When someone receives the name ”The Rail God” it is most likely due to being a especially prolific writer in railway graffiti. And so it is, since we are talking about Ichabod, a North American celebrity within the world of freight trains that has a history of more than 5000 pieces behind him. Many of the panels are still in circulation on the endless miles of tracks that cover the vast territories between Mexico and Canada.
His recent visit to Europe has helped us to learn more about him as a writer, and as a person, and to reflect on the area of graffiti in which he is an expert. Below you will find a text where he, in his own words, tells us about the differences that exists between painting on the two continents.
“I write Ichabod, out of New England, USA. I rep the crews YME, Circle T, BMC, SFL, TDA, and Vinny recently put me down with 3YB, one of the oldest graffiti crews ever, a big honor. I started writing in 1997.
After trying a couple of names I settled on Ich, mostly as a joke, because it means “I” in German but in English is a disease of aquarium fish. One of my homies was trying to do handstyles with my name and was like “Your name sucks, bro, I can’t get any flow with these letters.” He tried adding extensions – Ichster, Ich One, then Ichabod, and I said “Ooh, I like that one.” So Ichabod stuck, and I use it for hands and spots where I want to stretch out, and just Ich or Ich plus the skull for shorter applications.
“Don’t get me wrong, hitting passenger trains and subways gets more respect than freights among the true practitioners of graffiti.”
Now that I’ve had the chance to do Euro freights, I understand why nobody here cares about them. The differences between North American freights and European freights are many. Stateside freights are bigger and tend to have better surfaces to paint. They run further, all over USA, Canada and Mexico, often very quickly – coast to coast in days. They run for a long time, which serves the original idea of graffiti on trains – for people to see it rolling. That was lost from the passenger train scene once they started buffing hard.
Don’t get me wrong, hitting passenger trains and subways gets more respect than freights among the true practitioners of graffiti, both in the US and the rest of the world. But in the States freights are big and have their own attendant subculture and are respected as a legitimate part of the scene overall.
“I think if writers from outside the States come visit and get introduced to the scene here, they will begin to understand what we have.”
The setup in Europe favours passenger trains. As one European writer pointed out out to me, the buff was a factor from the beginning, so the premise that doing trains for the purpose of a long running time was never really a consideration. The freights are smaller, more awkward, and maybe don’t get around as much. And the layout of the continent, with many small countries close together, offers a ton of different passenger fleets to hit. Finally, you can get stuff to run in Europe, even if it’s not for very long, whereas the buff in the States is pretty relentless – although there’s been a bit of a resurgence in New York just recently. Add all these up and I can see why Europeans regard the freights here somewhere between toy and shrugworthy. But I think if writers from outside the States come visit and get introduced to the scene here, they will begin to understand what we have, even if their targets are still subways and commuter trains.
“In Europe people mind their own business, and maybe they understand that painting outside the lines is not such a big deal criminally.”
The bigger difference I see between the States and Europe is the cultural tolerance, especially for street bombing. In the US you can’t let ordinary citizens see you painting illegally – a large percentage will call the police or even confront you physically. A lot of Americans want to be fucking heroes. In Europe people mind their own business, and maybe they understand that painting outside the lines is not such a big deal criminally. The way American authorities respond to any crime, large or small, is to crack down harder, impose bigger fines, longer sentences, and militarize the police force. You can see this in the war on drugs, this insane need to escalate the violence, to “win”, even though such a thing is not possible.
I had a hard time doing streets in Europe, because I couldn’t fully get used to the idea that I can paint in front of people. Hard to let go of those American habits, drilled in by a more oppressive society. I would consider living here.”
ICHABOD YME BMC