Like others raised in the urban labyrinth of the Bronx, Cope2 turned to graffiti writers of the 70s for inspiration. Bombing trains and painting burners on the streets, Cope2 dominated the terrain with his talent. As the temptation of quick cash lured him away from minimum wage and into the hustling game, a rap sheet packed with gun, drug, and fighting charges saw him in and out of jail until a narrow escape from death convinced him to leave this vicious world behind. According to Cope2 this transition from the street to the gallery was just the reawakening he needed.
Hey Cope, can you intro yourself for us?
My name is Cope2. I’m a New York City legendary graffiti artist and I’ve spent the past 30-plus years in the game.
How long have you been painting?
Since around 1977, I first picked up the original marker, a pilot, and started tagging in my neighborhood, that’s how it all started.
What was it like growing up in the Bronx?
Pretty much poor, but it was cool. Me, my cousins, and my friends from the block would always play in abandoned buildings and empty lots. We would go and take rides on the subways. It was our only playground, it’s how we had fun in the good old days, the glory days, I miss it.
When did you start writing?
Around 1977, my cousin Chico would always be carrying a huge pilot marker and he’d tag on everything in our neighborhood. He’d take me with him and we’d take subway rides, when the doors closed he’d just start tagging, all over the inside of the subway car while it was moving. That was so cool to me, we would watch and look at all the amazing whole car pieces roll by on the outside of the subway cars and that was like a dream.
What was it like coming up in the subway era?
It was amazing just taking subway rides all through the boroughs of New York. Watching all these amazing pieces roll by from writers like Comet, Blade, Mark198, Pnut2, Mitch77, Ban2, Tracy 168, Kit17, Dr. Pepper, Popeye, King2, Dondi, Lee, Kase2, Seen and Iz The Wiz, man… it was mind blowing. I just wanted to be like these writers and that’s how I really started and got influenced.
What was the scene like back then?
Amazing, really hard to explain though. You had to be there and live it to understand the whole energy behind the New York City graffiti subway era. It was a true blessing for me to be able to live it, I thank god every day for it. Ain’t nothing like seeing a fresh Seen, Lee or Iz The Wiz whole car roll by, it was electrifying.
You came up hustling, how closely related were the graff and drug scenes?
Oh man, there’s nothing to be proud of in hustling, but I had my first child at the age of 16, my son. So I had to make money to support him and his mother. At the time, my jobs weren’t paying the bills, it was real hard. The struggles to make it through every day were tough, and then I had my daughter in 1988, so I had to really step up the money income. I struggled and did what I had to do to survive – it was a jungle out there. South Bronx was a battlefield.
When did you start crossing over into the gallery scene?
I started back in 1995 when my boy Pulse contacted me to do a piece for a show he was doing in London. I wasn’t into painting canvasses. I was into painting burners on walls because the subway had died out. I felt it wasn’t my thing, but I gave it a try and sent him a canvas. It wasn’t ‘til 2000, for the Christie’s Guernsey auction, they were doing a huge graffiti art show and I think it was the first one done in New York. Street art wasn’t even popular at that time and they contacted me to be part of it. Why not? I was getting tired of working in terrible jobs, so I started doing little shows in graffiti shops around the world and started getting into it more. I was getting too old – getting arrested for graffiti in your thirties ain’t cool – and I just kept on until I started being part of group shows here and there. Now I’m doing solo shows and selling paintings worldwide in galleries and auctions throughout the world, pretty amazing isn’t it?
Do you ever think that you’ll cross completely into the gallery world?
Yes of course, that’s what I’ve been doing the past few years and it’s just getting better and better. I’ve sold some great paintings in galleries and auctions throughout the world, it’s my focus now, and it’s what I love to do at the moment. Hopefully I can get a show in Australia someday.
What do you think about the current state of the graffiti scene?
I don’t really look into it anymore. I’m just more focused on me as a painter now. The graffiti scene has pretty much died for me, it’s not the same anymore, there’s no loyalty, no real friends in it. Maybe a few, but not many graffiti writers shake your hand when they see you, they try to act like they support you and have love for you, but in reality, they’re so jealous of you and your success. The minute you turn around, they’ll try and ruin your name and disrespect you, with others, on the internet or behind your back. It’s so sad and pathetic; I just don’t want any part of it. I’m good with my family, my dog and my paintings.
What’s coming up next for you?
Just working in my studio making and creating some new paintings every day for upcoming shows I have booked for New York, Paris, Germany, the States and several other projects. Just doing what I do best today and that’s being a painter, I’m pretty much retired from graffiti.