Less than fifteen miles from my office there's a not so famous bridge with a very famous sign. 'Very' maybe being more regional than global, never mind national. The sign reads, "Trenton Makes, The World Takes," and was penned by S. Roy Heath in 1910. The Lower Trenton Bridge, which itself has been around for over two hundred years, crosses the Delaware River like George Washington himself. Today it is best known as The Trenton Makes Bridge and it symbolizes the global market for goods produced in the local factories.
When it came time for me to begin Graffiti School, I knew going in that this was to be taken very seriously. I was already very familiar with the street art culture both as a fan of the genre and as a cultural anthropologist by trade. Here was my opportunity as an artist with a passion for typography, to learn The Art of The Spray. Before being accepted to the class I had a little portfolio review on the edge of Trenton, just opposite the State Prison. It was there I was first introduced to the likes of such great personalities as Leon Rainbow and the Vicious Styles Crew, which included the mighty talents of writers MEK, RAS, KASSO, and DEMR. My first assignment was to come up with my tag. Before you can do any graffiti you first need to have something to write. This is the origin of graffiti artists being referred to as writers. From a simple tag to a masterpiece, the medium is calligraphy in spray paint and therefore the tag you choose must be a unique one - as this is the way to gain fame. Leon Rainbow writes RAIN for instance. It's not unlike the world of hip-hop and rap artists who create stage names for themselves in the hopes of becoming human brands. LL Cool J's driver's license more than likely reads James Todd Smith, his birth name.
My name isn't really Mikel. My driver's license, passport, and anything else that has to be official, reads Michael. Same pronunciation, but a little more artistic written phonetically, and a lot easier to write. When I changed my signature to Mikel in 1980 it was for the simple reason that it was in fact easier to sign my name if it was spelled this way. The transformation was worked out in an early sketchbook on an Air France flight to Paris. From that point on, I was Mikel and no longer Michael. Birthday cards from my grandparents were addressed to Mikel, but it was on my diploma from the ArtCenter College of Design where my father quickly pointed out that my name was spelled wrong. The choice was mine to make.