Perez is famous because during the 80s he painted New York City red, white, yellow, green and all other colors as graffiti artist Tatu. He and his crew, the X Men graffiti crew, immortalized themselves on the streets and even on the Empire State Building, where they dared to place their signature sticker, later used Marvel Comic books.
He’s notorious because the police could never figure out who was responsible. And he managed to never get arrested. But Perez has reformed from the vandal lifestyle. Now, he still practices graffiti art but in a safer place, a place where he can get paid for it.
It is this path that he teaches, along with his partner Tynneal "Tyrox-Xmen" Grant, to young kids who have been arrested for vandalism.
Perez and Grant founded Xmental Inc. in 2008 to recognize and preserve the hip-hop culture; a culture vital to the worlds of art, music and life.
And through the Paint Straight program, a restorative justice program for youth convicted as vandals, he and Grant teach kids how to turn their vandalism into something positive, something that could even help them earn some dollars.
The 10-week program is run in conjunction with the New York Department of Probation. It is a rehabilitation program that aims to educate the youth on the history of graffiti - from aboriginal groups who drew on walls to present-day taggers - while teaching them laws on vandalism and the repercussions.
“We show them how it all comes back to them and how their parents' tax dollars end up paying for it,” said the Brooklyn-born and bred Perez.
The Brooklyn Vandal Squad of the NYPD addresses the kids, and the program also offers sessions that “takes art to another level.”
Perez has managed to get big-name graffiti artists like David Vallorente, also known as “Chino,” and clothing and footwear designers to talk to the kids to open them up to opportunities. The kids also learn how to use a brush and other more artistic forms of graffiti art that go beyond tagging and bombing.
“Out of 60 kids, only one was rearrested,” Perez said. It’s something he’s proud of since the program started one year ago.
“Me and my partner, whatever we’re doing we’re doing it right," he added. "Most of these kids are just doing it to be heard or seen or recognized so we give them a positive platform.”
The current 10-week cycle ends soon. And on June 29, the current kids will get a chance to showcase their work at the Shop Talk & Art Gallery at 35 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.
Xmental Inc. was recently incorporated and is now in the process of becoming a 501(C) 3 nonprofit organization. Perez hopes to develop their current raw space at 622 Classon Avenue into a space where not only kids who were arrested will attend, but anyone interested.
“We are building it out slowly, but funds are low and we have been doing this out our own pockets, so little by little we have been trying to build our dream,” he said.
In the new space, he plans to teach other elements of hip-hop culture, such as DJing and breakdancing, along with life skills, spirituality and mentorship.
“You can try to reach all, but if you reach one you’ve accomplished something,” he said. “We’ve reached 59, so we’ve accomplished a whole lot.”
To find out more about Xmental Inc. visit their website.