Apr 30, 2024 - News

Philadelphia graffiti artist gives peek inside his world

Philly graffiti artist William Bonnie, left, and one of his pieces of work

Philly graffiti artist William Bonnie, left, and one of his pieces of work. Photos: Courtesy of William Bonnie

Graffiti artist William Bonnie has scaled water towers and interstate overpasses to tag the most visible spots in the Philly area.

The big picture: He tells Axios that he's fallen off ladders, has multiple warrants out for his arrest, and has been involved in foot chases with the police — all risks he's taken to cultivate a following for his work on Instagram.

  • Bonnie has a unique perspective because he also occasionally works for Mural Arts Philadelphia, which recruits graffiti artists for public art projects.

Axios agreed to identify Bonnie by his tagging name so he could speak freely about his experiences in the graffiti world. The interview was condensed for clarity:

On people's mixed reaction to his work: "I painted on a box truck, and they were talking about the guy who owned the truck was a hard worker … It wasn't good, but I can't go around picking and choosing. I don't know who is a hard worker and is a good guy and all that sh*t."

On the appeal of graffiti: "A lot of the graffiti started living [during the pandemic]. They weren't buffing over it a lot … That's what brought me back into it."

On his most indispensable tool: "Telescoping ladders. They're shaky little, sh*tty ladders, but they'll get you up there."

On getting caught: "One time, we got into a crazy chase with the police on foot. … My one buddy gets tackled by the police, me and my other buddy are still running. We got back to the car.

  • I was trying to jump in the car, turn it on, and peel out, but the police came and blocked the car. They pulled us out of the car. It turns out they thought we were stealing catalytic converters. They find out we're just doing graffiti and they're like, 'Get the f*ck out of here.' They didn't do nothing."

On the recent increase in enforcement: "A buddy of mine got stopped painting on the highway. The state troopers stopped him and arrested and told him they were cracking down because the PennDOT people get really mad about it."

On the relationship between some graffiti artists and Mural Arts: "In the past, it used to be taboo, but it's becoming more and more acceptable for graffiti writers to paint over city murals.

  • There seems to be a lot of bad blood between the two … They don't care. They paint over dead writers. … People were fed up with the Mural Arts sh*t. It was like, 'They don't give a f*ck about our sh*t, so we don't give a f*ck about their sh*t.'"

On his new covenant not to paint on city murals: "To be honest, I was probably one of the worst ones. I painted on anything. I'd be painting on churches if it was a little bit more acceptable."

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