The New York pilgrimage of Disz

The Dutch Graffiti Library has uncovered the startling story of Disz. A young man from The Hague named René Westhoff, with a passion for Vaughn Bodé comics. Who, at the age of 23, travelled to the boondocks of New York City as early as 1985 and befriended some of the legendary New York graffiti writers. He was granted permission to paint the subway as one of their brothers in arms.


More than a year ago a graffiti writer from New York posted on social media an unknown subway car painted by KASE 2. The one-armed president of the legendary The Fantastic Partners (TFP) crew. Next to it another piece was painted that said ‘DISZ’. The Van Tiggelen brothers (DGL) were struck by lightning and remembered the name ‘Disz’ as mentioned ‘from Holland’ in the preface of the classic graffiti book Spraycan Art published by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff in 1987. This was the follow-up to the bible of graffiti Subway Art by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper published in 1984. 

Photo by Mike Rushmore

In the opening text it read:

“ … New York City is still the capital and cultural center of graffiti. It’s like Mecca to those who worship at the altar of style.

Not long ago, a writer named Disz showed up in New York with his camera at the 125th Street station of the Broadway Local. Some young writers met him there, discover his passion for graffiti and brought him to Henry’s Manhattan studio. Disz was from Holland but he’d been living in Australia for about three years. There he had first become aware of the new art through such films as Style Wars and Beat Street. The first leg of Disz’s pilgrimage had taken him to San Francisco where he had looked up Barbara Bodé, the widow of Vaughn Bodé, one of the spiritual ancestors of graffiti and creator of the Cheech Wizard and other appealing cartoon characters.

Once in New York, it wasn’t long before Disz was exploring the number one tunnel at the 145th Street with such current subway writers’ as Sae FC and West FC and old masters like Kase 2. What is a young man from The Hague doing bombing the one line in the 145th Street Tunnel with Bodé nudes?”

What is a young man from The Hague doing bombing the one line in the 145th Street Tunnel with Bodé nudes?”

This awareness meant the kick-off for DGL of a quest for knowledge with a clear goal. Finding answers to that one question. Last week they published their research in the form of a 192 pages thick full colour book.

 

Serious graffiti archaeology

During their research the weird thing was that nobody seemed to know Disz’s exact story or whereabouts. Like a ghost from the past he had disappeared in the fog of untold history. A shimmer of light was cast upon the mystery by New York writers SAE FC and WEST FC who had met Disz back in 1985. The ball had started rolling.

After some more research contact was made with POET73 from Berlin. Apparently Disz had lived in Berlin for several years in the 90’s but had disappeared from the radar. According to Poet73, Disz had contributed to the German graffiti book ‘Spray City – Graffiti In Berlin’ published in 1994. On the cover of the book three authors were named, one of them was Dutch: René Westhoff.

WEST FC (Photo by DISZ)

The Van Tiggelen brothers found another important clue. A well known picture of a Dutch ‘yellow banana’ train painted in 1986 that read JEAN-SONIC-DISZ. One of the first ever painted trains with graffiti in Holland. Next to the Disz piece a ‘Cheech Wizard’ stood tall and proud, one of Vaughn Bodé’s most famous characters. Chances were high this was made by the man the DGL was looking for. Through Facebook DGL contacted JEAN, one of the pioneer Dutch graffiti writers and a core member of the Badboyz Inc. crew from Rotterdam.

Richard and Marcel van Tiggelen with JEAN Badboyz Inc. (Photo by Remko Koopman)

At first Jean stayed silent but after a couple of days he replied with a long written story about his friendship with Disz back in the days. René was indeed his real name. A tall and friendly dude born and raised in The Hague, in Loosduinen to be exact. Everything Jean said confirmed the stories the DGL had already received from the New York writers. Disz had indeed undertaken a pilgrimage to New York by himself in 1985. Jean had met Disz in 1986 in a music club called De Arena (named ‘Nighttown’ in 1988) at a Hip Hop party aptly titled Street Sounds ‘One Night New York in Rotterdam’. 

 

The Holy Grail

After receiving this valuable information from Jean, the DGL got all the more determined to find out Disz’s whereabouts. 

Finally, after a long search, they came in contact with Disz’s brother Bert. What he told them came as a shock. René Westhoff had died in 2012 at the age of 50. Bert invited DGL to come to his house to have a talk about the life and memories of his brother. That day he shows them the ‘Legacy of Disz’, a large collection of documents about the graffiti culture and the role Disz played in it. Among this stuff were handwritten diaries and notes supported by personally taken photos, slides, sketches and collected publications. 

KASE 2 & DISZ (Photo by DISZ)

Bert kept having this premonition it was important stuff and someday someone would come along and ask for it. He couldn’t have been more right. The coming year Dutch Graffiti Library did serious research with a great deal of respect, pleasure, passion and perseverance. During their work it became clear they were dealing with a previously unknown chapter of the history of Dutch graffiti culture. Disz proved to have been a forerunner and inspirer on many fronts and had also been active on different continents of the world. But, more than anything else, their research showed René Westhoff had been a warm and friendly human being.

DISZ Subway (Photo by DISZ)

Now, after 30 years, the DGL is proud to introduce someone to the world who remained far too unknown in contrast to what he has accomplished. And, as it now appears, has meant for the Dutch graffiti culture. A book posthumously but rightly titled: ‘Disz, the first Dutch writer bombing the New York City subway’.


 

Hanging with the Badboyz Inc.

We asked SEICO from Rotterdam, another original Badboyz Inc. member, about his reflection on the unique story of Disz.

Left: Badboyz Inc. in front of a Bodé mural painted by Disz. Right: SEICO in front of his piece, Rotterdam, 1995 (Photos by SEICO)

SEICO: “Disz was part of the group of homeboys that was hanging out at my crib back in the mid 80’s. Guys like TIME, JEAN, SONIC, ALIEN 2000, DJ DNA (Urban Dance Squad), Duvel Duuv and myself. Jean had introduced Disz to our posse. Although he was easily 5 years older than the rest of us, he fitted in perfectly. If we were not chillin’ in Agga (The Hague) visiting our brother FRESH you could find us at every Def Jam party in Damsko (Amsterdam) or in Roffa (Rotterdam). 

Disz was a unique character. Always carrying a backpack with a marker, a spraycan, his toothbrush and a hand carved Bodé pipe which he used for smoking weed. A loyal and friendly guy with a great sense of humour. Listening to his stories in my attic during our regular gatherings was a great privilege. I’m thankful to the Dutch Graffiti Library for publishing this book with all his adventures. Mad respect goes out to all involved. Disz, may you rest in power buddy!”

 


 

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Remko Koopman is a visual artist, graphic designer and author from Leiden, The Netherlands. He has been active as a graffiti writer using the pseudonym 'SCAGE' since 1987 and infiltrated the world of Street Art with artist collective 'Booyabase'. Koopman is co-author of the classic Dutch graffiti book 'Amsterdam Graffiti - The Battle of Waterloo' and author of the book 'De Leidse School' (The School of Leiden). He's also active within the field of cultural education for the youth.