Howen Poison: The Graffiti Rocker

We interviewed the Roman writer Howen Poison, whose name has traveled for decades on hundreds and hundreds of subway wagons in the capital. And we talked about exactly this.

Hi Howen Poison! Thank you for the opportunity to ask you some questions. We can safely say that in the Roman and Italian graffiti scene of the 90’s, your name has become an institution, running on many trains and subways in Rome. What did / did it mean for you to leave your name on the wagons?

In my opinion, leaving my name on the wagons, but more generally leaving my name everywhere, means being able to give life to my emotions and feelings of the moment; all driven by a passion for something that in the end you can’t even fully explain. A reason that I think is to be found in the deepness of the human being, but in any case, when there is this passion, whatever is, things are better.

When and why did you start? What about the first steps in this culture? What are your earliest memories of Hip-Hop and spray cans?

My beginning as a graffiti writer dates back to the summer of ‘94, in the southern coast of Rome, when a young friend of mine had to apply to the High School. He went to Rome to visit the institute and he bumped into the first piece of graffiti. When he got back, he told me about it and we decided to try our first one. Even if I didn’t quite understand what it was, I chose as my tag the initials of my name and surname. We went to a store to buy spray cans and we found a wall along the river of the town, where no one could disturb us.

I used to live in a town about thirty km from Rome, where was no graffiti on the walls and I had no idea about the culture behind and that somewhere else that means a lifestyle: Hip Hop wasn’t known and we used to spend the afternoons in team, going around with scooters, to the bar, playing pinball, etc .., and every now and then I would take the sketch to go and do some… sketch!

Can you tell us about the first crews and how you became part of them? Which crew are you still in today?

In the beginning I didn’t have a crew but after a year I started writing NCL, or Non C’è Limite. It was just me and my friend, even though he got into other hobbies for a while and we spent just the time necessary to get into graffiti … I still paint and for years it was the only crew I wrote, mostly for emotional reasons and because it reminds me of that period. For some years now, I have also written TDS which is a crew from New York, DDS from England, and GT from Paris.

What can you tell us about the evolution of the graffiti phenomenon in the metros of Rome? Did you see anyone that came down to paint the metro? And when and how did you start going down the city tunnels to paint?

The first graffiti I saw on the metro had been done by the Mt2, Etc crews and by several foreigners that left their mark. In 1997, I began to be constantly interested in the metro; before then, certainly also for reasons related to distance, I often painted around the house. However, I remember that when my father took my scooter off, I had to move to Rome to continue painting as to move at night in my area it was necessary to have a vehicle. Therefore, it was the starting point to begin to paint more and more frequently the wagons of the subway in Rome.

In your opinion, what are the main differences between the first graffiti scene in Rome compared to today?

The past graffiti scene of Rome had pretty much all the railway lines, including metro, completely painted. This is not the only difference compared to today but it is also a privilege that someone that paints like me had in the past. Today the city is more European from this point of view, they clean everything… and therefore there are no more days spent in the station looking at trains full of graffiti.

Do you remember your first train and what you felt in that situation ? Can you tell us about any of your most impressive actions in yards or trains or that you consider “sensational”?

And yes, how to say, the first train is never forgotten! I’ve experienced all the sensations I usually get when I go to draw, plus for the first time, that dose of adrenaline you don’t get when you paint in quiet, uncontrolled places. It was so cool!

Among many actions, the one that I consider most sensational is the one I experienced in 1999, mostly for the escape: I was finishing to paint a nice wagon, when I saw about ten security guards arriving at the end of the tunnel. You bet the adrenaline! I immediately ran up the stairs to the emergency door to get out, but they had blocked it from the outside; I took stock of the situation for a moment, ten people arrived on one side of the tunnel, on the other side of the tunnel there was the wall because the line ended, and the emergency door was blocked. I was trapped, and in the meantime I thought about going down the stairs and hiding under the trains, but stuck under the train, camouflaged among the mechanics .. they kept looking for me all night without finding me, but I had to invent something soon, because shortly the trains were to come into service, and I didn’t want to be in the gears again. Between hiding places, I moved to the head of the train, where I could see that the Security, tired of searching, had settled at the entrance of the tunnel, the only way out. I saw them about twenty meters from me, some sitting on the tracks, some even lying down, because they knew so much that I had to go through there. And I knew it too. I chose to bet everything on the surprise factor: counting on my training as a football player, I had to cold burn the twenty meters that separated me from the Security, dribbling and passing the standing ones before those sitting were able to get up, then run for another hundred of meters with all of them behind until the first station, hope that the gates of the station were now open, and go out. It went like this. And it was sensational… even for the Security!

Which are the essential ingredients that could not be missed preparing an action?

Given the fact that it was practically always about the metro, the main ingredients were the optimism and the willness to do. As single elements are not enough by themself but without them it is useless to leave the house..

How do you define your style and how has it evolved over time? Do you use any other techniques and supports today? Do you have any sources of inspiration?

I would call it essential. That adjective enclose the uniqueness of my latest works, The Exentials, even if each of them has its own title. That represents for me the actual point of the evolution of my style over time. I would define it as a stage or in any case a moment highlighted with a marker in the timeline of my life. In the end, the media and techniques I use are the most varied, but the spraycan is always the preferred one. More than sources of inspiration, I would speak about influences, two of which are very decisive in the formation of my current style: living in a city like Rome with its particular graffiti scene and painting a lot of metro, where in most of the times you could not do anything but the essential!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts