“Legendary Graffiti Artist (Pel) Looking for a Wall to Paint On,” an ad reads on Craigslist.org. Accompanying the ad is a 1970s vintage photo of the name “PEL” in giant letters on the side of a New York subway train car.
Pel is Anthony Machicote, 64, a resident of Weeki Wachee since 2002. For a time in the early 1970s, he was one of those inner-city delinquents, who under cover of darkness and armed with cans of Rust-Oleum, embarked on narcissistic missions in the Bronx to spray-paint their names on the sides of New York subway cars, walls and any other public canvas they could get away with. Pel’s handiwork mostly appeared on cars of the 4 Line, and it earned him some urban fame in the early graffiti-style writing heydays. He’s recognized today as one of the country’s more influential style writers.
But around these parts, and these days, it’s not graffiti Machicote is known for, but singing. He’s a frequent performer at Pasco and Hernando county civic clubs, lounges, and restaurants, where he belts out favorites from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s (search Tony Machicote on YouTube). Few fans of his music stylings know of his exploits as the teenage stylistic progeny of legendary graffiti writer Phase 2 (Michael Lawrence Marrow), inventor of the bubble-letter style who took Machicote under his wing some 50 years ago.
In those days, writers gathered at what was called the Writer’s Bench on 149th Street, said Machicote. One day Machicote was at the Bench where writers were watching the trains go by. Everyone saw “PEL” plastered on the sides of several cars and the name caught the eye of Phase 2.
“He called me over and gave me a sketch and said, ‘Why don’t you try this?’” Machicote recalled. “That’s how I got the style I got known for.”
Graffiti is divided into three main types: artists, writers and taggers. Writers paint their names in artistic letters with a degree of style and flair, while taggers simply write their names quickly in a simplistic way. Graffiti artists often paint elaborate scenes, themes and portraits.
Machicote said he liked painting on subway train cars because the silver and blue paint of the cars made the spray colors “really pop.” Paint on city walls produced muddy, “dingy colors.”
In the early ’70s, Pel’s work could be on the side of a train for weeks for fans to enjoy (or others to curse), but then a city program to keep the train cars scrubbed clean began.
“I didn’t mind it (his art being erased) because to me, it was just a fresh, new canvas I had to work with,” said Machicote. “I would just go paint another one.”
But it wasn’t that easy. Writing had risks.
Machicote started at 13 and gave up writing in 1977 when he was 16. During that period, he was shot at by gang members, chased by police and was nearly electrocuted three times when he accidentally stepped on the high-voltage third rail of the train tracks.
“I was always lucky that way,” Machicote said. “I had some close calls, but I was never caught and never got seriously hurt.”
There was a time when the police were on his trail and close to identifying him. He was using the name Sly5 176 at the time. Writing seven characters took a while, so to save time and reduce his chance of getting caught in the act, he changed his name to Pel. He also hoped the disappearance of Sly5 176 would keep the police guessing.
But Machicote worried his luck might run out, which is what led to him quitting.
“I didn’t want to bring anything bad home to my mother,” Machicote said. “I didn’t want to do that to her.”
In addition to Pel and Sly5 176, Machicote painted under the names Dime2, Do It Well and Ream2. None of his work exists in the Bronx today, but one of his pieces is hanging in the Museum of Graffiti in Miami, Machicote said.
Many of his fans today are European, where there’s an active graffiti culture. In fact, he said, the only writers practicing illegally today in New York “are all from Europe.”
“They go there because that’s where it all got started and they want to be a part of it,” said Machicote.
He doesn’t advise it.
“When I was doing it, it wasn’t that big of a deal if you got caught; they’d just write you up,” Machicote said. “But today they take it more seriously; they’ll charge you for possession of an explosive device (a paint can).”
Asked if he had any regret about defacing public property all those years ago, Machicote said he figures what he did was harmless, compared to what youths in gangs were doing.
“In those days we didn’t have the programs and things we have today for kids, so a lot of us looked for outlets,” he said. “I would challenge anyone who grew up in the city, ‘What did they do as kids back then?’”
Machicote said he placed the classified ad recently because he’s hoping someone in the area might offer him a wall to produce a Pel original. It wouldn’t have to be a New York-style, urban artwork, but could include Florida elements a patron might think more fitting for this area, he said. Machicote isn’t looking for a payday.
“I just want to do it again,” he said. “I’d do it for practically nothing.”