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A Graffiti Writer Explains How to Paint a Subway Car in Minutes

A Berlin writer named "Grisal" tells us about the planning, execution, and escape.

by Marcus Thompson
Feb 3 2015, 6:00am

Somewhere on Berlin's U3 line, a metro train stops for a matter of minutes, allowing five graffiti writers to paint an entire car before it moves along to the next station. They scamper off down the tracks as soon they finish, leaving their work to circulate the city for the next 48 hours, before it's buffed and disappears forever.

The guys "bombing" the train in the video above—which was posted to Facebook recently and viewed hundreds of thousands of times in just a couple of hours—are maintaining a method that's always been at the apex of street art.

Nowadays, you don't see painted train cars all that often—presumably because New York enforces heavy fines and potential jail time—but painting trains remains pretty much the pinnacle achievement for most graffiti writers elsewhere, considering the precision, skill, and speed you have to apply in the face of heightened danger.

I spoke to "Grisal" (not his real name), one of the writers in the video above, about how to graffiti-bomb a train.

All images courtesy of the interviewee

VICE: Hey, man. So for those who don't know, how does bombing a train differ from other street art?
Grisal: Bombing trains is its own form of street art. It's much more dangerous. It's not some council-commissioned wall; if you get caught or misjudge your timing, you're fucked.

First of all, you need balls for it; second, you need a high degree of skill and efficiency because you're working against the clock; thirdly, your piece is usually traveling through the city for 48 hours. It's a mobile gallery, and you own the city's visual space for that period of time. Of course I would love to see the panel on the train riding through the city forever, but it's the memory that keeps me happy. It's addictive.

I bet. So tell me what's going on in this video, then.
You can see a couple of guys are at a metro station in Berlin. They pull the emergency break so the train stops. The driver always has to come out of his cabin and switch off the emergency break outside the train to keep the train running. This usually takes up to three or four minutes. That gave us the time to paint.

The style and sketch for the piece is done quite easily. You can't bomb a train with the craziest wild-style piece in that space of time, so you go with simple blocks and let the action speak.

What's involved in the planning stages?
First we scouted the location. Most important are the escape routes, where the cameras were, how many people were there at what time and where to hide in case it fluffs up. We studied the train plan and planned our escape route. Sometimes you have to cut holes in fences so you have somewhere to run. This time I had a key to the train station and all the gatekeeper halls, so we didn't bother.

It's always tricky to do a panel bombing in the station and not in the tunnel, because it's more risky and you've only got minutes until the cops arrive. Style-wise, the piece isn't that difficult: simple blocks, an outline, chrome filling, and highlights.

Did everything go to plan?
We've been doing this for quite a while, so everyone knows his place, function and duty. But we did actually go over time by one minute, which could have been costly—that's quite a lot of time in the scheme of things.

I know the cops arrived 30 seconds after the train bombing was done. You normally hide all the cans, gloves, masks, and, more important, take out the memory chips from the cameras and hide them somewhere. Then you come back a day later—if everything works out and you're not in a cell—and collect all your gear.

Are some stations better than others?
For sure. That's a big part of it. Some will have cameras that only record in one direction; others will have 360-degree cameras. An outside metro station not in the tunnel is usually better because you've got more escape routes, not just the two regular exits. You always have to think, Where are the cops going to come in from? Where will they stop you?

How did the passengers on the train react?
Most stayed calm. It took them a while to realize what was happening—as you can see in the video, a couple of passengers opened the doors to see what was up. A few were complaining about the hold-up, which took five minutes in total, but the rest seemed to be pretty relaxed about it.

Were any impressed?
Some of them, for sure.

What happens if you get caught for something like this?
Well, you'd be taken under arrest. They take your address and finger prints, etc, check if you've done it before. Than you'll be charged with heavy criminal damage and fined $11,000 to $22,000 [in the UK, you can be fined up to $7,500 if the damage you have caused is under that amount; if it's more, the case will be referred to the Crown Court, which can give out harsher punishments].

It's rare it gets violent with cops—it's the train drivers and passengers who flare up.

Have you had any close calls in the past?
One time we were rooftop bombing and five cops and two German Shepherds ambushed us. Me and the other writer escaped down the tracks, and the police didn't follow because a train was arriving. I mean, why would you risk your life chasing after two writers?

Was anyone close to getting caught?
They stopped one guy who was lookout, but they let him go because they couldn't connect him with anything. Besides that, no one's been caught. Carrying any footage with you directly after the action is extremely dangerous because cops usually stop and search everyone in the area right after the action.

What's the reaction been to the video?
It's not that the video was done to randomly destroy things. It's a form of art that goes hand in hand with the music being played. A lifestyle far away from the consumption-oriented system we are saturated by.

OK. Finally, what's the attraction to bombing trains?
It's the adrenaline. The rush. You get addicted to the respect.

Thanks, man.