A couple of months ago, I mentioned my favorite graffiti sighting in Birmingham, Moist. I have an appreciation for well-written, non-obscene graffiti, and found it to be rather brilliant that someone would take the most hated and eye-catching word in the human language and use it for their tag. Consequently, I keep an eye out for Moist wherever I go.
Because of that post, Moist also found me. And, perplexingly enough, seemed to appreciate my style of writing. He emailed me and we began corresponding – the graffiti artist and the homeschool mom. He typically keeps a low profile, but agreed to let me interview him via email. And, being the over-observant, insatiably curious person that I am, I found his stories to be riveting.
I am a firm believer in the fact that you don’t have to completely agree with someone to enjoy their writing – in fact, stories are often most interesting when someone is vastly different than you – which is why I enjoy the radio show This American Life so much. So, with that context in mind, I encourage you to take off your “graffiti is illegal and you shouldn’t deface property” hat for a moment and enjoy the stories of Moist.
(This will be a two-part series, because I’m saving the best story for a standalone post.)
When did you first discover that you were Moist?
Well I went for a walk one day about four years ago when I just started getting into graffiti, I walked really far.
I love just walking sometimes, like Forrest Gump.
It started raining super hard and I was in Highland Park, and instead of running for cover, I just stood there in the rain. I watched people pack up and scatter in fear of getting wet like it’s going to ruin their lives or something. What’s the big deal with getting wet? Its water, we need it to survive, but oh no when it falls from the sky and lands on us we all trip out and run for cover.
So I just sat on a concrete stair and scratched the word MOIST into the step with a rock I found all while getting drenched. From then on I wrote MOIST.
I also love that so many people legitimately hate that word. It’s more likely to stick in peoples heads and more likely to be brought up in conversation. I love it when people hate it. It’s weird.
Coming from a sometimes fashion blogger, what do you wear when you’re illegally painting?
Dark blue and black clothes. And the occasional reflective vest with flashing LED lights that say “VANDALISM IN PROGRESS, ALERT THE AUTHORITIES!”
Do you vandalize on an empty stomach or do you eat a pre-game meal?
No one likes to be hungry. Yeah I make sure I have a satisfied stomach, sit in my floor, and do my leg and arm warm-ups. I wouldn’t want to pull a muscle whilst climbing razor wire fences or being chased by dogs.
Do you always feel moist, or is it more of an alter-ego?
Graffiti writing is a lifestyle. It’s an addiction like anything. I’ll just be hanging out somewhere and then realize I’ve written on a ton of stuff.
It happens with everything I look at, I picture how I could fit a straight letter onto it or a small marker tag. I think about the color contrast and which is the best color to make it stand out the most. I think about line of sight, where is the most efficient placement so that the most amount of people will see it. All those thoughts happen involuntarily.
Everyone has their things they like, people in Alabama love football, extreme fans will literally harm other human beings because of team rivalry and all that nonsense.
I’m into graffiti, it makes me feel. I need that. Just because I hate football doesn’t make me want to run out onto a football field with a knife trying to deflate the ball. But yeah, its always there, whenever I go anywhere, before I leave my house, I grab my keys, wallet, phone, and a pilot marker.
Does your family know you’re moist?
I don’t have family in Birmingham, they don’t really know what I’m up to, and they wouldn’t really care either.
How do you choose your targets?
I like your questions. I get on Google maps and place a bunch of pins all over the city that spell out my name then I try to hit them all. If it’s a spot that gets a lot of attention, then it’s good, or if it looks really cool in a photo, like an old falling apart abandoned building that most people wouldn’t think twice about.
Font choice is crucial in my world and yours. How do you go about choosing a moist typeface?
In the city, I really enjoy simple readable letters. If you can read it while cruising 150mph and only seeing it for a tenth of a second, it’s cool with me.
What is the craziest spot you’ve ever painted?
I would have to say the McWane building seen from I-20/59.
I had pictured hitting that spot years ago, way before it was even closed. Every time I passed that part of the highway, I would think about how insane it would be to hit that building.
Me and this dude ARUHI climbed up some old rusted pipes on the side of this monstrous warehouse really late at night after the dew was settling. Everything was soaking wet from the dew, we shimmied across the steep inclined sheet metal roof to get to this spot. After I got up there I knew I couldn’t turn back just because it was soaking wet. I was already on the roof, I had to do it. Aruhi stopped at one point where he was going to paint but I had to keep going across the ridge to get to mine.
I very carefully worked my way around to the front wall. If i were to slip at all, I would have definitely slid off the edge of the building and broke a ton of bones or even died. No question about that one. I’d be a goner for sure. There were small screws holding down the sheet metal, so I stood on them to help get a grip. That’s basically it. Do or die.
What time of day night do you most often create moisture?
The 36th hour of every day.
I get out whenever really. Any time of the day.
What would you say if you got caught?
Absolutely nothing. My lawyer would kill me otherwise.
What’s the closest you’ve ever gotten to getting caught?
Well I won’t tell the closest because I don’t want anyone knowing how we made it out, but one time Blaes and I were hitting a spot on this old abandoned building in north Birmingham. It was right off the side of the street, super visible. Midway through the fill a cop spotted us and was all on the loud speaker telling us to freeze and all that generic “don’t go anywhere so we can catch you” stuff, we bolted across the street and ran through some rough looking neighborhood. We spotted this what we thought was abandoned house and kicked the door open, I know that sounds like something from a movie but it wasn’t locked, there was just a bunch of garbage in the way.
We ran inside, closed the door and listened for the cops, they definitely knew we were somewhere in that area so we had to get out. I didn’t want to use a light from my phone or anything that would be visible in any way, so we crept along through all the garbage to try and get to the backdoor. There was so much trash in there it was ridiculous, it smelled awful too. We get to the back of the house and surprisingly enough there wasn’t even a back door, the entire back wall wasn’t there, it just opened to the backyard.
We walked to the back of the house and there were two crackhead looking dudes just chilling in lawn chairs with their feet propped up on one of those big spools they use for industrial wire. I don’t know how they didn’t hear us kick that door open. We walked out the back and they stood up and started a huge fuss.
I know what he was trying to say. Basically “What are you doing in our house? You shouldn’t be here,” but what he actually said was, “WHA YAWL DURIN EN ER HAWSE!? YEH SHUDDINT BEH EN HEEAH.” I said we weren’t looking for trouble, we’re so sorry blah blah we’re leaving. We try to get past them, then the quiet crackhead lunged at me, he thought I had money or something he could use. “WHUTCHA GOT EN DEM POKETS BOY?”
He grabbed my jacket and as soon as he touched me, Blaes punched that dude in the face so hard. It didn’t knock him out or anything but he let go of my jacket. Then we climbed through some more garbage and hopped over a short backyard style fence and ran down the alley as the yells from the angry crackheads faded behind us. We ended up finding this overgrown backyard that was completely blocked from street view and hid in there for about three hours. Needless to say we walked the long safe route back to the truck.
The second part of this interview can be found here.
57 thoughts on “Moist: The Interview.”
Moist has a great sense of humor, love reading his responses.
I thought so, too! But then again, the name itself gave away his sense of humor…
I love graffiti as well and know several taggers (unfortunately, they’re all under 16) but I really think it is under appreciated as an art form. Kudos to you for exploring it further!
From what I can tell and have read, the Birmingham Graffiti scene is older – they seem to be in their 20’s and 30’s!
That’s very interesting! I live in Chicago, so I’m not sure about Birmingham and the affiliation of tagging with gangs, but there’s a fairly negative association here. Most of the middle-school kids I work with know the graffiti alphabet by heart, gang members or not, and I still treasure a gift one of them gave me with my “tag” name on it.
If you talk to any more taggers, I’d love to know if every artist has a specific calligraphy or ‘signature’ alphabet. I couldn’t help but notice that your friend uses a similar style for his M’s.
Fascinating! I see him everywhere, and have often wondered about who was behind it. Thanks for the insight!
Great interview! I can’t wait to hear what Moist has to say in the next installment.
Every time you write about moist, I think of the Canadian band of the same name: http://moistonline.com/
Ha! Moist should use them as his theme music. You know, if Graffiti artists have theme music.
So fascinating! I do think that graffiti like that is incredible looking!
Thanks! And thanks again for sharing on Reddit. I suppose I’ll have to give the Reddit world a second chance. :-)
I love this! A very close friend of mine (we grew up in church together) was/is? a tagger. Hopefully was cause he’s in his late 30’s now. Church boy not a huge surprise right? We all have our things. Anyway, reading Moist’s answers reminds me of him. Very sharp and sees opportunities and adventures everywhere. I wish I had that kind of bravery. I think its great and such a talent. Also crack head stories are ALWAYS great. So glad Moist found you. Ugh I REALLY hate that word. I get a chill of disgust and have to shake my head every time I say it in my head.
I do love a good adventure, too. Unfortunately I’m not artistic enough to even begin to think about an adventure such as this.
Moist tells a great story – glad he’s now got this medium (can you make him a regular guest blogger?) because it’d probably take up the entire side of several buildings if he wrote it all in tags. *grabs popcorn*
He would be a fun regular guest blogger! I’ll leave it open if he has further stories he needs to tell…that don’t fit on the sides of buildings.
Great interview! I’ve always wondered what tagger’s stories are. Their talent amazes me! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks! Agreed. It’s such a fascinating other-world!
I have tons of photos of great graffiti from one of my trips to Paris – great interview by the way. The questions were very insightful :p I think my favorite was “Do you vandalize on an empty stomach or do you eat a pre-game meal?”
That question showed my husband’s help in concocting the interview questions. Especially since we were on our “Pre-Game” car ride when we wrote them up. Oh, football…
Woah! How cool that he reached out! Great story and I have seen the tags everywhere, so neat to read some of the mind behind them!
Thanks! I now *really* want to go on a Graffiti Walk/Run Downtown. Tanya and I have talked about it for a while, but now I’m motivated.
Love this interview! Moist is so interesting & has such talent.. I was just wondering if he has a “regular” job & life also, & is this just something he does “undercover” ? Lol
I believe that he does have a regular job, yes. After all, vandalizing doesn’t pay well. ;-) It is briefly mentioned in his next installment on Monday.
Wow, what a cool interview! Graffiti art is so intriguing. I passed through Cincinnati last weekend on a little road trip, and I was able really look at everything since I wasn’t driving. There were so many industrial buildings with graffiti near the roof–some of the tags were four or five stories up. I can’t imagine actually being able to create something while I was simultaneously terrified of falling to my death. Looking forward to the rest of Moist’s story on Monday!
I do love heights…if only I had the spray paint talent to go with it.
No doubt about it, he’s definitely got talent! In honor of this post he should do a tag somewhere of GFO, for Grasping for Objectivity right next to Moist.
And yes, I hate the word moist.
That would be awesome. Actually, Chris had the idea of getting him to write it out – “Grasping for Objectivity” – then take a photo of it, and use it as my blog header. I’m kinda loving the idea. He does do commissioned art, but it’s probably usually the portable kind. :-)
I have a love/hate relationship with graffiti. It can look awesome but it can also just look trashy. Either way I enjoyed reading the interview and look forward to the next one!
Agreed. I like the really good stuff – with depth and detail.
This was really neat!! Looking forward to part two!
Cool interview! Different to your usual stuff, but I like it.
In Bristol, street art is a thing. We have a festival every year and people come from all over the world to see our street art, particularly stuff by ‘Banksy’ http://visitbristol.co.uk/things-to-do/banksy-walking-tour-p1354013
I particularly love guerilla knitters. There’s a group of able and intellectually disabled people who do cool stuff like turn a brigde into a dragon with knitted covers to the handrails or give a Queen Victoria statue a big red white and blue knitted cloak for the Jubiliee.
I have never heard of guerilla knitters. But I’m kinda in love with them now.
Great interview! I always wonder why cities don’t pay people to do murals and signs in places that would normally be spray painted. I don’t like the hastily done stuff, but this kind of graffiti is definitely art! I could never paint something that looked that good! Maybe if it was legal or you got paid to do it, it wouldn’t be as exciting?
I agree – I wish we had more “free space” for painting. But you may be right – that might take the fun out of it.
The best part of being a writer is the people you get to talk with.
Agreed! People are so interesting.
So cool! Have you watched “Exit through the Giftshop”? It’s a fascinating documentary on some of the world’s most famous graffiti artists.
This is the coolest post I have ever seen on a mothering/homeschooling blog. The coolest. Can’t wait to read part 2!
I will be elated to hear when they catch this guy; I do not think it real cool to deface other peoples property and subject others to your ‘art’ even if they might find it uninteresting or even offensive.
My personal take is that I find it mildly offensive and really, really uninteresting; perhaps if this fellow painted the manifesto of some bizarre but well intention-ed creed I would be a little more drawn to it.
Or if he even did it different now and then?
But all we have here is an endless repetition of the fellows logo, which I find to be quiet diagnostic of a self -important individual who is interested in his self and seemingly cares little for the property or sensibilities of others!
Why you mad doe?
Love, love, love this. Is it weird I want one of the Moist stickers for my car?
That would make for a very unique car.
This individual lacks the talent and thought to garner any public accolades for his art. Therefore he engages in this crass form of visual rape, where he forces his meager talents upon the urban landscape in a pitiful; cry for attention. I have taken great pleasure eradicating his tags from the Glen Iris and Phelan Park neighborhoods. Hopefully, he has realized that a vandal working under cloak of darkness with spray cans can never hope to outpace a resident who paints over his scrawls with rollers and five gallon buckets. And who happily waves at the passing police while he does it. If Moist does return to my hood, I will seek out the work he is proudest of (which is conveniently highlighted here with photographs) and I will erase them. Just like I did the ones on Cullom Street, twice.
haha why u mad doe
No anger here at all. I enjoy making my neighborhood more beautiful by eradicating the vandalism, Great exercise and many smiles and thank yous from my neighbors. Just figured that Moist might read this. Then he won’t have to wonder what triggered someone to suddenly seek out his “best: work” and paint over it. He’ll know why.
Yeah u mad haha
You flatter Moist by assuming that his meager skills can elicit any emotion at all in the viewer. I invest as little care in eliminating his efforts as I do in dealing with the mound that ants have built in my lawn. Just another mindless creature that has chosen an unfortunate location in which to waste his diligence. I occasionally feel a slight twinge of pity at the waste of effort. But only for the ant. .
Keep this in mind. lets not think you can take us out .if we decide your neighborhood would turn into the worst street in birmingham. and we would also do it while waving to the cops only with a middle finger. your block stays clean cause we decide it .not you. and thanks for giving us the cross streets.iam glad you want cleaner streets. who doesn’t like a nice block. But never think you can stop what we do dont become a target by trying to be a tough guy. you will lose.TN NSA RTM
I’ve seen Moist in Tuscaloosa too.
I believe he’s all over the southeast – Florida, Tennessee, Georgia…
Very cool interview. Thanks for sharing it.
I found this article when I looked up a MOIST tag I see every day just off the interstate in Nashville when I’m headed to/from work. It’s on one of the buildings next to “cool stuff weird things” but I can’t tell which one since it’s on the back of the building up on the roof. There’s a tag right next to it that looks like it was done at the same time, but I can never make out what it says while driving.
I am a reporter with WKRN-TV in Nashville trying to get in touch with Rachel Callahan because I am also trying to get in touch with the “moist” graffiti artist. Kindly email me at email@example.com Thank you!
Where can I find theses graffitis? I live close to birmingham, anyone name place are these graffitis?