After college, I worked on a film in New York. It was the early 80s, and there was graffiti everywhere. You'd see a new Basquiat poem on a wall one day, and within week later other artists had added to it. I became friends with Keith Haring and he encouraged me to start making street art.
I knew about a building on West 56th Street and 7th Avenue that was empty and condemned to be torn down. My boss had just moved out but I still had the keys. One weekend I bought spray paint and covered some walls in abstract graffiti. I passed out because I wasn't wearing a mask. Upon awakening, I blew my nose and colors came out. I looked around and saw that the room was filled with images from my imagination.
Over the next year I covered all the rooms with paintings and even painted the roof, but the city kept putting large locks on the door and signs saying, 'KEEP OUT GRAFFITI ARTIST.' Behind my empty building, the fire escape was only a couple of feet from the fire escape of the Hotel Wellington. I spied a dark room that was full of rolled carpets and furniture. I climbed up and found the window open. The bathroom had running water. That 7th floor room became the entrance to my studio.
English art dealer Robert Fraser came to New York looking for graffiti artists for an exhibition called "Paris/New York." I took his assistant to the Hotel Wellington on 7th Avenue. By then, the hotel staff thought that I lived there. I bought a newspaper, as I did every day, and the bellboy said, "Good morning Mr. Elwes." We took an elevator to the 7th floor. I opened the door to the room with a credit card and we stepped out of the window and climbed across to the fire escape of my building. Fraser liked my paintings and invited me to be a part of an exhibition with Basquiat and Haring.
Back in London I started painting graffiti in the streets. My brothers and I had grown up in London in the sixties, and bomb sites (left over from the war) had been our playgrounds.
Robert said, "You know that you are the only English graffiti artist?" He took me to meet Basquiat and we had a great connection