Preserving Brooklyn's Identity w/ Peter Paid
April 23rd, 2021// Interviewer: Shane Allen // Art
While keeping it true to where he is from, Peter Paid pays tribute to the iconic imagery of hand-painted signs and lettering. Spending his career early on as a subway graffiti writer, and then becoming a sign painter, Peter has never looked back. With his undeniably fresh style, Peter is revitalizing an art form frequently viewed as utilitarian, and flipping it into beautiful fine art.
Populist got to spend an afternoon visiting Paid’s studio, talking about his early days as a graffiti writer, as well as his years of painting some of iconic Brooklyn signage.
How did you start writing graffiti?
Because I grew up literally right across the street from a very well-known train lay-up (The express subway tracks where out of service and off peak trains are parked. Usually overnight. I definitely noticed it earlier...
But It was around 1983 that I was really like “Hmmm, I think I want to get into this.”
I had a classmate who I sat beside that was already writing around the neighborhood, and he explained to me what a “tag” was. I remember taking a marker, sneaking in the staircases of the building I lived in, and taking tags up by the roof. Not long after I graduated to spray paint, and eventually traded the staircases for tags around my neighborhood and ultimately up to the lay up to hit trains. My close friends all followed suit, and together we had somewhat prolific careers for a few years.
So, when was it that you stopped bombing trains?
It’s crazy that I actually know the date. January 10th, 1987. It’s the day that I got my learner’s permit to drive. It was a pretty eventful day aside from getting my permit. I was with my main bombing partner “IT” (eye tee) and another writer who we occasionally bombed with, Death 3BR. The three of us were up at Sheepshead lay-up, mainly doing throw ups on the outside of the trains.
Death was at the end of the train, which was right off the station’s platform. I was at the next car, and IT was one car over. As we’re doing our thing, Death shouts over to me...
“Yo Paid! You know who this guy is?!?!”
I turn my head to look in his direction and catch a guy jumping down onto the tracks, pulling out a badge which was hanging from a steel ball chain around his neck. I immediately yell “RUN!!!” As we’re running down the tracks, IT sees us, drops his can, and takes off. Being that IT and I practically lived in that lay-up, we knew some little sneaky spots to get in and get out. We luckily got away. We’ve gotten raided and chased many times, but it was the time I decided to take a little hiatus, which wound up becoming permanent.
After your graffiti career ended, how did sign painting come into your life?
From even before my early days as a graffiti writer when I attended the High School of Art & Design, I’ve always been drawn to typography in one sense or another, but getting into sign painting was something that I kind of just stepped into by chance. Before I got into it, for several years I was a nightclub DJ in NYC. Anyone who is, was, or closely knows a DJ, will agree that it consists of seemingly never-ending late nights, which usually turn into early mornings. After a few years, it was taking a toll on home life. With a single mother who just plain wasn’t having it with me not having a “real” job and sleeping all day, I had to get something more sustainable.
I bumped into a neighborhood friend of mine who worked as a helper in a local, one-man sign shop. He got me an interview, which I thought was to be a helper, and as it turned out, the owner (Charlie) decided to teach me. It wasn’t something that I picked up fast at all.
As a matter of fact, every day I thought I was going to be fired because I was that bad.
Much to my surprise, Charlie was very laid back and kept a “no pressure” work environment. Because of that, it made learning easier, and I slowly but surely got better. I eventually got to the point where I was able to venture out on my own, and opened up my own sign shop in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. With A LOT of long hours, late nights in the shop, painting what is easily at this point tens of thousands of paper signs, I had the lion’s share of paper sign work in south Brooklyn.
t seems like your pieces are preserving the culture of Brooklyn.
I’d like to think that it is. At least in some regard. Back in the day, every store you’d walk or drive passed, had paper “sale” signs in their windows. If it was “Chicken Cutlets $3.99 lb.” you’d need only a quick glance to get that message across. Keeping it simple is the key. With the advent of technology, those days of hand-painted paper signs have seemingly become an ancient relic. Even though those prehistoric days are only a decade or two ago.
Some of the works I’m mostly known for is taking that old school butcher or “bodega” style paper sign, and flipping the subject matter to something that my generation grew up on.
Classic New York culture.
Instead of “Boar’s Head - Ham $4.99 lb.” my take would be “Nas - NY State of Mind $19.94” (the price being the year the song came out)
Tell us about your past show at WallWorks and any other current events you have going on.
My show at Crash’s gallery WallWorks, was originally scheduled for May 2020. Because of the COVID pandemic, and the whole world was understandably shut down, we put that on hold until last September, when things could gradually start opening up.
Entitled “Fuhgeddaboudit!” it encompassed works that was a tribute to old school iconic Brooklyn signage. With replications of weathered Optimo Cigars and the famed Zig Zag Records storefront signs, as well as my half-scale re-creation of the Bump Your Ass Off sign that I originally painted for the world famous Eldorado bumper cars in Coney Island.
More recently, I was part of an Outlaw Arts curated group show, with Chris RWK, Dr. Revolt, and Al Diaz. For that show I exhibited original works, alongside their smaller archival print counterparts. Making more monetarily accessible works available, as well as soft goods (t-shirts, hoodies, hats) is something I started doing early on during the pandemic, and has been one of the key attributes in helping build my brand.
As of late, most of my time is being spent working on designs for some collaborations that I can’t really discuss at the moment, as well as commissions, and some projects that I’ve had to put on the back burner, which Im now making time for.