Al Diaz

Born and raised Puerto Rican in New York City, Al Díaz (b. 1959) was known by age 15 as a prolific and influential, first-generation subway graffiti artist. During the early 70s, his popular and recognized name was “BOMB-1.” He is best known for his friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat and his collaboration on SAMO©…, a well-known graffiti project appearing in lower Manhattan from 1978 to 1980. The tag and text slogans became known quickly on the streets and in the local newspaper media because of their wit and sardonic humor. After high school and the SAMO©… period, Díaz began to practice musical percussion and created recordings, including a performance on Basquiat’s collectible 1983 early hip-hop album, Beat Bop which also featured Rammellzee and K-Rob. After being “on the scene” during the 80s Avant-garde art boom, Díaz honed his craft as a foreman/lead carpenter in the New York building industry. His career spans five decades. 

Currently, Díaz resides in Brooklyn. He works with WET PAINT and other signage used throughout the NYC MTA subway system. After cutting out individual letters to create clever-sounding, surreal and poignant anagrams, he hangs the finished messages in City subway stations. In 2016, he resurrected the SAMO©… writings. Contemporary fans appreciate his frequent use of Instagram, where the satirical images are shared widely. Recently, Díaz publically released his private collection of photographs of Basquiat as a teenager, with several more still unrevealed.

His work has been shown and privately collected internationally, including in Beyond the Streets (Los Angeles, 2018), Zeitgeist: The Teenage Art Scene of Basquiat (Howl Arts, Inc., New York City, 2018), the World Trade Center (69th Floor Art4WTC, 2017), Urban Arts Fair (Manhattan, 2017), WestchesterArts (From the Streets White Plains, 2017), Art Miami, Scope, The Bishop Gallery (Brooklyn, 2017), and the 21st Precinct Street Exhibit (NYC, 2014). Díaz is featured in film productions (Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, BBC’s American Masters—Basquiat Rage to Riches, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child), and magazine and book publications, such as Jon Narr and Normal Mailer’s The Faith of Graffiti, 2Create: Art of Collaboration by Yoav Litvin, Street Messages by Nicholas Ganz and most recently, Aljazeera America, art.net, GQ Korea and Vogue UK, among many others. Díaz has been a highlighted speaker and artist for a variety of panel discussions, including the Brooklyn Museum, The New School, Christie’s Education, The Museum of the City of New York, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the London Barbican, Art Basel (Switzerland) and NOLA Arts Festival. A notebook that he made with Jean-Michel Basquiat and friends during his teens is currently held in the private collection of the Yale University Beinecke Library. In 2018, Díaz authored SAMO©… SINCE 1978, a book meant to clarify, elaborate, and illustrate the history and meaning behind the historical SAMO©… writings.

AL DIAZ ON THE OBLIGATION TO CLARIFY HISTORY

Wall Street Journal: "A Graffiti Legend Wins Praise From Unlikely Admirers"

"Albert Diaz has risen from a kid skipping classes to do graffiti work to a commissioned artist honored with a city proclamation...

Albert “Al” Diaz is a longstanding figure in New York City’s graffiti scene—a world that has historically been the scourge of mayors and police."
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Al Díaz – The Daily Beast, “Basquiat’s Close Friends and Collaborators Speak Out Against Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s Tiffany’s Ad”

"But what’s happened in the last decade or so, as images of both Basquiat the face and Basquiat the aesthetic swarm brands like Avian, Urban Decay and Coach, is an overemphasis on the more lurid aspects of his biography—the party animal, the fashionisto, the drug addict—and a flattening of the art itself. 'It’s lost in translation,' Diaz remarks, exasperated. 'People won’t see the depth. At this point the only people that could afford a Basquiat are people he was targeting. Like, you’re the oppressor. They buy it out so that it becomes meaningless.'"

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AL DIAZ ON NYC, GRAFFITI, BASQUIAT, AND SAMO

Hyperallergic, “The Street Wisdom of Al Díaz, a First-Generation Graffiti Artist”

"In the very commercialized genres of street art and graffiti, Al Díaz, at 61, still commands an inimitable point of view. Disinterested in creating shiny balloon animals full of air or spectacle without substance, Díaz offers intricate wordplay using the everyday ephemera of New York’s subway system lexicon. As a first-generation graffiti artist, Díaz innovates the alphabet and coded language to communicate and to provoke. Or put another way, Díaz has something real to say."

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UP Magazine, “Al Diaz: 4 The Creatively Defiant”

"It’s as though Al, a true city-kid scion of Alphabet City, is offering up his own socio-political, Darwinian classification, but on his own terms and in his own apt language as we might say in the realms of art. Al, as many yet far too few know, helped set the stage for an artistic revolution in the ‘70s in the streets of Downtown New York City, a revolution that continues to ripple outward and expand like the universe itself."

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Huck, "The wild story of Basquiat’s original partner in crime"

"Al Diaz and Basquiat rewrote the rules of street art before taking different paths: one as a hard-grafting musician, the other as an iconic artist. Both would be ravaged by drugs. Four decades on, the story is far from finished."

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6SQFT, "New Yorker Spotlight: Al Diaz on NYC Street Art and Working with Jean-Michel Basquiat"

"Artist Al Diaz is often asked to speak at panel discussions about Jean-Michel Basquiat or to lend his expertise for new exhibits about the world-famous artist. But Diaz was just as much a part of the downtown street art movement as his buddy Basquiat; in fact, the two got involved with the art form together... We recently chatted with Al Diaz to get the inside scoop on street art history in New York City, what it was like to work with Basquiat, and how he and his art work are much more than a shadow of his famous friend."

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