Upon reflecting on my work and my identity I realized that I have never really told the whole story of my origins as a graffiti artist. Why would a grown man insist on being referred to by a self affixed imaginary alias? Why does any graffiti writer abandon their birth name in favor of a fabricated identity? How did I become Juse One? This is a story that starts in a small town in Upstate New York, and has continued right up to the present day in my present location of Copenhagen, Denmark. When I look back on how I got my start in graffiti, there are a few individuals whose influence on me is undeniable. But when I really sit back and reflect on why I became driven to do graffiti and how I learned to paint, there is one man to whom I owe an impossibly huge debt of gratitude and credit.
Around 1998, when I was just beginning to take my sketches and turn them into pieces, I had to spend a great deal of time trying to learn on my own. Like any high school kid that gets into graffiti, I heard about the local legends who had already made their names known. I was discovering the culture at the same time that I was learning how to use the medium of spray paint. When I realized that graffiti was in fact an established culture with a rich history, I became fascinated with the artists and individuals who were a part of that world. I went to my high school library, and checked out the beaten and used copy of Spraycan Art, easily considered a photo bible for new school graffiti writers. There were a few names that appeared several times on the catalog record card – individuals who had time and time again taken this book out and studied it – two of which would be critically important to my development as an artist. One of those names was the real identity of the single most influential writer I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and painting with: Omek.
When I began to make my presence known, it was not through the typical or traditional practice of getting up. In 1999, I painted a background for hip hop event at my high school that was sponsored by a student group called S.A.D.D. (Students Against Drunk Driving.) At that event, I finally met this infamous character whose work I had seen in photographs brought to my homeroom, and on walls in my hometown. Omek gave me some props for the work I had done, but didn’t hesitate to tell me he saw “drips where there shouldn’t be drips.” He then dropped a little knowledge on me about the best kinds of caps to use on Krylon paint. “German thins… they’re gray, and the have a black dot. Those are the best.”
In those days, the premium brands of spray paint designed and marketed for graffiti (Belton, Montana, Ironlak, Sabotaz and so on) were totally inaccessible. Most of the stuff thats out there now didn’t even exist. You had to make a trip out of town just to get graffiti magazines that had advertisements for the original Belton and Montana paint cans. I eventually was able to meet up with Omek at his home and him showing me graffiti magazines and flix that he had taken of his pieces. He even let me see some of his blackbooks. I can just remember being amazed at the complexity of the letter forms and concepts he had for fills and characters. I was hooked. By my senior year in high school, I was doing everything I could to get good at graffiti. I brought my own blackbook to school everyday, and every weekend, I would bring it to TSX in the Hudson Valley Mall, and show my sketches to Ader, another major source of information for me at that time.
Omek took me under his wing and taught me on an almost weekly basis. We started slow – just painting pieces in his backyard. As time progressed, he showed me all the hidden spots – the true gems for graffiti that Kingston had to offer. I learned by doing, little by little. After a lot of practice, many nights being driven around by my friends with cars, and endless hours in my blackbook, I was finally doing pieces. By my first year in college, I had acquired enough skill to be thrown down in my first graffiti crew: KS. Omek gave me that honor in the summer of 2000, after I painted my first character. I remember signing my new tag just after I finished – Juse. Here I am 10 years later, and still using the same moniker. This was just the beginning. Omek showed me the best techniques for can control, and new and rare colors and interesting color combinations, like Krylon Teal Blue blended with Pistachio. After I got more comfortable with piecing, Omek and I moved on to painting productions, doing pieces and characters in the same composition. To this day, I personally know of no other writer whose can control could match Omek’s. It was a privilege and honor to paint with him; I got to watch the one writer who I admired the most up close, and for hours. I studied every canstroke intensely.
Eventually, we became painting partners. Omek and I were on the graffiti grind as often as possible. And we became known for our chemistry and ability to collaborate well together. Time marched on, and we kept painting. Hip Hop events presented a new opportunity for us to paint together, and flex our skils in front of an audience. In the summer of 2001, Omek and I painted a wall at a Woodstock Hip Hop jam that was sponsored by Reality Check. The best part was – we got free paint… and not just Krylon; they bought us each a box of Montana Hardcore. This was a huge step for us both as artists.
At that event, I met a Bboy who was really into graffiti – I was just as impressed with his breakdancing as he was with my graff. Little did I know then that this breaker would become Enzime, to this day one of my principle collaborators and painting partners. Soon after, also became a part of KS, and a new era of graffiti in Kingston, NY was underway.
Later in 2001, as we all remember, there was a historical event of such significance that it defined the first decade of the 21st century. In the shock of September 11th, Omek and I did the only thing two young graffiti writers could do in response to the overwhelming tragedy. We painted a mural.
It was our finest work to date. I can remember the feeling of working on this wall, and feeling for the first time that my work was something of benefit to my community. It was the first time I ever felt like I was making art that was a part of history.
As the years progressed, I did more productions with Barry and KS crew, and we eventually added new members. One such member was a wild and enthusiastic young writer who had a passion for graff like no one else in Kingston at that time – the infamous Speak. After I spent a short stint living in Los Angeles in 2003, I came home to find that Omek had taken this youngster under his wing, much in the same way that he had done for me years before. Over the next couple of years we had formed a solid team, and began painting together on a regular basis.
When I look back on all the walls I have painted, writers I’ve met, places I have traveled, I truly miss the days when my mentor and I were partners in crime. It’s hard for me to believe how quickly the time has gone by, and how much distance exists between myself and the man who taught me how to paint. I can honestly say that if it had not been for Omek, I would never have become a graffiti artist. I would never have discovered the passion for the art and the culture that I discovered under his tutelage. It is a central part of my life; I could not be who I am with out graffiti. So it goes without saying that there would be no Juse had it not been for Omek.
If you’re reading this brother… I miss you.
Thanks for reading.
Peace & Respect,
Juse One, KS Crew since 2000