Etips and the history of Rhode Island graffiti

Back to the tunnel
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  March 31, 2011

ETIPS in front of the “RISD tunnel” on North Main Street.

I meet Etips — at 30, an elder statesman in Rhode Island's graffiti scene — in front of Mill's Tavern on North Main Street in Providence.

He shakes the valet's hand and away we go — up a short driveway and onto a small, paved parking lot. "This was all woods," he says, looking back toward North Main, "all woods to the end."

In front of us: a long dormant train tunnel — now sealed and painted a trim, dark green — that once served as the hidden heart of a scene that otherwise demanded public attention.

All the old writers came here to escape the cops or show off to each other. Reyz, Reak, Vase, Juan. And from the UPS (Under Police Surveillance) crew, Rath, whose "Dread Asassin" stared down from the face of the "RISD tunnel," a samurai sword on his shoulder.

The "Asassin" is gone. There's hardly a trace of what once happened here. It's clean, for the most part. Sterile.

"Lame as fuck," Etips says, from under his blue hoodie. "It's a shame, man. This was a gathering spot."

>> READ: "Cambridge author Caleb Neelon traces graffiti’s hidden history" by Greg Cook <<

Rhode Island's graffiti scene isn't dead, of course. Far from it. New colors, new cans, and the globalizing force of the Internet make the story of the last decade or so as rich as the old school tales.

"There are kids out there who are fucking demolishing the city, putting in hard work," says Etips.

But he's here to talk about the history of graffiti in Rhode Island — at least, the history dating from his arrival in the mid-'90s.

We have to go elsewhere for the origin story.

NEELON with snapshots from Providence.

Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon, in their new tome The History of American Graffiti,, suggest the Providence graffiti scene took off in earnest in the summer of 1983, when New York City writer Seen — fleeing a beef at home — landed in Providence.

His old partner Juice from the Cool 5 crew was already here, attending a military academy just across the border in southern Massachusetts. And Seen quickly found himself schooling Juice's Rhode Island friends Sin, Map, and Ash on the latest from the graffiti capital of the world.

It was a different canvas. "To me, if you don't hit trains, you ain't official," Juice told Gastman and Nellom. But he was impressed with his disciples, nonetheless: "As far as having students, those niggas were the best. It was like opening up a Pandora's box."

Lead, from The History of American Graffiti
The Providence scene exploded over the next few years — surpassing the larger city to the north, by some accounts. "It was so weird to go down there," Boston writer SLY recalled, in The History of American Graffiti, "because there were projects that were just totally abandoned and covered in graffiti.   

>> READ: "Cambridge author Caleb Neelon traces graffiti’s hidden history" by Greg Cook <<

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Related: The deCordova thinks about ''murals'', Cambridge author Caleb Neelon traces graffiti's hidden history, Year in pictures, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Rhode Island, Olneyville, graffiti,  More more >
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