Books in the MCL: On the Run Magazine, Black Books Volume 3: SEEN. Zebster, with additional archival photos by Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfant
A glossy photo volume of full-color bleeds from the 1970s-90s graffiti career of Bronx-born graffiti writer Richard “SEEN” Mirando, this magazine concentrates the width and depth of his creative output into one volume. Throw-ups, blockbusters, handball courts, whole top-to-bottom cars, they are all here, some of them snapped by famed photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.
A highly versatile and influential graffiti artist, SEEN created an indelible mark on the graffiti world with exceptional skills and a wide visual repertoire that expanded across 10s or 100s of New York City subways in the golden age of early graffiti. Throughout his career, SEEN has explored various aliases, each representing a distinct facet of his creative expression. He gained international acclaim for his innovative graffiti work, characterized by complex wildstyle lettering, vibrant colors, and intricate designs, as he first struck gold by being featured generously in the seminal 1983 movie “Wild Style,” directed by Charlie Ahearn.
The magazine features photos of trains and walls SEEN painted as part of UA (United Artists crew), who not only left an indelible mark on New York City’s subway system but also played a crucial role in shaping the aesthetics and techniques of graffiti art worldwide. His many alias names allowed him to experiment in the graffiti subculture with different styles, including the pseudonyms “Richie, “Apache,” “MAD”, and Madseen,” each of which is given a generous amount of play here.
As a bonus that adds to the readers’ understanding of the artist and the scene during these halcyon days, candid shots are included, like one with SEEN and writer LEE Quinones from the Fabulous Five crew holding cans together –“ hanging out checking flicks at SEEN’e home
summer, 1979”. Elsewhere you see candids of him in action and of course, see him in a still from Style Wars. His interest in the cartoon characters that were popular in the early train-writing of this scene, populated by kids and young teens, is represented here with recognizable figures like Howard the Duck, Porky Pig, and the Incredible Hulk.
These early images are the only record of the work in most cases, and the captions, however cryptic, sometimes provide an additional layer of detail about friendships, the train’s location, the train line, and possibly weather conditions.
“SEEN, J.SON, summer 1982 painted in the 6 yard (Bronx) on I.R.T. #6 train along with J.Son (the mob)”
” ‘Just Beautiful’ by SEEN and Zephy along on other cars with Daze, Dondi and Noc. 167 (when he made his comeback piece that night) in the #2 Yard, New Lots, Brooklyn”
“SEEN Blockbuster, ice cold winter 1979
side of gas station along the elevated tracks of da #6”
The photo collection is typically presented, sometimes without the highest production value, due to the difficulties within a chaotic underground scene where the art may not be captured and can be erased within hours of its creation. Yet this collection of SEE work is also characterized by his technical skills, vibrant color palette, and ability to push the boundaries of traditional letter-based graffiti. It is evident why his innovative and influential contributions to the graffiti art form have solidified his place as a significant figure in the graffiti subculture and the larger contemporary art world.
Text Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo Fotos Sebastian Kläbsch