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A History of New Orleans Graffiti

This exhibition is a visual and historical retelling of the evolution of New Orleans graffiti by the ones who were there when it started and those who have kept it alive.

Top Mob:

A History of New Orleans Graffiti sponsored by Mo’s Art Supply at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

In New Orleans, a group of friends—using the aliases Bugs One, SGP, and Dusky—began writing graffiti together in 1984, forming a crew called Top Mob. SGP brought photographs of New York graffiti back to New Orleans, and another friend, Risk, returned with West Coast styles from Los Angeles.
The Top Mob artists assimilated these writing styles into their work. The city’s growing punk and hip-hop scene expanded the roster of Top Mob artists to include names like Baser, Rock, Elle One, Kane, Kash, Axe, Harsh, and local legend DJ REAL. Bugs and SGP eventually moved to Los Angeles in the early 90’s; Bugs returned home to become an influential graffiti artist, blending East and West into a distinctly New Orleans Southern style.
Over the course of 30-plus years, Top Mob has remained a relevant crew with a longevity unparalleled in the history of New Orleans graffiti.
From the Caves of Lascaux to the Subway tunnels of New York City, graffiti remains the oldest form of art known to man. In New Orleans during the early 1980s, graffiti writers emerged onto the scene and created a style and influence that would continue over three decades. Often the subject of controversy, graffiti draws attention to urban blight and gentrification, the line between creation and destruction, and the social conditions that allow and encourage this subversive life-style.
Over the years graffiti has evolved from a purely street level rebellion to a multi-million dollar business, attracting a new generation of “street artists” and thus changing the perception of where graffiti culture comes from.
This exhibition is a visual and historical retelling of the evolution of New Orleans graffiti by the ones who were there when it started and those who have kept it alive.


AXE ONE was introduced to writing graffiti in 1988 by BASER and DISC. Soon after, he was put down in TOP MOB. It was during this era that AXE was recognized as the first writer to go All-City in New Orleans. After moving to Florida he slowed down, but upon moving back to New Orleans in ’93 he made up for lost time and reclaimed his spot as one of the city’s most prolific writers. In the mid ‘90’s, AXE ONE made a shift to primarily painting freight trains. In 2001, he semi-retired.


Live and direct from the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, LA, BASER “Mendez” was a student of Hip Hop from an early age. He is without question one of pure Hip Hop’s most notable ambassadors to the southeastern United States. Not only did BASER take a particular liking to break dancing, he also loved writing graffiti. After helping to shape the freight train graffiti scene in Miami, BASER went back to his old ways and launched the “MadClout” lifestyle brand and preservation society that keeps, celebrates and embraces the roots and elements of Hip Hop Culture. Currently, he can be found deep in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia with his head in the game and his finger on a stock cap, but his corazon remains in NOLA.


Miami D.A.D.E county is where I discovered what is called graffiti, and developed my style. I started off as most of us writers do: tagging everything, throw ups, fill ins, and get ups. Following Katrina, I met Harsh, and made the acquaintances of my future crew members: TOPMOB. We instantly clicked. For us graffiti writers the abandoned buildings and destruction were blank murals to paint on and people didn’t seem to take much interest in what we were doing at first. I was incarcerated for a period of about 18 months in several holding facilities in Louisiana. I eventually fled back to Miami. I decided the world is a big place and I’m still young, healthy, free. There are other places to conquer and represent my crews. Since then I’ve been bouncing around the Caribbean, Europe, Australia and wherever life takes me.


New Orleans native BUGS ONE has been involved in the graffiti scene for over three decades. Since the early 80’s, he was one of the pioneers of the New Orleans graffiti scene. Hip Hop influenced him to get into graffiti with some of his biggest influences including the old school NYC train graffiti and early West Coast graffiti. BUGS ONE moved to Los Angeles in the early 90’s where he met and painted with some of the best graffiti writers in the world. Along with SGP and DUSK, he is considered one of the founding members of TOP MOB.


Dr. DAX is an Atlanta legend who is firmly established as a notable graffiti writer and commercial artist. He is the quintessential artist with a unique voice expressed in a variety of mediums: painting, fine art, photography, and filmmaking; coining him a visual engineer. As an accomplished muralist, DAX can transform a blank wall into a monumental work of art that displays his unique style, wordplay, and technique. His paintings become immersive murals of intricate layers that are vibrant with energy and color.


Lionel Milton got his start in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans; skateboarding and tagging city walls with his graffiti name “ELLEONE,” as a member of the graffiti crew TOP MOB. Milton soon became recognized for his vibrant, urban cartoon images. His unique style has crossed from design into television, licensing and publishing. Over his extensive creative career some of Milton’s clients have included PlayStation, Red Bull and Heineken.


Growing up in New Orleans during the 80’s, Andre started stirring up a roux of culture from punk rock, hip-hop, skateboarding, riding the bus, and spending whole days at the Joy Pitt dollar cinema with one dollar and a dream. In 1994, he stirred graffiti into the pot with some tap water: gumbo. Ever since, he has been serving the public his dish of original funk alchemy from the 504. As a local chef of street art, Andre teaches worthy artists his recipe, just like this city’s original gorillas helped him see through the mist. He’s an old soul with a future mind, plus a Taste Maker on top. It was only natural for Andre to evacuate a year before the storm with wise intentions of keeping the cauldron warm.


Active in New Orleans from 1999-2009 GRAIL is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Los Angeles. “Don’t invite me in from the jungle and not expect to get dirt on the floor. “ – GRAIL


HARSH is an international graffiti writer from New Orleans. He vandalizes other people’s property with a word he chose in 1987.


A New Orleans self-taught artist in many disciplines since a young age, INK began drawing in middle school. Soon after acquiring the book “Subway Art” in a school library and seeing the film “Style Wars,” INK began tagging his name to anything he could find. Soon after, his dad purchased him a Paasche airbrush and compressor, which encouraged a more legal and profitable way of self-expression. This key gift opened many doors, and eventually lead him to commissions on t-shirts in the 90’s, production murals on walls, show cars, and motorcycles in the 2000’s. Although he is a self-taught artist, INK has never limited himself from the possibilities of education, earning a BA in Fine Arts, Digital Art/Media from the University of New Orleans. He currently works as a tattoo artist at his own shop in Kenner, LA.


Born and raised in New Orleans, ISHU saw writers such as BUGS, AXE, ROCK, and HARSH and was influenced to begin writing in 1997. After a few years of growth, he became a member of 342 and OHNO, eventually linking up with KBT and SAT of Florida. He is now honored to be a member of the TOP MOB family.


Jamar “JD” Pierre is a painter and muralist with over twenty years of professional visual art experience. Though a native of New Orleans, Pierre is a citizen of the world. Pierre’s portfolio encompasses corporate and private commissions, public murals, official posters, set design, album covers, and product advertising. Pierre joined TOP MOB in 1988 and was named to the Gambit’s “Forty Under 40” list in 2012. Pierre currently resides and works in New Orleans’ Arts District.


One of the key players of the gulf coast Graffiti movement, KASH has been an inspiration and teacher to a generation of writers. With a style and attitude of an old school writer with motto of quality over quantity, KASH has not been the most prolific writer. But, his pieces and black books are some of the most inspirational. For years KASH has been a curator of the history of graffiti; specifically tracking all things TOP MOB. KASH has cataloged years of graffiti photos and early on was a designer and silk screener of early 90’s street wear apparel.


Influenced by the skate and surf culture of Virginia beach and the streets of Chicago, MEEKAVELLI learned about graffiti from his friend TASK, who along with ENUF (GRAIL) and RASPO (Able Chris) formed the God Awful Krewe. In 1995 he was arrested with TASK and DARE for spray-painting his high school. He spent time in Baton Rouge painting with INC where he met REK, ARE, RENK, SEEK and JEDI. Back in New Orleans, he began painting billboards and once defeated the gray ghost in a court trial, where he took the stand in his own defense and beat all charges using the loophole of “water soluble ink.” He was promoted to TOP MOB around 2000 by HARSH and AXE, via BUGS after they clowned him for working as a clerk in the corner store at Barracks and Decatur St.


Born and raised in New Orleans, MURK grew up noticing HASH and SHANK tags all over the West Bank. He became obsessed with graffiti and would spend car rides studying tags, noticing which ones were repeated in different locations. Going to high school Uptown, he was exposed to TOP MOB, KI, INC, and AOM. When he moved back to New Orleans in 2009 following Katrina, most of the old members of OHNO were a part of TOP MOB and he was put on as well. He feels it an honor to be a part of the old New Orleans crew that inspired him as a kid. MURK currently travels and works as a local tattoo artist in the city full-time and still paints whenever he can.


As a child, PAINTER was always interested in drawing. He was introduced to graffiti in the Fall of 1990 at his grandparent’s house in the 9th Ward. As he describes it, a mystery person was walking across the street, stopped, painted on a building in plain view and disappeared just as quickly. The mystery of graffiti drew him in—questioning what the symbols meant, why they were there and who were the people putting them up. At that point, he started drawing bubble letters and his own versions of what he saw and thought looked good. He adopted PAINTER in 1993 and was very active for several years before marrying. After 24 years of experience in the graff game, PAINTER was officially put down with TOP MOB in 2015.


vague, truthful, personal and kinda noneya bidness… carpenter, plumber, welder, mechanic, builder, designer, drag racer, gun shooter, tree grower, drinker, smoker, rock n roller, veteran, loyal friend, hustler, free thinker, mind expander, introvert, extrovert, curb grinder, home owner, father, writer


Hails from parts unknown. No known relatives. Nationally recognized writer. He has done fine art shows in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Italy. Started painting in New Orleans in 2006 and was added to the TOP MOB roster in 2014.


To most people throughout the country, “real” means fact, actual, true, authentic and genuine. But to others, REAL means Sean Daliet, aka DJ REAL, DJ, artist, and an all around badass. An original member of the TOP MOB Crew, Sean found his outlet to express his art using New Orleans as his broad and never ending canvas. But, it is his musical legacy that is the stuff of legend. Sean’s musical influence on New Orleans nightlife is undeniable and exemplified by all the local venues REAL has played, including the Blue Crystal, Whiskey Bar, Shiloh, the House of Blues and many more. If REAL didn’t play it, it wasn’t worth going. REAL was so unique in a way that most people will never fathom. The dance floor is colorblind and the great equalizer, and Sean understood that. Whether it be through close friendships, relationships, or even to a complete stranger, REAL brought people together to have a good time. His impeccable scratching paired with selections to keep the party going all night displayed his gift night after night. Sean is DJ REAL because that’s exactly what he is. A highly charismatic soul with a zest for life. Very few people have an impact like Sean, and that is a very special quality to possess. In fact, this is what made Sean so REAL.


Kelly Graval, the multi-talented fine artist, illustrator and graffiti artist known as RISK, has been synonymous with the Los Angeles art community for decades. With a career spanning 30 years, RISK has solidified his place in the history books as a world renowned graffiti legend. He has come a long way since he pioneered the painting of freeway overpasses, signs and billboards. Although RISK loves aerosol art, he sees it as merely just one genre in his life’s work.


I started out writing with DUST and KANE and we had our Krew OSK (OLD SCHOOL KINGZ). Eventually HEIST and I were getting up so much that BUGS told us to start writing TOP MOB too. I’ve been writing TOP MOB ever since. Although I was already into graffiti, BUGS ONE showed me how to do it right. BUGS became my mentor and schooled me with tips and pointers from his experience over the years. I am a Rasta Man and I live a mostly normal life with my wife and two children. I own a home and work my fingers to the bone daily. I have become part of an evolving, innovating and unique cultural group that I am proud to call TOP MOB. I plan to get up and stay up as long as I can.


SANK was first introduced to graffiti by his father in the late 80’s, specifically between 1988 and ‘89. SANK’s father never failed to read aloud the recurring names written on those walls, “There goes AXE.” Throughout subsequent years the graffiti work by BUGS, AXE, BASE, KASH, and ROCK were so prolific that these names would become ingrained in his brain. After a few short hiatuses and nearly a decade of studying at a local university, his interests have grown to include oil painting, hand-painted signs and much more. He is happy to continue to thrive and learn in his Post-Katrina environment.


SEEK is a New Orleans native born in 1978 and raised across the city. From the levees of New Orleans East, to the cemeteries of Mid City, and the canals of Metairie, he’s lived and traveled around the world for the past 20 years, only to find himself drawn right back home to New Orleans. He was introduced to skateboarding and punk music in 1985 and graffiti in 1989 when he started writing under the name YIELD. In 1996, he graduated from Holy Cross High School and became the first known arrest for graffiti with NOVA, TKO and RENK INC. In the late 90’s, SEEK made front page of The Advocate for graffiti. In 2000, he was admitted to LSU’s Graphic Design Program; at the same time, he partnered up with ARE1/GOOSE in a 2-year boxcar painting binge around Louisiana. In 2006, HARSH elected SEEK into the ranks of TOP MOB.


Born in New Orleans, SER grew up in The East and Gentilly. He started writing while living in the NYC area in 1991, but when he got back to New Orleans in early 2000, he got serious about graffiti and started making jewelry. SER got put on OHNO initially, and crushed for two years, then got put down in TOP MOB. When Katrina hit he lost his house in Gentilly. He then moved to NYC where he has established himself as a cutting-edge jeweler.


SGP is an artist who grew up in New Orleans, and started doing graffiti after seeing the movie Beat Street in 1984. Shortly after, he met BUGS ONE, and BUGS ONE came up with the name TOP MOB for the new crew, consisting of BUGS, SGP and DUSK. Influenced by “Style Wars,” the book “Subway Art,” and many other graffiti artists, he transitioned into professional photography. He also goes by another name, REIN ONE, which was given to him by his friend RIVAL ONE from the famed WEST COAST ARTISTS CREW of Los Angeles. SGP currently resides and works in Los Angeles, CA.


TRASER was influenced by skateboarding and graffiti at a young age. Raised on the West Coast, he moved to New Orleans around 2000. He has nearly 20 strong years of solo work and group murals, and he has exhibited in multiple galleries around New Orleans. He was also the editor of “Beer Thirdee”, a local skate and culture magazine that hosted the annual King of the City contest.


In 1998 the Atlanta graffiti scene consisted of freight writers, piecing legal yards and bridge spots. WON2 filled a serious void in the graffiti culture, known as “The All City Bomber.” He focused on becoming a complete writer and in the process he earned his spot in the Atlanta history books. He became known for venturing outside the hip areas and writing his name everywhere around the city including the neighborhoods where others wouldn’t even drive through during daytime hours. Originally from Miami, he gave the Atlanta scene what he knew to be graffiti. All-out bombing developed his single letter W throw-up which has become an Atlanta icon much like the Coca-Cola and Corey tower signs.