Kiko Was Here

A would-be Basquiat goes to prison in a misguided graffiti crackdown

By then the 114th Precinct, which leads the city in graffiti arrests, had started to close in on Kiko. Three weeks prior to the columns getting tagged, a neighborhood woman had confronted Siandre while he tagged a wall.

photo: Jorge Colombo


Tune in: Interview with reporter Sean Gardiner

"Oh my God, so you're Kiko?" she said.

Siandre weakly denied it and scurried away.

The woman filed a report with the 114th Precinct and the police made a composite drawing of Kiko.

Three weeks later, another neighborhood woman reported a suspicious person after spotting Siandre—then sporting a modified mohawk haircut and multiple piercings—hanging out near her home. A patrol officer questioned Siandre, took down his information, and let him go when a warrants check came back clean.

The information was relayed to a detective who, while doing a routine check, discovered Siandre had had a previous graffiti arrest a decade ago. His tag back then: "Kiko."

That same night, "Kiko" was sprayed on the prized columns. Soon police fit all the pieces together.

On October 4, 2005, while arresting Siandre, police found huge "Kiko" tags sprayed all over the walls of his Manhattan apartment along with several notebooks filled with "Kiko" sketches. Caught in the act, Siandre tried spin control.

"I just want to start off by saying I'm really sorry for writing KIKO around private property," Siandre's confession began. He said he was drunk when he painted the pillars and claimed, falsely, he was living a drug- and graffiti-free life now. "I'm 27 years old. I realize what I've done is delinquent and irresponsible," he acknowledged, but pleaded, "I'll clean up the mess or any other graffitti [sic] me and the others left behind. Please don't put me in jail.

In retrospect, the confession sounds like Siandre knew how much trouble he faced. But he was just bullshitting. The worst he thought he'd get was community service. That's why he doodled away his innocence.

When a newspaper photographer started snapping his picture as he left the Queens courthouse following his arraignment, Siandre realized this wasn't your average graffiti bust.

By then, Vallone had already gone to the media, doing his best Dirty Harry impression.

"I want this punk and I want him bad," Vallone said, before admitting: "Catching this guy has been a personal vendetta of mine." Queens District Attorney Richard Brown also released a statement claiming Kiko caused over $100,000 in damage (the indictment lists only $5,750 worth) and calling him "one of New York City's most notorious graffiti taggers."

But the fact remained that when it came to taggers, Kiko was no big deal.

Steve Mona, a retired lieutenant, spent 19 of his 21 years in the NYPD fighting graffiti, including the last decade as head of the Vandals Task Force. He was so hated by "graffiti vandals," as he insists on calling them (a name, by the way, they love), that one sprayed "Police Officer Mona has AIDS" on the Manhattan Bridge. He took it as a compliment.

During his time on the force, which covered Kiko's most active period, Mona knew every significant graffiti vandal in the city. Asked about Kiko, Mona says: "Never heard of him."

Author-artist Hugo Martinez founded what he described as a "hardcore writers' collective" called the United Graffiti Artists in 1972, and at 55, he essentially has lived the history of what he claims is the only genuine "American painting form." He traces the origins of graffiti "tagging", then called "hitting," to 1967 and a tagger dubbed "Julio204." From Washington Heights to the Bronx to Brooklyn, from subways to delivery trucks, pioneers like "Taki183" and "Joe182," through infestations of "pretenders" like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, all the way up to today's most active taggers (the ACC crew out of Brooklyn), Martinez knows the city's graffiti scene.

But until Siandre's arrest, he had never heard of Kiko.

"I only heard of him through Vallone," says Martinez, whose recently released book Graffiti NYC promotes the work of what he claims is every significant practitioner in the city over the past five years. "Vallone made him famous. Kiko wasn't on the map before that."

Another indicator of Kiko's lack of status is that he wasn't on the NYPD's annual "Worst of the Worst Graffiti Vandals List," according to a copy of the confidential document obtained by the Voice.

But because of Vallone, Kiko became the most famous graffiti writer in the city overnight—and the most infamous.

Though many graffiti writers brag about going to jail, very few serve time, at least not for practicing their craft. Mona recalls only one other graffiti vandal getting a substantial sentence—"DESA," a/k/a Robert Morrissey. Dubbed in a 1994 Daily News story the most destructive graffiti vandal in the city's history, Morrissey, who had also threatened to blow up the office of a local anti-graffiti group, served four months in jail and eight months in a halfway house. A month after being paroled, Morrissey, who claimed he was "addicted" to graffiti, was jailed for another year after getting caught tagging an FDNY station house.

But most taggers get community service that requires them to clean up graffiti and pay fines and restitution.

Because of the publicity surrounding his case, those options were not offered to Kiko.

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