A silent war of stylized words is raging on the walls of rapidly changing Bushwick, only this time the culprits aren’t rival gangs but artists with dueling cultural agendas.
Giant murals by artists from around the world now decorate a stretch of Troutman Street between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas that until 2012 was decorated with “for lease” signs and bursts of graffiti.
As the Brooklyn neighborhood morphed into a home for organic brunches, art mavens and Williamsburg overflow, at least one local has taken it upon himself to revive old school street culture.
A graffiti writer known as Zexor has been targeting murals that he’s described on social media as an attack on the Bushwick that existed before the coffee shops and yoga studios, often writing “real art” or “real Bushwick” alongside his tag.
“I am NYC. I am Brooklyn. I am Bushwick. I am everything you hate and love,” he wrote in early January on one mural immediately in front of the Jefferson Street L train stop. “I am freedom. I am art. I am Zexor.”
Zexor’s tags could also be found down the stretch of Troutman on top of a series of murals contracted by local group Bushwick Collective. Most of the tags were swiftly painted over with large smiley faces, although no one Metro spoke to knew who was responsible for the smileys.
Local police and leaders were equally unaware of any conflict raging between newcomers and long timers on either street walls or online.
No artists responded to Metro for comment, but one graffiti artist not tied to the Bushwick scene warned that most muralists know that their work is subject to alteration as soon as the paint dries on the wall.
“There are laws against graffiti, but there are no rules in graffiti,” the artist said.
On his Instagram account, Zexor lashed out at the Bushwick Collective, formed by local resident Joseph Ficalora in 2012 to visually enrich the blighted area he grew up in. Zexor accused Ficolora of only abetting gentrification.
Median home prices jumped 31 percent last year in Bushwick, according to real estate company MNS, which listed the average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Bushwick at $2,048.
Faced with criticism on Instagram by a user who said Zexor’s tags ruined murals and graffiti was a sign of urban decay, the self-identified 24-year-old Bushwick native pushed back.
“Preach your broken windows theory bull—t somewhere else,” Zexor wrote on Instagram. “I’m all about cleaning up the neighborhood.”
Ficalora did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but did post a statement to followers on social media, saying his group has never had “an agenda” and is willing to engage with folks upset with the collective’s work so far.
Nadine Whitted, Bushwick’s Community Board district manager, defended the murals and Ficalora’s work while blasting unwanted graffiti.
“Art is art. Graffiti is graffiti,” she said “There’s a distinct difference.”
Whitted said the neighborhood has struggled with influx of newcomers and nightlife that older residents say disrupts local culture and drives up real estate prices. If the new graffiti really is about fighting those changes, Whitted said the community is in for a longer conversation.
“This is not going to be an easy fix,” she said.
Back on the corner of Wyckoff and Jefferson, the mural on which Zexor left his screed was eventually restored. The image still shows a woman with her hands out, one reading “Earth” and the other “Revolution.”
The space that used to have Zexor’s tag was painted over with bold yellow letters that read: “Evolve.”