Up Close With Cope2

Empty Lighthouse is a reader-supported site. This article may contain affiliate links to Amazon and other sites. We earn a commission on purchases made through these links.

Tagging is graffiti's most common form of expression. By scribbling your tag name wherever you go, most of these taggers hope to achieve some level of notoriety.

But one artist has been taking tagging to new heights for decades. Beyond just an artist whose work sells at Christies and Sotheby's, Cope2 (real name Fernando Carlo) is also a graffiti legend who got his start back in 1978.

Cope2 tags are everywhere. From brick walls, to subway cars, to video games GTA IV, and movies like Shrek The Third. He has collaborated with some of street arts heavy hitters and has developed a wide range for his iconic tag.

Over the years, Cope2 has also has had to deal with controversy, some of which is directed at his ambition to be taken seriously as an artist. However, after starting to work with canvas, he made his way into the art world with a bang.

He has achieved a great deal of mainstream success, remixing his tag into projects for companies like Time Magazine and Converse.

With his upcoming solo exhibition 'Hypnotic' at Gallery 69 opening this Saturday, February 16th, we wanted to sit down with Cope2 and ask him a few questions...

You are marked as one of the founders of modern graffiti, are you comfortable with that?

well if you say so i just try to do my part as a graffiti art legend been doing this now for 30 + years been a long ride considering many nyc subway graffiti writers quit and died out right after the subway graffiti era in nyc died i just kept on going i had so much passion for it its my culture its what i saw and lived as a young kid growing up in the south bronx and taking the subways with my mother when we would travel to visit other family members so graffiti was always in my face every were i went it was really an amazing kind of of art to me

How did you get started tagging?

wow back in around 1978-79 my cousin would tag his name all over the neighborhood his tag was chico he always had this huge black marker called a pilot he would take me with him on the subways and we would go to the last car and when the doors would close he would start tagging on the doors windows all over the inside of the subway car i remember always looking out the window and seeing these huge colorful names just roll by it was amazing and inspiring i wanted to do the same and get my name on the inside and outside of the train so i started to find out more information by meeting other graffiti writers in the neighborhood and thats how it all started before you knew it it was 1980'81'82'83 and i was destroying the subway cars becoming a king in 1983 with 100's of cope2 pieces on the outside what an experience the glory days i call it something you had to live and be part of to really know and feel what im talking about man i miss it

Does it surprise you to see your tags in pop-culture, like Grand Theft Auto IV, Shrek The Third and Getting Up?

yeah its amazing cause who would think 30 years ago when i was just painting nyc trains that i would be making a living off my name cope2 and doing these great projects with amazing corporate companys its really a blessing a huge one and i thank god for this all

What has been your favorite artist collaboration?

its hard to say ive done so many great ones from painting walls with my legendary graffiti heros like mitch77' kase2' seen' iz the wiz to some of the great street artist like shepard fairey' mr brainwash' fafi' retna so its hard to really say cause there all great people as well as artist so in the end i pretty much love them all the same im working on other great collaborations this year lets see how it goes

In 2010, you collaborated with Shepard Fairey on a large mural project. How do you feel about Shepard's street cred?

oh man shepard fairey is a legend in what he does and not only a great artist but an amazing person hes the realist coolest dude and i had a great time collaborating on our wall with him shepard has plenty of street cred hes bombed up every were and has been arrested for it how much more street cred can you get from that hes done his thing as well as i have we get too old for it and sometimes you must change with the times well in my case

Have you ever worked with stencil or has it always been wild style?

nah no stencil i leave that to shepard fairey' banksy or mr brainwash there the masters behind it ive always been a spary paint kind of guy since 1979 but now im into acrylics and enamel paints on canvas and still spray paint its my profession its what i do today pretty much paintings

When did you first make the transition into canvas?

it was 2000 and the christies auction house was doing this huge auction sale on graffiti art and someone contacted me to be part of it i was really not into painting canvases but i said hey let me give it a shot so i did 3 nice paintings and sold 2 out of the 3 which was really amazing cause it was my first time really selling any art work of mine with my name on it so i said wow i just made a few grand from this even though i always watched artist like futura' seen' daze' crash doing gallerys already it was pretty inspiring so i started to do little shows in graffiti shops global before you knew it i was invited to group shows and started to do little gallerys here and there now it has gone to another level ive been in some great auctions like phillips de pury in nyc artcurial in paris to gallerys world wide pretty amazing i could say hopefully i can make the gagosian thats my dream!

Your work was noticeably absent from MOCA: Art in the Streets. What's your take on not being included?

yeah i said the same thing that was some real favortism stuff and only mr jeffrey deitches view but i was supposed to be part of it cause one of the curators roger gastman had contacted me a year before the event and asked me if i wanted to be part of it and if wanted to do an installation inside i said hell yeah cause i knew this was going to be something huge cause roger had broke it pretty much down to me how the event was going to happen so as the months started to go by i started to hear more and more about it it was the biggest thing on art at the time concerning graffiti and street artist from all over the world so i had contacted roger to see what was going on with my part and i started to pretty much get allot of bs!! about it so i pretty much knew i was kind of push away and not going to be part of it i was pretty upset cause i went to the first private open with mr brainwash people looked at us weird when we rolled up even though i wasnt part of it it was a great event really well put together but they were many artist in it that really made no sense that had no history and should had not been in that historical event i was so disappointed i just didnt understand how this artist that artist was painting the outside and had installations inside really un real thats how i knew this was an event on who you know and thats how you got in not cause of your history to graffiti or street art or who does mr deitch likes or represents really pathetic especially if i was invited from the begining but then got bullshitted in the end so un professional on mr gastmans part its cool it still dont and wont define me as a real nyc graffiti art legend im going to still keep doing my thing i made and is still making history and im cool with that

Your graffiti has taken you all over the world. From a global perspective, do you think the U.S needs to lighten up on the war against street art?

yeah thats pretty amazing who would think i would be traveling the world from just doing graffiti art pretty cool i guess the us has been pretty cool on street art you can pretty much still paint walls here in nyc as long as you have a permit from the owner i see detroit has been doing some major murals as well as miami has embrasse the art having artist from all over painting huge murals during art basel every year so i guess the states has been pretty open and excepting of street art which is good and they should cause it aint going no were its art and art has been around since the days one on this planet

Does removing graffiti from the streets and putting it in galleries/museums remove the purpose of graffiti?

not really cause every artist has there own reason why they do graffiti or street art theres always going to be a new born artist trying to get his or her name up and noticed in my case ive pretty much retired with graffiti im into making great and awesome paintings for art shows in gallerys times have changed and i must change with it unlike some artist do im in my mid 40's im on another level with my art today im pretty much a painter a artist now i still love graffiti it made me who iam today and im thankful for it but im into making transitions in life and doing paintings and being a full time artist is the deal today and my focus and direction graffiti is done for me

If you could put a rough number on it, how many tags do you think you've put up in your lifetime?

oh man im sure in the billions lmao!! who knows but now lets make billions of paintings