Self-Expression in Spray Paint and Ink

Published: August 10, 2009

Teddy Ferrer, 28, is a graffiti writer and a tattoo artist who works at Tuff City, a Bronx shop that combines graffiti, tattooing and a music studio under one roof. Mr. Ferrer uses the nickname — or the a k a, as aliases are termed — PACK in his graffiti, while his older brother, Smokey Ferrer, calls himself N. B.

On the secret handshake: If I meet another graffiti artist, I say, “Do you write?” and they know exactly what I am talking about. I go by PACK. I am known because of my graffiti. I have been coming out in a couple of magazines, and I’ve started getting a following.

His start: I’ve been doing graffiti since I was 15, 14 years old. I’ve always been an artist, but I got into graffiti because my brother, N. B., was doing graffiti first. Of course you are going to follow your big brother’s steps. We used to go into the train yards and on the streets.

The origins of Tuff City: This is a very famous shop because not only are we a graffiti-based shop, this is the home to a lot of famous graffiti artists in the underground world. This is their one-stop shopping for graffiti. Joel Brick — his a k a is MED — he started the business in an apartment. It was just him and his apartment, and people would come and get tattooed there. This was 18, 19 years ago. Back then it was illegal. If you wanted a tattoo, there was no place to go. You needed to know somebody who knew somebody. You couldn’t just go on the Internet. They were bringing the whole tattoo thing to these graffiti kids. Back then the only people who were getting tattoos were bikers.

Getting into the business: As we got older, we needed to get paid. The first time I ever tattooed somebody, I realized I wanted to do it. This one arm is, like, 30 hours of work.

On meeting the famed graffiti artist Iz the Wiz, now deceased: We were on the platform; there was this weird old guy looking at us. We’re like, “Oh, this is a cop,” because he was a white guy. Back then it was like, “It’s a white dude. Chill, chill. Put away your marker.” Right now it can be anybody. They are undercover like crazy. But he was like, “That’s not how we do it.” He walks over here and grabs a marker — that’s the Wiz. He was a legend. Iz the Wiz, he was one of the first bombers. He was the one who pretty much started kids going out there and writing their names.

Ending his vandalism: We stopped. We got smarter. Now, a lot of businesses, they give you permission. They look at it as art. They pay these guys thousands of dollars. They fly them out to Germany, Italy, to do their walls. I’m not going to write over people’s property anymore who don’t want it. We realized we ended up paying for it. In the end, we’re still taxpayers.

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