Getting Up

DONDI and the Late, Great Art of Graffiti

Few of the graffiti pioneers got rich. Some went into the straight world. Not a few let their brush with Downtown fame and money get the better of them and got "caught up." DONDI was "a helluva fun-loving guy," says TOP. His death followed the "long illness" that in obituary code usually means AIDS.

"DONDI wanted us to go forward with our lives," says TOP. "He knew he wasn't gonna live long. You can see it in the skulls in his drawings." What's important to his friends is that DONDI's remembered as a real artist, "checked and backed," as the crews used to say. They don't want to see him—or themselves—written off. "All those Downtown galleries used to just manufacture stars," DURO says. "It was just perpetration. People would demand our art so they could get rich. But graffiti meant more to us. It was a sacred honor to be known in NYC." For the original members of the CIA and TOP crews, says DURO, graffiti was never about the bucks. "It was about getting up, hitting, and secrecy. Like movie stars have their movie screens, that was our fame."

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