Lincoln Reyes is due any minute. I don’t know what he looks like, and those I ask say they don’t know either or don't want to tell me. Thing is, you don’t need to know about someone to know what they’re about. Nobody seems to really know him, yet they all know what he does. The barman in OLD’38, a shady low-slung drinking house at GrimHEX, hushes me over. “I don’t like your tone” he whispered in a harsh voice, “it’s too loud!”. “You’re to wait” and points a stubby finger towards the lower-deck. He doesn’t strike me as the chatty type, so I take my drink and head over to take a seat.
If I wasn’t nervous before, I'm thinking about now. GrimHEX isn’t exactly known for its hospitality, but I’m not surprised by the choice of location. Lincoln is arguably one of the ‘verses more celebrated graffiti artists, but graffiti is not given the same high-profile as the other arts.
It’s indisputable that graffiti has always been with us, whether carved in stone, painted on murals, or sewn on canvas. It depicts a way of life, it tells stories, marks historic events, advertises services, or even balances accounts. The old times have changed though, the art form has become a menace, a scorn against the face of perfection, it’s now anti-social, vandalism, anarchistic, something to be frowned upon, and stamped out. But I look around this place, GrimHEX, and I don’t see a sterile UEE presence here, instead, I see a bohemian dwelling, an outlander's sanctuary, a small out-crop away from prying eyes, the place has a raw grit, and I can imagine Lincoln here, with character that befits the modern landscape-painters tastes. It reeks of imperfection, but also a hint of purity, humanities struggle, and also its victories.
Lincoln’s work is bold and stateful, often juvenile in nature, and reminiscent of an old style of the late 20th century. It’s impressive, and unique, and yet homely and familiar – like it belongs there. I’ve heard of other sightings of Lincoln’s work, bits around Hurston metro, and satellite service-stations, but it’s here that I sense it belongs. Hurston for show, GrimHEX for the pro.
My mind muddles over their meaning, are they meant to have meaning. For taggers, graffiti marks territory, but not all his works are territorial; one is mocking surveillance, another a mix of Benny’s and WiDoW. Does Lincoln have insight into something the rest of us don’t? Probably!
There’s still no sign of him, I check the Mobi logs, no new messages. My mind wanders as I take a swig of drink, I’m thinking what to ask, and how he might respond. My thoughts are interrupted minutes later when there’s shuffling at the bar, peering through the tacky-neon reflected glass I see the bartender gesture in my direction. This is it, and I take a long deep breathe. Lincoln appears around the corner and I stand to greet him, shaking hands firmly; ‘always a good sign’ my mother had taught me. Lincoln is about my height, 5ft8, maybe an inch taller, but of broader stock, with short black hair, a good length beard, a smattering of scars, and a lot of ink! Meeting at GrimHEX starts to make sense, Lincoln fits. I notice a warmth about him, and with broad smile, he’s still shaking my hand, he pats me on the back and makes a quick sign for us both to sit. Hitting ‘record’ on the Mobi, I begin.
“Hi Lincoln, Julius Jones from Dark Matter magazine, thanks for taking time out, did you travel far?”
“Hey, Julius. Yeah, not too far, and no problem”
“Ah good. So, have you always been creative and when did you actually start graffiti?”
“Uh I guess so, I've always have an eye for artistic things around me. I started writing on the walls when I was a child. I grew up on Spider, in the Cathcart System, I was surrounded by lot of gang graff' and tags. So I started doing some of my own, to represent my crew, we had to show everyone the boundaries of our territory and our strength. It was somehow a matter of survival! Ha!”
So what was daily life like on Spider?
“Haaa good memories bro!” he said, with a genuine excitement in his voice “It was a mix of scavenging, air leaks, accidental depressurization, gang warfare, mad survival skillz. I come from the Reyes family, we have a little turf there ... or we did have.” his eyes turning down, “Territory limits change every day out there. Our principal activities was scavenging, repairs and scrapping, much like most of people there, and that created a lot of competition, if you understand what I mean” and he laughed, but I got the impression it wasn’t always a good time. “Every day was a struggle, a struggle against other guys and even Spider itself, but with ma’ bros and ma’ cousins it was a kind of fun hahah!” he said, laughing loudly.
Clearly, thoughts of family lifted his spirits, and I smiled and nodded in agreement. There was an edge to his delivery, but then he'd had it hard, that shit has an effect on you. It teaches, as Lincoln had said, how to survive.
“You talk of brothers and cousins. Can you tell me about that?”
Laughing loudly again, “Yeah! I come from a veeery large family mate! I don’t think ma’ old man and uncles spent all night on Spectrum devices, if you see what I mean hah” chuckling to himself. “I got two brothers, and a shit load of cousins, all bound by blood. For now we are scattered throughout the verse for some professional reasons. But together we set up a small business, Reyes Bros: Reyes Aid In Distress and Engines Repairs Service and a Drake Dragonfly motorcycle club called Los Reyes MC. We grew up together, we lived together, and we’ll die the same way. I love those mother fuckers” he grinned.
“You made a name for yourself then, doesn’t sound like it would be easy, but I imagine having good friends and family around helps a lot.”
“In the same way then painting a tag sends a message of who you are to those around you, do you feel your art now addresses any current social or governmental issue?”
“Kind of, I don't agree at all with UEE's repressive laws and censorship, so sometime I have to show that to everybody by painting. But I'm not a political activist or any of that kind of stuff. The biggest part of my work is about Street Life, thugs , gangs, dope, etc ... it was my everyday reality.”
“That’s interesting, I often thought taggers were always trying to make a point.”
“So, is living a street life still a daily reality for you today?”
“Yeah, just look at where we are! It reeks of opportunities, all over here! I feel I’m home in places like this, and life is easier that way. If you want some shipwreck to scrap, just follow the Nine Tails cholos, and the same for repairs, it’s so easy! Or you can upgrade your gear, ping your scanners and rescue shit” as he breaks in to laugher “and far from UEE’s laws, controls, and taxes, so you can charge your own prices. So yeah, I still live in that shit, but I don't want to change!” there’s a warm smile across his face, and I get from him a sense of calm.
“You’ve said wall painting is more a hobby now. Is it no longer about tagging a territory then?”
“Actually, yeah it’s more artistic expression, but don’t tell it to my bros, please hahah!” his laughing is becoming infectious and I find myself laughing along with him. “Sometimes mobs will ask me; and not always in a gently way, to make a piece for their crew, to mark their territorial boundaries. But, it’s mostly a way for me to leave my own mark on the places I like, to tell everybody that LINCOLN REYES WAS HERE BITCHES” ending in thunderous laughter.
“Let’s talk about your work then. That tag L19? What does that signify.”
“Ah yeah, L19 is a residential unit in Loreville on Hurston. I spend a few weeks there after escap... hu.. hem, anyway I worked there a time with my cousin Moe, in the worker district at the Reclamation & Disposal unit. I needed some extra creds to fix ma Cutlass. All the workers around were living in the L19 residences. And there, I met a bunch of guys called the L Nine-One Locos with whom I made some trades. Really cool lads but a bit hot tempered. So I made this paint to thank them for the help.”
“That is a cool story, see I knew you taggers were all about making points! Haha” now I'm laughing, chatting with Lincoln was like chatting with an old friend, it suddenly became natural and familiar.
“Unfortunately though, graffiti has never fully been embraced into everyday society, you can see set pieces in galleries or exhibitions, but you wouldn’t want your ship tagged. Has the pursuit of your art ever crossed-paths with the law?”
“I've got few issues with the authority, but it was mostly judicial error of course! But never about paintings. I think that cops have bigger fish to fry!
“Of course!” and I ask no more about it.
“Have you considered developing you art into a career?”
“As a wall painter? Naah! It's just a hobby, like Torpedo Riding, Chicken fighting, or Russian roulette, etc ... I'm a scrapper and mechanic, and did I mention I’m the best around, hahah, just trust me!”
This time I throw my head back laughing; Torpedo Riding! “Humble too, good to know! I fly a Mustang, it’s a shit-box that could do with some tuning, but I got it cheap and will likely just fly it into the ground”
“Mechanics and painting aren’t your usual associations, what got you interested in scrapping?”
“As I said it’s a family business, I got this in ma’ blood. Imagine... it’s just you, space, and a beautiful still smoking shipwreck that you can turn into a shit load of creds! What more could you want?! IT’S MAGIC! Haha! Hell yeah! ‘La vie de rêve!’” he exclaimed, punching the air.
“Are there any other key influences in your style?”
“Well, being born and raised on Spider certainly has it’s influences. Hanging around gangs and pirates you see a lot of shit going on! I also take my ideas from cartoons and films, and the people around me, like my bros and cousins. All these things have influenced my style in some way.”
“Lastly then, I gotta ask you about Big Benny, arguably what you’re know best for, what was the thinking behind this one?”
“Haaa Big Tombi’s WidoW, yeah I saw it on a Spectrum article. It’s for one of my brother’s, Tom Reyes, he used to be a very talented WidoW smuggler before he were busted. So he went to jail, served his time, and has repaid his debt to society” he said laughing “It’s a tribute for his work! I mixed this with Big Benny’s noodle because it’s a popular brand, so I juxtapose it with WidoW, and that obviously is very popular too…”
I raise an eyebrow, then we smile and nod in agreement. “Lincoln, it’s been an pleasure meeting you, I wasn't sure about meeting here, but you're alright.” I pause offering up Lincoln any final thoughts, “Anything else you want to say?”
“Everybody gonna read your article right?
“I'd hope so” I chuckle. With that Lincoln bellows at the top of his voice “FOR THE LITTLE BASTARD WHO STOLE MY STUFF AT HANGAR 6, YOU’RE A DEAD MAN BRO, I’LL FIND YA AND POP YA HEAD OFF I SWEAR IT ON THE LORD’S CATERPILLAR!” necks his drink, and slams his fist on the table, stands to his feet and is about to leave... he pauses ... then starts laughing loudly, and continues to, as he wanders off and out the bar.