I did not know Jim Prigoff well but was 
delighted to be able to ask him a few 
questions during the Urban Creativity 
Conference in 2020, when he participated in 
an on-line Q&A session together with Henry 
Chalfant and Susan Farell.

Jim answered candidly and made quite a lively
impression in spite of his respectable age.

We stayed in touch after the conference via 
e-mail, discussing the origins and 
trajectory of style writing and were 
plannning an audio interview for my podcast.

That was, sadly, never to be recorded but 
he did humbly devote the time and effort to 
type down some lenghty and super interesting 
answers to some of the many questions I had.

I was planning to try and get it published 
as an article sometime down the line but 
learning of Jims recent passing, it feels 
more appropriate to make it available here, 
for free and as a tribute to his work.

This interview was conducted on the 20:th July 2020.

I am very happy that I got the chance to 
thank the man for producing works as 
Spraycan Art. A book that left an immense imprint  
on me, and so many other kids in the 80´ies with over 250 000 
sold (racked?) units. 
It was tremendously inspiring to discuss various 
graffiti-related topics with a man of such 
insights and passion for art and culture

As a graffiti writer and chronicler:
I salute you Mr Prigoff! 


SGP: To graffiti-aficionados, I would claim 
you became a household name in conjunction 
with the release of the book Spraycan Art.
By then, in 1987, you were 60 years of age.
I would like to know what you did before 
What was your childhood like and what was 
your relation to art and expressions in the 
public space before graffiti came along?

Jim: My life history was that of a middle-
class child growing up in suburban NY. There 
was every expectation that I would go to 
college, get a good job, and have a 
successful business career. My mother took 
me to Museums and in general I was a 
visually oriented person. At age 40, I 
became interested in tracking and 
documenting murals and community art 
particularly as it had political reference. 
I began to see tags appearing and 
photographed some. As the art form developed 
and became more sophisticated, I 
incorporated it into my mural search wanting 
to give dignity and respect to this new 
burgeoning form of art expression.


SGP:  What are your earliest meetings with, or 
memories of (style writing)graffiti and what 
did you make of it?

Jim: I remember seeing BIO, BRIM, MED, T-KID 
TAGS in the Bronx and then some of Keith 
Haring’s characters in the early 80’s. A 
Samo here and a Sane there. Going to 
Freedom’s tunnel on the west side. Tracking 
Lee, Vulcan, Daze, Crash, Blast, Phase 2, 
Tracy and so many others.

SGP: How did you go about approaching it and 
learning more about it?

Jim: In the early eighties I began to meet 
some of the writers, particularly on the 
west coast when I moved in 1981. The TMF 
crew, TDK crew and TWS, writers that I am 
still in touch with to this day. Also, many 
of the writers in LA like Slick, Hex, Chaz, 
Risk etc.

As the writing moved from tags to pieces, I 
recognized   the skill involved and became 
interested in following its development as 
well as to give respect and dignity to those 
creating the art.

I watched the writers creating their pieces, 
talked to      them about the culture to 
understand their motivation,
creativity, and how it was becoming such an 
important part of their lives. I remember 
inviting the TMF crew to my home in SF. to 
do an in-depth interview with them.

SGP: When did you first cross paths with 
Henry Chalfant and how did you come to work 
on the book together?

Jim: Tony Silver came to see me when he was 
working on Style Wars, hoping I would have 
some ideas for fund raising to help finance 
the film. He mentioned his film partner, 
Henry Chalfant and suggested I should meet 
him when I was next in NYC. When I decided 
to do a book of how the art came above 
ground from the NY City subway system, began 
to appear on walls and handball courts and 
then move across the country, I wrote and 
invited Henry to join me. His reply was “My 
brain is Graffitied out. But let’s do it”.

SGP: We recently spoke about the process of 
selecting what works and cities that were 
featured in the final product (Listen to the 
snippet published in this post)
Could you speak a bit about the response and 
critique the book received and any tangible 
proof of its impact on subsequent 
travels/interactions the coming years?
The first trip to Sweden for example.

Jim:The book received an instant positive 
response world-wide. It was voted one of the 
50 best books for layout and design in 
Britain in 1987. There were many newspaper 
reviews and received commendation in a NY. 
Public Library list. Henry was already 
recognized internationally and with the 
publishing of Spraycan Art, I became very 
visible and invited to speak in venues 
around the world.

SGP: Did you at any point feel a 
responsibility in regards to the amount of criminal 
damage/defacement that the book inspired?
And, without  rehashing the old "Art or 
Crime" debate; how big a part of graffiti do 
you think the illicit nature of it is/contra 
the artistic aspect?
This could be expanded into a discussion of what 
happens when graffiti is brought on to 
canvas and the transition into the field of 
fine art and museums, certainly.

Jim: My chosen role in the movement was that 
of a photo documenter to preserve the images 
which often disappeared rapidly, to present 
the art form to as large an audience as was 
possible and to be its advocate. Also, to 
help understand its social context within a 
capitalist society. There is no question I 
played a contributing part in the larger 
picture/puzzle. People are welcome to 
ascribe whatever they want as to my 
influence because almost all of the feedback 
has been very positive. Kids I didn’t even 
know have told me I saved their lives as 
they left the gang culture and moved to 
Graff. Many of their friends left behind 
were R.I.P. Graffiti moving to Museums and 
fine art is partially a result of writers 
getting older, gaining attention, needing to 
support families etc. But that is just one 
of the many facets in an ever far reaching 

SGP: With the spreading of style writing now 
having reached most corners of the world.
What are your impressions on how it has 
evolved in respective geographical areas.
I.e I see tendencies of simply imitating 
classic NY Subway Graffiti, with western 
letters/words and the same old styles and 
aesthetics in all parts of the world. 
It has its charm I suppose but can 
also feel shallow and bleak somehow.
Are there any scenes where you think an 
exciting adaption and furthering of the 
artform has taken place?

Jim: This question is complex and better 
answered by the artists themselves. There 
were so many ways that writers chose to 
develop style. First, many just copied from 
the books or had mentors who taught them 
style. But as time went on, writer explored 
new imagery and style often became regional. 

SGP: Having dedicated such a large part of 
your life to chronicling and collecting 
graffiti. Why has this movement been so 
important to you, and perhaps any guesses on 
the attraction and meaning it has had to so 
many? In short; what is so great about 

Jim: Graffiti documentation has been part of 
a much larger interest in tracking painted 
murals, particularly as they related to 
community issues, political attitudes and 
their influence in public visual life. For 
me it was a way to combine an interest in 
photography with my political values and 
then to share my point of view with a larger 
audience. In addition, it was an adventure, 
a treasure hunt, as well as a challenge and 
an opportunity to learn about different 
cultures as well as interacting with youth.


SGP: Our paths crossed recently at an 
international conference on graffiti and 
other expressions in the public space. What 
started as kids scribbling has now not only 
spawned a worldwide art movement (or is it 
an extreme sport or something else?) but a 
whole community of scholars, chroniclers and 
researchers who analyze and try to 
understand and explain graffiti.
I often times, as an amateur researcher get 
lost in talking and thinking more about 
graffiti than actually painting, forgetting 
why I love it so much until I get to a wall 
and apply aerosol paint on it.
What do you think are the pros and cons of 
the theoretical, philosophical and academic 
movement around this phenomenon?
As one of the debates at the conference were 
about; Is it even possible and fruitful at 
all trying to frame and explain graffiti 
without ever having practised it? 
...and on the other side of that coin. Are 
the many ex-practitioners in the academic 
word inclined to be biased when indulging in 
and publishing research on it?
Does graffiti need to be confined and 
understood by outsiders?

Jim: Over the many centuries, art took many 
forms, shapes and context. Scholars studied 
each period from ever conceivable point of 
view. So why not Graffiti which is clearly 
the most important art form developed in the 
last 40 years? I presume most of the 
scholarly work over the years was done by 
people who never painted themselves. Surely, 
interview the artists to get some clarity, 
but the answers will be wide ranged based on 
the individual, yet often have a similar 

SGP:What are your hopes or expectations on 
the future of graffiti? In a society with an 
inclination leaning more towards a fully 
draconian and surveilled society. Is 
graffiti doomed to disappear or could  it 
rather a productive factor such as combating 
graffiti has been historically? Graffiti on 
trains saw a style renaissance of sorts when 
the possible times to stand in a yard shrunk 
remarkably. Giving birth to new styles.

Jim: I don’t really have “hopes or 
expectations” The art form will continue to 
develop in many different directions. It is 
like a tree with branches emerging in many 
directions. Graffiti in one form or another 
has been a part of society since the 
beginning of human life. Probably, it will 
continue in some form in perpetuity.





Photo taken from the book Spraycan Art.
Audio taken from the https://www.urbancreativity.org/ 2020 conference.

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