Yo what’s going it’s Nick Salsa 1. Founder of Chicago first graffiti crew called Creative Team Artists (CTA)
When did you first start getting into art?
Around 7 years old my cousin introduced me to Art. I started with drawing comic book characters. As I kept going to school as a young kid, I continued that interest and continued to develop. I would continue with characters and then eventually transition into lettering because I saw it all around NYC where I grew up.
How did you transition from graffiti from characters?
I came up with a name Lil Chicago 169 (The 169 represented the street that the person lived on). I practiced lettering with that name, and other names that came after. Eventually I was introduced to doing it on the train system in New York by another writer who was a neighbor in a building I had moved into around 183rd street in the Bronx.
When did you first start calling yourself Salsa 1?
I moved to Chicago in 1979, I was already down with different crews in NYC as Nick1. In Chicago I only saw gang banging and I didn’t want to be confused as a gang member that was trying to start a new gang. I remember a group in NYC called Salsa Boys and I felt that it was very neutral. I didn’t feel like I was going to get beat up. Out of respect to Salsa Boys, I added that as my name in Chicago.
Who were your biggest influences in NYC growing up?
Id say LEE, Comet, Blade, Mitch 77, Fuzz1, FDT56, Schick1, Salsa Boys,
So why did you end up moving to Chicago?
I was about 16, I was getting into big trouble in NYC. I was failing school and doing burglaries. My step dad who raised me, offered my mom to move over here to get out of New York. It was right before the crack era, lots of crime was infested in NYC. My mom put the decision making on me being the oldest sibling. I saw it as getting away from the bad situations I was in. Moving would open me to new horizons and experiences. It was the first adult decision I made that affected the rest of my family.
How did you stay away from getting involved with gangs or getting into problems with the gang members already in Chicago?
It was just the continuation of sticking to my own. Basically just being a graffiti artist and that was it. Along the way I met many gang members who even gave me respect. Everywhere they would go, they would see my name and they were in shock. I would go where many of them couldn’t go and would leave my name all along the way for people to see. Their was a mutual respect for both of us. They never would pressure me to get down with them. Never happened. Only problem they would give me was because of my popularity. They didn’t want me near their girlfriends. They made sure to keep them away.
Do you remember the first piece you ever did moving to Chicago?
The first major piece was in 1980, it was behind Wells high school the driver education center. It was a mobile trailer, it was my summer job to paint the entire place paid by the board of education. I was 17 and the director of the program gave me a board of education check and told me go to ace hardware pick out your paint, when you finish fill out the check for how much it was. The check was around $250. It was the first permission piece in Chicago. That lasted until around 1985 and it influenced a TON of artists.
So when did you start CTA?
When we moved to Chicago we started CTA in the summer of 83. The original three wereMe (Nick1), Quik1, and Jade 1. When we first started the crew, we only wanted members who were from New York. We wanted only people from New York because at the time they understood the culture of Graffiti, where as in Chicago they only knew gang culture.
How did you start recruiting members in Chicago?
After seeing Style Wars and Wild Style I felt that it was time to start something in Chicago that would develop the hip hop scene. I had heard about Jade, he moved from New York and did some art work for a girl I knew. She told me about him.. that would’ve been about 1980, it didn’t happen until 83 where we ran into each other at Round Lake. I was walking around with my blackbook, there were these two kids by the lake and the guy goes, is that a black book, and he asks to check it out. I show him, he says he heard of me. I had told him about the idea of telling him about beginning a crew here, he knew Quik1, and I said I wanted to meet him. We all met up and had a meeting and began the group. After that, we started developing; they each had a friend that would be down with us. I agreed with them and we let them in .Fly105 and AC1400 were the two members.
What was the biggest difference between NYC graffiti and Chicago graffiti?
I would say at that time, graffiti in New York was about being an individual artist. Getting their name up and being recognized. They wanted to be accepted by the graffiti community. Our audience in NYC was the other graffiti artists. When I came here graffiti was all about gang relations and not about the individual. It was only about claiming territory. As a real graffiti artist we don’t set up boundaries. We wanted to be recognized across the whole city, and that’s what we set out do in Chicago.
What has been your favorite piece you’ve ever done in Chicago?
My favorite piece would be on the blooomingdale trail. I did that in 1984. I did that in respect and tribute to LEE from NYC who had done a piece on a handball court that had said Graffiti 1980. That piece I saw in an article in High Times in 1980. The piece stayed from 1984 to 1996. It lasted 12 years. That’s why it’s my favorite piece. This piece influenced a whole new and different generation. We fast forward to 2015 and Flash from ABC crew offered me to reclaim that spot on the 606 trail. He felt that I deserved to get that wall again because of how much that piece influenced the Chicago Graffiti Culture.
The Wall in 1984
The wall redone by Nick in 2015
How has graffiti changed throughout the years?
I see how it’s affected the city landscape. It’s affected in a good way, some in bad ways. I like to accept the new way. Its come up from being an underground scene to being a popular thing to do now-a-days. We were outcasts growing up, now we are just considered artists. People started to respect us now-a-days, even other artists in other mediums.
Do you think graffiti artists get the respect that they deserve as being artists?
Now we do. I believe because we never gave up. Our goal was always to be recognized. As young kids we began to show everyone that we are here, we exist.
How do you respond to people who say Graffiti isn’t art it’s a crime?
I would say they got their marbles all screwed up. Each individual artist who has their own “signature” and their signature separates himself or herself from everyone else. By not understanding the true meaning and history of graffiti it’s very easy to just call it a crime. I had rules for myself; I was never into ruining personal property. I felt there were enough state property, city and county property that I was able to hit.
Do you think there’s any difference between a “street artist” and a graffiti writer?
It’s weird because in 1980 when I was at wells, I designed the 1980 sr year photo album. I got a small caption with a picture saying “Graffiti – street art” . I believe it’s tied; it’s like brother and sister, its relative. Even what many of the street artists do is considered illegal. Where do you really draw the line? Illegal is illegal. Whether it’s a tag or a wheat paste or character. I don’t see the big difference.
Correlator 1980 Wells Highschool
How has graffiti help you transition into other arts?
For one, when I was going to high school my studio art teacher whose name was Anthony-Joseph Abboreno , he helped me get a scholarship to the School of the art institute. Here I was in high school during the weekdays, the school of the art institute on the weekends. I was downtown during the weekends getting my mind expanded into the arts. I had free entrance to museums, and being downtown really elevated my culture. By being in school and the museums it helped develop my beliefs about art. All of a sudden art was so open to me, and I learned to not limit myself to just graffiti. I was able to study Picasso, modern artists, impressionists, Henri de Toulouse, Henry Matisse and others. I learned how realism was made, and always wanted to do that with my lettering. Graffiti just always opened my attitude to more art.
Looking back at your graffiti career, is there anything you wished to have done different?
I wish I had done more. More bombing, more underground work. But I like the fact that what I did influenced a lot of people. At some point I know I changed some kids life by accepting themselves as artists. My legacy helped kids find an outlet and not be a gang banger. I influenced kids for creative ideas and not violence.
Did you ever think you would have created a legacy in Chicago?
Never. Never thought it was going to be that big. I knew I was going to be recognized for what I did. But not on the level that ended up happening
(Nick hanging with the cast of “This Is Modern Art”)
What has been your biggest life lesson you have taken away from art?
We should never give up. Always believe in yourself. Many times we were growing up and our parents were telling us not to be artists. It was always go to school, get a job, it was never about what we wanted to do, or the abilities we had as artists to express ourselves. Expressing ourselves is in the constitution; it’s a right that we all have.
Do you have any advice for any young artists?
Respect the old school, learn, learn from each other, and respect the new school. Always look to advance and prosper. Continue to pass it on to younger generations. That’s how we keep the generation going and moving forward.
Do you think the Internet has helped or hurt graffiti?
It has helped to spread it id say. It has helped individual artists to develop. But it takes action to develop, not just looking at an image on the Internet.
Any last shoutouts you’d like to give
Shoutouts Flash, BBoy B, Trikster, Slang, Orko, Warp, and all the old school brothers in NYC
You find the most unique fascinating people to interview. I love how he turned something I had always thought was rubbish into an artistic project I feel inspired by!