Pheo is the first legit writer I met through skateboarding. Although our connection was initially through skating, and we mostly hang out at skate spots and demos and such, we talk almost exclusively about about graffiti. We continue the conversation here.
Which came first: skateboarding or graffiti?
Skateboarding. It was 1977. We had a Big Wheel, a skateboard, and a bike in our house growing up, and I couldn’t ride the bike, so I rode the skateboard.
Who did you look up to at first in skating?
For the first ten years I didn’t know anything about skating. I didn’t see a magazine until I was 16. It was just me, by myself. The first video we watched was Thrasher “Blast from the Past.” It was all punk rock music and street plants and dudes cruising down the block. Guerro was in it, and they skated Derby in one part of the video. It wasn’t till later that I learned about Gonz, Natas, Neil Blender, and all those guys.
How did you get into graffiti?
I got into graffiti in 1982. I always saw it because I grew up off the 495 (Long Island highway), and that highway was bombed. Then I got more and more into art, and I was already exposed to graffiti, so I went with it. I just liked it, I was drawn to it. My stepfather hated it, and we always butted heads, so it was a rebellion thing, too. I guess that made me want to do it more.
How did you get your tag?
Originally it was ‘Fio,’ which is a part of my last name. Then my friend Deface said, “Why don’t you write ‘Feo’ for ‘Fuck Every One?’” After that I started writing with Foe and this guy EO. And it really looked dumb with all the same letters on the wall. So Foe said, since he had his tag longer, that I should switch the ‘F’ to a ‘Ph.’ From then on I was ‘Pheo.’
Who in graffiti were you psyched on?
When I was young, I couldn’t name a name on the wall. It was just really colorful and there was a lot of shit going down. But when I got older, Mirage was living down the block from me, and there were full-on Mirage pieces at the schools (handball courts). There would be something new every morning. He was on top of the game back then, and that was an inspiration. I really looked up to the KDM kids and TC5 crew. I didn’t live too far from the tracks, and there was tons of graffiti there, and also on a nearby JCPenney.
My first night of writing graffiti, I broke out of the house and had a little can of metallic blue paint (like the cans you paint your bike with), and I went to hit a handball court in the middle of a schoolyard by myself. I went to write ‘Dan,’ but all I got out was the ‘D,’ because all of a sudden, like ten dudes start jumping out of the trees. One of them says, “What are you doing?” The last thing I expected was a gang of kids to be hiding up in the trees. It ended up being the KDM dudes. They were doing a piece on the other side and they saw me coming, so they hid in the trees. Because I was writing graffiti, they ended up being cool and actually encouraging me. So I got to watch the main guys in town do a piece on my first night out. I was hooked after that. Who wouldn’t be?
What companies have you done skate graphics for?
I’ve done graphics for a bunch of little companies, like Maestro, Bodega, Stimulus, Butter, Circa Combat, Hazel, Indignant, and Number Nine. My main thing now is Pheos Projects.
What do you think it is about both subcultures, skating and graff, that attracts the same kind of person?
I think it’s the streets. Just being out and roaming around. Skateboarding you hit a spot; graffiti you hit a spot. You have destinations and things planned out. It’s just the same personality. A lot of my friends I grew up skating with started writing graffiti with me. Some of my friends now started writing graffiti in their 40s! I’m like, “Really? Now you’re gonna start doing this? I’m done!” But they don’t skate anymore, so maybe they get that same rush from bombing that they got from skating? Maybe it brings back that feeling of something you’re not really supposed to be doing, but you’re doing it anyway? It’s like a big game of ring-and-run. That’s what I always liked about it.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, skating and graff weren’t accepted by the mainstream. Nowadays they are a lot more so. How do you think this warm welcome from the masses has changed these subcultures?
It’s worse, in skating and graffiti. I’d rather half these kids go back to little league. But I blame the parents; and the parents are us! It’s like this: We thought it was cool, so skaters our age are raising their kids to do it. Then the other parents are like, “Johnny thinks Joey’s father is really cool because he does that, so let’s do it, too!” So now everyone is doing it. Then Tony Hawk makes a ton of money for doing a 900, and now it’s even more accepted because you can make money off of it.
As for graffiti, everybody wants a piece of it. It’s on every advertisement because it attracts the youth and that’s what makes the money. Everybody is in it for the money. There’s no soul left. However, there are some people doing it because they really care about it, and when you meet those people, they’re the ones you connect with more.
Pheo with the phresh line at Long Island’s TOB parking garage:
In skating it’s not cool to film at skateparks. In graff it’s not cool to paint legal walls. So are legal walls the graff equivalent of skatepark footage?
The Berrics made park footage acceptable, and that shit is terrible. I like legal walls. I’m older now, I don’t want to run from the cops anymore. I just like to paint. If I want to paint, I want to paint. But I loved bombing; I loved the thrill. You gotta pay your dues.
And you go to the skatepark for the same reason – you don’t want to be bothered by cops and shitty cement. But I think the kids should ditch the parks and hit the streets a little more.
Last question: will you hit my book?
No… Of course I’ll hit your book!