Benny DIAR is a writer from the Bay Area in California who belongs to the DTC and KYT crews. He was an active writer who lived and painted all over the West Coast, especially San José, where KYT was formed. He got hooked on graffiti like many other writers, and was active on virtually every type of surface, applying tags, throws and burners to streets, freeways and rolling stock.
His life would take a radical change one night when a near fatal accident left him in a wheelchair. Incredibly, his spirit pushed him to keep creative, using the only muscles he could still move: his neck and mouth.
Benny took the time to send us some flicks of his early output as well as some of his current creations, but the most incredible part of his story is in the honest and in-depth answers he gave us via email, when he reveals how he got into graff, how his accident happened and what got him back into painting trains once again.
When did you first get involved in graffiti?
Since the time I was old enough to go to school, graffiti has pretty much always been a part of my life. I would walk to the bus stop every morning, and the one high school at the time was in between our house and the nearest elementary school/bus stop. The area around the high school was always grilled.
I remember being fascinated with the tag banger flow tags and gang graffiti. I would always wonder and try to figure out how it was done. There were also some alleys in the hood, along my route, that were always rocked. I would walk through to buy candy and snacks from this little underground store, that was ran out of one of the apartments. That’s where I saw my first outline.
“I remember being fascinated with the tag banger flow tags and gang graffiti. I would always wonder and try to figure out how it was done.”
It was some cholo block letters with the squiggle dimensions. It was fascinating to me how you could use shapes to make letters, and then dimensions to make it look like it’s coming out of the wall. The outline had G, meaning Gilroy/Gilas, and I tripped out on how they turned the lip of the G into a 4, and what I thought was a star inside the G. After asking on the school bus, I learned it was actually x4. That creativity and use of geometry – my mom was a high school math teacher and a single mom – was an early inspiration for me.
I then started noticing fill-ins and other graffiti on the freeways. I specifically remember seeing this colorful Zen many times on 101 in San José. I was introduced to burners and pieces around the time I started middle school. Part of my walk to and from school was along the railroad tracks, where I saw pieces from people like Crete85 and Chris DTC. So many influences and memories. Too many to put into words.
It looks like train are your passion, right? Was that always the case?
Yeah, you can say trains are my passion. But I have always prided myself on doing all aspects of graffiti. I loved trains as a little kid like most of us. When I was little and we were stuck waiting as a train passed, I would count how many cars there were.
Later, when I started painting, I gravitated towards trains, because they were the one thing/place I could see and paint that connected me to the outside world. I was also amazed by the size and power behind them. There was no Internet and we only saw computers at school. I had no idea about graffiti magazines and videos yet.
“The accident happened about 2:30 a.m. I was going 85 mph in a 35 and hit a median while trying to make a last second right turn. The axle snapped and my car shot into a corkscrew on fire, flying over 100 feet, until hitting a tree, with most of the impact on thedriver side. The tree kept us from flying into the gas station.”
But like I said, I loved it all. The adrenaline from street bombing and freeway shots. Doing a fill in where others would only do tags. Always having paint and supplies in the car. carrying a streak or silver shaker, to write on everything. While walking around after hitting the bar, or to just walk aimlessly around tagging on everything. Especially cutty little spots that run. Scribing every bathroom and trying to get up on the buses and public transportation back in the day, before they cleaned it all up and put cameras.
Actually, my second arrest came from scribing at a light rail train station when I was 15. Undercovers were literally in the bushes watching for drug deals. Also painting pieces on walls and trains when my attention span allowed.
So how did you end up in a wheelchair?
Well, a little over 14 years ago now, I went out to Sacramento to make some money and see the homies, Saer and Akro. Since I was driving my Caddy, I figured I’d drive that night. I drank way too much. Well we all did, but I was driving. We got to the bar around 11:30, and none of us remember leaving.
The accident happened about 2:30 a.m. I was going 85 mph in a 35 and hit a median while trying to make a last second right turn. The axle snapped and my car shot into a corkscrew on fire, flying over 100 feet, until hitting a tree, with most of the impact on thedriver side. The tree kept us from flying into the gas station.
At that point, my car was on fire, my neck was broken and I was not breathing. Saer and Akro were knocked out. Crazily, there was a cop across the street at another gas station, who saw the whole thing. He gave his fire extinguisher to a bystander to put out the fire, while he revived me, and someone else pulled Akro out.
All I remember after being revived is someone telling me, “You’re gonna be okay”. Then the fire department had to cut Saer and I out of the car. The hospital is a whole other long and crazy story. I’m thankful every day it was a one car accident, and I didn’t seriously hurt anybody else, especially Saer and Akro.
“The first time we went out there, we just wanted to see if I could get in the yard and if it was even possible to paint. Although my body and wheelchair were not happy, I was able to get into the spot, and that alone was amazing.”
At what point did you decide to continue with art?
About eight or nine months after the accident I was introduced to the possibility of painting with my mouth. At first, I was hesitant, but once I tried it, I was hooked. My first painting is on a piece of paper.
Tell us about the decision to return to the yard and paint with your mouth. What was the first experience like?
Well, the homie Rain, started doing canvas size brush paintings on the flat intermodal container trains. Later, he moved to San Francisco, which was a couple years ago. He had the idea of getting me out in the yard and asked me what I thought. I said “fuck yeah” let’s see what we could do. He had heard about a flat yard that was chill at certain times, and figured out where it was.
Luckily and thankfully my health was good, and Chris was down for it as well. I would definitely need both of them if I was able to pull it off.
The first time we went out there, we just wanted to see if I could get in the yard and if it was even possible to paint. Although my body and wheelchair were not happy, I was able to get into the spot, and that alone was amazing. Being in the yard and next to a line of box cars was very nostalgic. That alone and the specific smell of a train yard brought me back and I was weirdly relaxed. Well, while I wasn’t moving.
We then put together my mouth stick and got some paint ready. There was some logistics to figure out, but I was able to pull off a little piece. We figured out some things that worked and didn’t work, but in the end, I felt like I could do something bigger, and the whole idea was definitely possible.
We figured out a plan, put together supplies, and woke up at 4am the following Sunday. Everything takes a while with me, but we were able to get on the road by 6. It was a mission, and everybody was tired and grumpy, but excited at the same time. We got out there a couple hours later and it was a perfect spring morning. It was laid up great and we found a boxcar close to the entrance. Which made things easier on my body, not having to drive my chair over such a long distance of rocks and bullshit.
It was crazy to see firsthand how much more painted and rocked freight trains are these days. The train we decided to paint had a lot of bullshit on it, So Rain buffed and prepped it, while Chris and Sole walked the lines to make sure everything was chill.
Once everything was ready and I got started, it was like the rest of the world disappeared and a weird calm came over me. It was kind of an oh yeah moment, that was why I love painting. It had been over 11 years since the accident, and I was finally back.
Don’t get me wrong. It was hard as fuck and I definitely had to take a couple breaks. But it was a labor of love and I had to finish. One thing I didn’t realize was how much the wear and tear was taking out of my battery on my chair. I was about 75% of the way through when I realized the battery was going to die soon.
I changed my strategy and was barely able to pull it off. I did have Chris add a little orange to my background to separate the black outline from the black background. My chair died halfway back to the van and the homies had to push me. Luckily, we were out of the rocks and it was just a dirt road at that point.
I was dead tired along with my jaw and neck being sore as fuck, but at the same time I felt great. It took me a couple days to recover, and for it to really sink in. But damn I was happy and felt accomplished. Thank you again to Chris and Rain for making it possible. It was also great to be out there with Sole.
I did a total of 11 trains by mouth, and am working on a helmet system now.
You’re also behind Clout Magazine and Death Cheater. Can you talk to us a little about those projects?
Well originally Clout Magazine was Chris and Damsel’s project. Although I would say it started years before that. When I first met Chris he was 17 and I was 13. He was putting together a black-and-white zine called Forever Aerosol. Him and a couple of the other original DTC heads would take turns making issues. I remember Eamz and I hanging out with Chris late night in Kinko’s while he made a shit load of copies, and only paid for a couple of them.
Years later when I got back from almost a year in this troubled youth, boarding school, Boot Camp type place, Chris had a new side hustle. He started hitting up the people making graffiti magazines, and made wholesale bulk deals. He did that with spray paint tips also. We then would drive around the Bay Area selling them to different hip hop and book/magazine stores. He would also sell to the different writers we knew.
“As far as Death Cheater, it didn’t start with me. A lot of us have had some really close calls, and we are just lucky and happy to still be here. “
A couple years later in late 1999, we met Damsel and would all go paint and kick it a lot. Now that I am thinking about back then, Damsel was a good racking partner as well. Chris and Damsel were quick to start talking about making a magazine and working on ideas.
Later I moved to Portland, and left my photos back with Chris for safekeeping with his collection. In the next couple months Damsel got ratted out and was put on house arrest. With her computer skills and Chris’ photo collection, along with mine, had the idea for them to make the magazine. They would end up using some of the other homie’s photos as well. Damsel made the first issue on house arrest and in her parent’s room where the P.O’s couldn’t search.
For the first years, I helped with some accounts, contributed photos and some articles, but it was all Chris and Damsel. Years later when I was racking for a living, I would have nothing to do with the actual business. I would say I was a partner to cover up how I was doing things like driving a Cadillac, traveling and partying all the time.
I continued to help, always carrying my 35 mm and video camera. I still helped with stores when traveling and would represent at graffiti events selling products etc., along with at trade shows.
The last eight years or so I’ve been helping, and being a part of everything as much as possible. It’s just Chris and I these days, and we’re doing it more as a hobby and for the love of graffiti magazines and the culture. I’m definitely proud of the magazine collection that we have, although more and more have been sold out, never to be available again.
As far as Death Cheater, it didn’t start with me. A lot of us have had some really close calls, and we are just lucky and happy to still be here.
in ’07, during one of my many trips to Seattle, Pier and I were up there racking and to see the homies. After a long night of partying, we went to Jack-in-the-Box to get some grub and ended up in a brawl in the drive-through. They all had weapons and long story short, Nervs took the worst of it, getting stabbed in the abdomen multiple times.
We started tripping on how we had to get him to the hospital fast. Once there, I held his stomach on the way into the ER, and all the way into whatever hospital room they shuffled us into. The doctors and nurses told me to keep my hands there while they got ready,
After they told me to remove my hands and they started doing their thing on Nervs, one of the doctors had a nurse check my head.
Luckily Nervs pulled through. He had sepsis, and the doctor said it was a close one.
Anchor Tattoo where he worked at the time, had a tattoo benefit for him once he was out. The homies picked a skull with Death Cheater lettering from some old school traditional flash. I wasn’t able to make it up there for the benefit, but I got my own Death Cheater tattoos from Nervs in the next few months.
When the accident happened, the Death Cheater tattoo down my shin was something like a week and a half old and still healing. At the hospital, everything started going downhill fast. The day after the accident my heart coded the first of five separate times where they had to use the defibrillator to shock my heart into beating again, I developed bad pneumonia that they thought was going to kill me, and then a 107.9° temperature.
At that point, everybody was told to save their goodbyes because the only two options were death or brain damage. My fever ended up dropping and they were able to wake me up from a two week sedated coma. I was fine. I don’t remember but I guess I was even making jokes. The first person I remember seeing was the homie, Edub who drove down a bunch of the crew from the Northwest. By the way, the fever killed the pneumonia.
Since all that had happened, the doctor and nurses were tripping out on the fresh Death Cheater tattoo on my leg, and A Reason To Survive on my chest. As soon as I remember after waking up, the homie’s had already made it a Myspace page, and were planning a benefit art show with Death Cheater as the title.
From there Chris and Damsel, through Clout, made a fitted hat and other Death Cheater clothing, donating the proceeds to my therapy and other expenses. After years of recovery down in the LA area, and I was finally back home in the Bay Area, I started working with Chris on everything.
I’d like to thank my friends and family for their continued support. Especially Chris who helps take care of me daily. Also, thank you to my supporters, you are very appreciated. My medical and other expenses continue to get higher. It all definitely makes a difference..
And thank you to MTN for the opportunity.
Support Clout Magazine here.
Read the story of Teaz, a writer whose intense attitude towards life resulted in a heart attack.