you’d see it outside of bars. People got down with the bopping. It was funky because you had to learn how to fight. It was fight or flight. You would spot it right off the bat. You would see it and whatever. In general, at any given moment it could be “Yo, this happened here.” “Yo, kids were painting and then got chased out by this guy” and then on the next block there’s people shooting dice and get into a fight. So nothing stands out in my mind as that was crazy until I start going on and on and on about stories.


What is your favorite spot to paint and why?

My personal favorite spots to paint are things that are not travelled. I’d much rather get busy at an abandoned spot, on a freight or a secluded trackside spot than do street sides. It makes it more of a mystery. This was put here for only us to find. The possibility of someone else seeing it is way slimmer than doing a highway spot, a roll-down gate or something like that. When your doing stuff in these cutty spots, you create the destinations. When you go upstate and find some part of a building that’s just abandoned or rocked and you see something you can paint, it’s gonna just stay there. It’s gonna just float there forever, there’s no reason for it to get taken down or buffed. It’s like this little hidden treasure. Essentially graffiti for me is these little oddball treasure hunts. I find myself leaving hidden treasure and finding hidden treasure, and all that shit. Booty. Pirate’s booty. Booty Hunter.

What does graffiti mean or represent to you?

Freedom. Chaotic Freedom. You’re doing something illegal but you’re expressing yourself. But it’s your artwork and it’s how you want to leave your mark. It’s how you want to stylize your name, hand-style, whatever, but it’s your own mark. Your own means of creativity and the illegalness makes it more fun. If all the boroughs were legal walls we would be bored. It would be “Oh big deal.” The excitement of it being illegal plus the adaptation of style and this-that-and-the-third makes it interesting. If we had freedom to do graffiti everywhere there would be a saturation of everybody on the same type of level. People would get up to par quicker because it was legal. Because it’s illegal you see who can floss quickly in random situations i.e. painting a freight. Ok, I need this much time. I know the freight is this high off the ground. This is my means to do it. Instead of, “I got this huge 80-foot wall and scissor lifts and people want to take pictures”. When it’s free and it’s illegal, you are using your freedom to distort artistically. That makes better sense. It’s bad good creativity.

We’re just silly kids peeing on trees. Essentially we’re just peeing on trees. Look at me I peed on this tree, this tree is mine. I peed on that wall, that wall is mine. Look at me I made pee-pee everywhere. Hey this guy made peepee here, so I’m gonna go make pee-pee over there. Whatever. We’re all peeing on walls and trees. We’re all fucking cave men painting on caves that we want to claim as our own.

You spend a lot of time traveling with your body-painting company Pineapple Paint, what state or city is your favorite to bomb in?

Man this varies a lot. So I haven’t been to every single state. Bombing New York, dope. But now you have better situations for hitting stuff like Detroit. Detroit is an abandoned haven. As long as you not wearing a neon jumpsuit you can just walk into these places and no one has any idea about it and you can just get busy and paint. So Detroit for abandons. Upstate New York kinda near where it meets Massachusetts you’ll find a lot of random abandoned spots as well as a very huge freight scene. The freight scene on the Northern East Coast is pretty wild. So when in Rome, you gotta do what you gotta do.

This year one of the random places I painted was oddly enough up in Maine. I’ve been there twice this summer. The first time we went out there we found a series of abandoned trailers. Trailers you’d live in. These things were gutted to shit. Empty beer bottles, broken glass, underwear on the floor, used condoms. There are always used condoms in abandoned situations. I don’t know who is bringing their girlfriend for the night to an abandoned spot and banging them but there always seems to be underwear, beer, needles, condoms and other nasty items in abandons. So whatever. There are these whole bunch of abandoned trailers, right. I’m like well fuck it, let me go to heaven on this and go to town on it. So I just knocked ‘em all out. It was funny because I didn’t bring a lot of paint with me so by the third one I’ve done, I’m putting together scraps painting this fourth piece and by the fifth piece I did it was just farting out dusting cans with whatever the hell I had left and coming up with an outline and done. It was fun because if I didn’t go up there to do this event I wouldn’t have found this series of trailers. So a lot of the time it happens to be circumstantial, situational. I’m here working and now I’m off the clock, now I’m gonna get into some silly shit.


How did you get involved in body-painting and the music festival circuit?

Oh Boy. Some of you guys know I do body-painting. I also customize and hand paint hats, graffiti stylized hats which started for me in 2003 which led to body-painting.  In 2003, me and my boy Dave, Dave at the time had this company called Methods a t-shirt company, so he says “Yo, I wanna go to this festival called Starscape.” I’m like “Yo, I’ve been to raves. So we’re going to sell at raves?”

We got down there and shit was dope. It was fun non-stop action all night. Me bringing out hats led to me painting on people simply because people who saw the hats would ask “Hey you wanna write on me?” “Aight. No doubt.” Back then it was more drum ‘n’ bass heavy. More writing DJ Craze on a girl’s tits. “Alright, ok, sure pull your titties out then, let’s draw on titties.” Then the next costumer is like “Aight yo, let me get my name on a hat.” Another “Let me get this on this.” Between hats, shirts and body-painting it became a weird little trifecta.

Through the years I figured instead of me just showing up and selling my wares, let me get commissions to do artwork, let me paint art installations at these festivals and then do my body-painting and hats and then do it all together. When I send out my press kits to tentative festivals I’m looking to be a part of, they realize that this kid can do X, Y and Z. This will be vital to our event because now we have a place where people will want to take photos, interact with and we have a guy who is painting on people. It all integrates and people end up social media-ing everything. It ends up tying around and I end up being that dude. What started off as literally drawing on hats which led to drawing on everything, for a lack of better words.

What is it like living on the road with Mastro? Sleeping in tents with sexy 20-somethings, painting naked people, driving from festival to festival…

Real talk the only part that feels like work, is the drive. Literally the drive, ‘cuz your butt hurts after a few hours of sitting in the car. If you’re doing a long drive i.e. New York to Atlanta, a good 17+ hours, your ass is going to hurt. I don’t always stay in tents. A lot of times I’ll get given a hotel which is nice or nicer accommodations like a cabin or show up and have a full decked out tent, which is mad funny.  You bring a tent knowing you’re gonna camp, but then you show up and they’ve already made a tent for you with a bed made, well air mattress, and a little cooler with a couple of beers and shit. So on the road with me it varies. Some festivals and events are very minimal. You’re getting paid to do this and your getting paid to do that. Everything else you gotta figure out on your own. That means I gotta bring a tent, bring an air mattress, bring a cooler, bring a whole bunch of water, bring a whole bunch of beer, bring clothes and then figure out what the showers and shitter situation is plus food. So that’s worst case scenario. Best case scenario is show up, get paid, get paid to body-paint, plus installations then having a nice hotel room with all the accommodations. It really goes from a zero to a ten.

I just happen to roll with a few attractive chicks, because hip-hop. Let’s be real. Ponce de Leon was constantly on the search for the fountain of youth. If you just bring the fountain with you, you aren’t gonna age a bit. So I more often than not have younger girls with me who I have trained in the forbidden art of body-painting and we have a lot of fun together. It’s good to be around people you can work with. There are a lot of people who are my friends that I just can’t invite because, “I don’t want to sleep on the ground” and “I don’t like showering outside” and “I don’t like mosquitoes.” I don’t like mosquitoes either but if you don’t bring bug spray they’ll go to town on your ass. I could tell you all how to camp. I could tell you all how to do a whole week being rugged with no electricity and I could tell you how to do a week being in a hotel eating steaks and lobsters for breakfast. As much as I love to do shit all by myself it makes more sense to have a team. You can take a break and relax. You don’t have the whole workload on your shoulders. And you have your own people to party with. Also when you bring chicks in, it’s like “What the hell is happening?” When I work with other dudes we just get girls all day, dope. When you have a girl and a guy, more guys want to get painted. The dudes are the type to be like “Hey bro, I just got painted. All of six of us are getting painted”. Opposed to girls who will get painted with only one of their friends. And honestly I like girls, it’s easier to work with a couple chicks, simple. The real part that feels like work is the drive, everything else is peaches and cream.


If you were to suggest one music festival to attend next year which one and why?

I’m gonna give you a quick run down. I’m gonna give you three, my top three. Let’s do it bronze through gold. Okeechobee, Tipper & Friends and Electric Forrest.

Okeechobee is the bronze. It’s a brand new festival this year, first time out the box. However, all the back end art work, art installations, live painting, was curated by these guys that tend to stay on the west coast and are affiliated with Burning Man and do stuff like Symbiosis. I’m on the East Coast so these guys applying their know-how, their organization to an East Coast festival the first time right off the bat, it was amazing. The sound was impeccable. I hang out with all the people on the back end of these sort of things. When you’ve got people that are rigging sound and gigantic speakers and lights and LED screen, they’re always there way early setting this shit up. Once their job is done, they get to party and chill. These guys are all maniacs. All the production end was incredible. The accommodations were dope. We had premier camping and literally had one dude everyday who’s job it was to fill our cooler of beer with beer. I just had to show up. The tent was already there. Boom. People were already there. We all had our appropriate work stations i.e. literally you show up, your tools are there, all your painting materials, electricity was there to create whatever it is you’re going to build or paint. That was awesome. We didn’t have to use our feet at all. Literally hop in a jitney cab, say the secret password and it would take you and your buddies wherever the fuck you wanted and boom, you’re good to go. The music was top notch. Between Skrillex and Booker T. & the M.G.s on the same bill, that’s pretty dope. The food was out of this world. The weather was perfect. Everything was five-stars across the board. Now that’s just my bronze.

Silver goes to Tipper & Friends. I got hit up “Yo, we want you to paint this thing? This is what we have for a budget. We also have an artists tent.” They had all the same accommodations as Okeechobee. We got to drink for free. We didn’t need a golf cart because the space wasn’t that big but the plus-side about the grounds, Sewanee Lake, is that there was a 24-hour convenient store, like a 7-11 but not, that was private for the grounds. If you needed beer on the fly, you could just walk two city blocks. Not that we needed that beer was free for us. The music was dope. The amphitheater that was naturally built into the grounds, wherever you stood and recorded some sort of live set it sounded like an mp3, it sounded perfect. Making money out there I had a blast. I showed up two days early and these kids were literally building my wall when I showed up. So I cracked a beer and had it with these kids and started shooting the shit. They were building walls for all of the artists. The artist line-up, not music, for the festival was incredible. It ranged from graffiti to really trippy art styling. The music was dope, ranging from Tipper as a headliner all the way to Cut Chemist, a west coast DJ, Hip-Hop. He does a lot of live scratch routines. The whole weekend the music was perfect and man it was a blast. Also visual eye candy 10 out of 10.

My gold star, Electric Forrest. That shit is in Michigan. That shit is far.  When you get there they have a shit ton of stages and then they literally have a forest. A forest-forest. Mad trees where a lot of artists contribute to the event by not just building walls that you can take photos in front of but interactive stuff that you can walk through and find hidden stages in. Top-notch production, hands down possibly on of the best festivals in the United States. The eye candy alone will blow your mind. You’ll walk through built installations where you’ll see coalminers who are talking like 1800s settlers. Then in another room the actors are dressed up like robots and talk robotic. If you’re tripping this is pretty intense. You have all these weird tree-houses, installations that move and you can walk through and find more hidden rooms with literally random assorted items on a table and suddenly an artist will come in to integrate and start yapping. You’ll walk down a tree line and you’ll see a telephone and it will start ringing right when you walk near. Of course you pick it up it’s a telephone in the woods and they have actually been tuning into what you’ve been saying to your friends and can carry on that conversation over the phone. You just like “Whoa this is crazy.” Food was incredible. It’s a big festival so get prepared to walk your ass off. A little secret fact, obviously all these festivals have their own greenrooms. A greenroom is where you hang out with the artists, acquire free beer, do drugs, meet some chicks whatever, but it’s secluded from where everyone else hangs out. These guys had a pin, those hat pins that you see everywhere, and without said pin you couldn’t even access said point to give said password to get into said backstage where all the cool kids hang out and all the DJs are just kicking it. Of course the booze is free, cocktails, passing food and shit. It’s like a secret handshake, a secret society within a temporary living space for the week.

Here’s what it is. You’re in New York, the tri-state area, we have a lot of single day festivals which are basically concerts. They’re still cool I’m not gonna knock that, but there is a difference between going to Coney Island for the day opposed to going to Upstate New York where you camp out for four or five nights. The difference between a concert and a festival is that a festival is overnight, 24-hours of music whether it’s a silent disco or somebody doing a renegade stage in their campsite. It’s always crazy, there’s constantly stuff happening. A concert has a curfew. A festival goes non-stop. The real wild festivals go past the last day. Everybody left but those of us working there and certain special people staying. That’s when you see some really wild shit.


You just got back from a festival in Maine today, where are you heading next?

I just got back from the Great North, a festival in Maine. Maine is known for lobsters, blueberries and really-really nice vegetables. Man I smoked some vegetables this weekend.

What I got next is this weekend, I’m shooting up to Massachusetts. There is the Boston Freedom Rally in their version of Central Park. All I know is that Method Man & Redman are some of the headliners along with a whole bunch of hippie jam bands and a whole bunch of random people telling you about weed. I’m not gonna knock that shit, that shit is cool as background noise when you’re just bullshitting and smoking a J, listening to some old man tell you about how weed and oil can keep you young and this-that-and-the-third. That’s fancy. This festival this weekend is the who’s who of showing and growing.  “Hey let me show you this weed.” “I grow this weed.” “You should buy this weed.” “Here sample this weed.” “Hey look we can get fancy bowls and shirts and shit.” My personal beef with this festival is that there are a lot of vendors with D-minuses in Photoshop that made a weed t-shirt with a terrible graphic. Why would anyone buy that shit. But stoners buy that shit and you look at these knuckleheads walking around looking like two dollars worth of Photoshop. Other than that it’s a dope festival. It’s open to the public and I think it’s completely free. So if you’re in Massachusetts get your tits up to the Boston Freedom Rally and enjoy some freedom. Pass it to the left.


Are there any young graffiti artists you see out there across the States killing the game?

Nope. Well, let me explain. Every time I go away, typically Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I kind of come home Monday, change out laundry, chill out, relax and then get ready for the next thing I’m doing. I don’t have time to pay attention. It’s a little annoying ‘cuz I want to know who is the who’s who and the now’s now but I’m also 38 and don’t care. I got my own agenda. Honestly I could give two shits. I’ve got my own shit to do, so who’s the hot topic of right now I have no idea and I could care less. I have no time to focus on what anyone else is doing. Real talk, I’d rather be in the game than on the sideline waiting to be put in and I definitely don’t want to be a spectator for the sport. I feel like I gotta be Joe Namath all the time, pimp coat and everything. Broadway Joe. It’s because of that I don’t have time to pay attention to other people. I’m not being cocky, I’m not being holier than thou. Real talk I’m busy. I don’t watch TV, I have no idea about movies. I give two shits about politics. Trump and Hillary? Yo, I don’t care. Realistically whoever gets voted in is not going to affect my freedom to keep doing what I am doing. Ergo it is not important to me. I don’t even fucking know what’s on Netflix right now. Real talk, I don’t know what’s on Netflix and I could care less because sitting down and watching TV makes me dormant. I can’t name celebrities. It’s weird when I’m out at events and kicking it with the headline DJs and I’m calling them fucking Fred and Tony ‘cuz their just other participants in the circus like myself. You got the fire dancers, you got the guy who whips elephants and trains the tigers. You got the center stage, you got the side stage. I’m in the circus.

The graffiti I see is either on my drives or at random cutty spots I find. So it’s when I’m in my own little world. When I find shits that dope, I take a flick. A lot of these kids that I think are dope, I don’t know where their from because I’m in a different part of the United States. They could be local and I’m on their turf or they could be just like me, traveling circus-ing around, hitting this spot at some random time. I encourage all the new-news to come out and what it is, but I got touchdowns to make.|

Do you have any words of wisdom for the up-and-coming next generation of graffiti artists?

Consistency Kills. It doesn’t matter how talented you are as long as you can stay consistent. I’m ok. I’m alright. I’m average. But I consistently stay on a circuit. I consistently keep painting. Consistently keep drawing, applying what I am doing.  Once you get lazy, you get forgotten about. Don’t get lazy. If you’re making t-shirts, keep making t-shirts. If you’re making hats, keep making hats. If you’re making prints, keep making prints. Once you plateau, you easily get forgotten about in the snap of a finger. All it is, is a race. You’re running. You’re looking at this goal line whatever that goal line may be. There is literally someone running right next to you, keeping pace, doing what they do which could be selling apple juice or lemonade. It doesn’t matter, once you lose pace that person strides ahead of you selling lemonade. The person two steps behind you making custom shoes or graffiti popsicle-sticks now has ran past you. Don’t be the guy that ends up getting lapped and lapped and ran out the race. Stay consistent kids.


Follow Mastro on Instagram: @MastroNYC
Interview by Jonathan BKLYN Neville