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‘Beneath the Streets’ by Matthew Litwack at PowerHouse Arena

Tunnel vision: New book uncovers the hidden world of subway graffiti

The Brooklyn Paper
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This book has some serious subterranean artwork views.

A new book launching at PowerHouse Arena on July 10 shows off the gritty underworld art of subway tunnels, providing historical background about the people who put it there and the cavernous system itself. The charm, said one of the authors, is that while the city above changes constantly, these underground passages remain largely untouched.

“They’re hidden relics of the city,” said Matthew Litwack, who started exploring the tubes near his childhood home in Park Slope at a young age. “Everything’s being gentrified, condos are getting slapped up, but the subway tunnels stay the same.”

“Beneath the Streets” shows off the extensive knowledge of the transit system held by Litwack and his partner, a graffiti artist who goes by the name Jurne. It includes haunting photographs of abandoned stations and disused tracks, and includes interviews with many of the writers responsible for leaving a Krylon legacy deep beneath the bustling metropolis.

The book does not disclose the locations depicted in the images, since most of the wall paintings are illegal. But one piece Litwack highlights in the book is actually sanctioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and is even detailed on its web site. The work, “Masstransi­scope,” was first installed near the DeKalb Avenue Q train station Downtown by artist Bill Brand in 1980. It includes 228 hand-painted panels set behind a series of vertical slits, and when viewed from a moving train, it looks like a 20-second movie. At one point, rogue graffiti artists had virtually covered the work, but the artist restored it in 2008.

Another of Litwack’s favorites, however, is decidedly un-sanctioned. A graffiti writer known as Revs has spent decades literally writing his autobiography on the walls of the subway tunnels. He paints a solid splotch of color and then writes a page of his story on top. Over the years, he has scattered hundreds of these missives throughout the system, according to Litwack.

“Seeing Revs’ pages influenced me so much,” he said. “He’s the most amazing graffiti artist of all time.”

Graffiti writing really caught on in New York in the 1970s, but Litwack says some of the writing down below the city stretches even further back. He has even seen marks left by track workers that go back to the 1940s.

These are the types of stories Litwack and Jurne set out to tell with their book. Litwack said the pair wanted to document the history of an underground culture that millions of people pass over and ride passed everyday without even knowing it.

“The history of graffiti is down in those tunnels,” Litwack said. “We wanted to document these eerie environments and show the hidden city beneath the city.”

“Beneath the Streets” book launch at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Water and Plymouth streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. July 10 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

SwampYankee from runined Brooklyn says:
Ho-Hum....Yawnnnnnn Another book of "authentic" Subway graffiti by a gritty urban explorer vibrant creative type from Brooklyn. I haven't been so excited since the Brooklyn Paper had yet another story about someone boating on the Gowanus. Pass the Kale cupcakes please........
July 2, 2014, 4:22 am
SwampYankee from runined Brooklyn says:
Hey Matt,
I see you have a urban lumberjack shirt and red beardo. Therefore you were certainly born in Brooklyn and are not simply "Brooklyn Based". What Brooklyn High School did you go to? Do you feel doing corporate work for Sony Records, Adidas, Microsoft and Maybelline make you a sell out or is just part of your gritty urban experience?
July 2, 2014, 4:29 am
ty from pps says:
What is REALLY annoying about "Masstransiscope" is that the MTA has yet to figure out how to time the switching at DeKalb, so the train is seldom moving for this piece of art -- I have never ever seen the full animation since the restoration. The train always stops and inches forward. So, at most you see a tiny bit, depending on where you're sitting.

Now that I'm thinking about it, is there even any track switching at DeKalb for the bridge approach? It's always great that the train "waits" outside the station, instead of, ya know, 100 ft earlier where people could get on and off the train!

Masstransiscope just makes the MTA incompetence and pathetically decrepit technology so much more obvious.
July 2, 2014, 8:49 am
ty from pps says:
Hey Swampy,
Can you tell us more about your expensive wife and how you have to buy her expensive things to keep her happy? And that photo of the Brooklyn Bridge you took that one time...?
July 2, 2014, 8:54 am
Matt Litwack says:
Hey SwampYankee,

I went to Murrow. Graduated in 2000. My parents are from the Bronx, but they moved to Brooklyn in 1979 before I was born. Give the book a chance.

I do murals for a variety of clients throughout the country. I'm not some pseudo intellectual jerk. Once again, give it a chance.

Matt
July 2, 2014, 2:48 pm
Rob C. from Park Slope says:
I've seen Litwack's work and had an opportunity to actually buy a small canvas of his art (which hangs on my living room wall). This guy is genuine and not the poseur some of you are trying to create. Furthermore, his work in the community is unassailable.

The people "yawning" about this book are most likely bored with their own uninteresting lives.

Bravo, Matt!
July 2, 2014, 6:49 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
graffiti is vandalism period
July 4, 2014, 1:51 pm

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