Photo Courtesy of John "Crash" Matos
Photo Courtesy of John “Crash” Matos


John “Crash” Matos, Pioneering Graffiti Artist

John “Crash” Matos, a name synonymous with the explosive birth of New York City graffiti, wasn’t just sharing his story with me; he was opening a window into a world brimming with raw creativity and youthful rebellion. Here’s what resonated most from our conversation.


Listen to John “Crash” Matos tell his Story


Crash’s journey began in 1974 when he was a mere 12-year-old captivated by the vibrant energy splashed across his Bronx neighborhood. It was more than just tagging; it was a baptism by subculture, fueled by the electrifying mix of street art, comic book heroes, anime, and the pulsating rhythms of jazz fusion.

But these weren’t just idle scribbles. Crash and his crew saw graffiti as their voice, a way to stake their claim on a city that often overlooked them. Their missions to conquer train yards under the cloak of night were elaborate affairs, further proof of their dedication and the inherent risk involved.

Talking to Crash, it became clear that the arrival of European spray paints was a game-changer. These new tools allowed him to refine his graphic style – sharp lines, bold fills, and the mesmerizing wet-on-wet blending that became his signature. He described how music seeped into his work, influencing the rhythmic flow that defined his pieces.

By 1981, at 19, Crash knew it was time to step off the trains. The risk of arrest loomed large, and the allure of a legitimate art career beckoned. However, he wouldn’t leave without one final legendary act—a collaborative masterpiece on a subway car with Keith Haring.

Crash’s story isn’t just about the bygone era of graffiti but the enduring power of artistic expression. Like many of his generation, he transitioned seamlessly into the East Village art scene. His solo show at 18 was a powerful statement, proving that graffiti artists were more than just vandals; they were creators with depth and purpose.

Even today, as a multimedia artist, Crash’s roots remain firmly planted in those early subway exploits. His commissioned pieces still echo the graphic vocabulary of his tagging days – the sharp outlines, the bold colors, the stylized figures, and the dynamic sense of movement.

But Crash’s message extends beyond technique. He speaks to young artists with a passion in his voice for authenticity, ethics, and leaving a positive mark. He understands his legacy and is responsible for passing the torch to future generations and ensuring this art form thrives.

This short reflection on my conversation with John “Crash” Matos offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

New York Said Logo