Graffiti artist Man One brings colorful vision to Binghamton

Artist plans to put Downtown Binghamton on the map by painting 4 giant murals

They say that it takes just one man to make a change, but in Binghamton’s case, what we might need is Man One.

John Babich / Contributing Photographer

Students and community members alike gathered in Old Union Hall Tuesday night to hear Man One discuss his life, his work and his plans for the city of Binghamton. Man One, also known as Alejandro Poli, is a world-renowned artist specializing in large-scale graffiti pieces. Over the course of a weekend in mid-May, he plans to redecorate and revitalize our area by painting four giant murals Downtown.

Poli grew up loving art and always drawing in his spare time. One day as he rode the bus to high school, his friend showed him how to “tag” a bus. At the time, he was listening to a band called Mantronix, so he wrote their name as his tag. Soon this became an everyday occurrence, and as they ran out of unmarked buses, Poli and his friends moved to decorating the streets. At this point, however, he had to shorten his name.

“Mantronix was way too long,” Poli said. “By the time I got to the ‘X’ I was sure to get arrested.” He shortened it to Man One, keeping part of Mantronix, but adding the “One” to show that he was the original “Man” in town.

Poli said he was a horrible artist at first, but as he continued to practice and create, he greatly improved. He learned the most important part of graffiti art: can control (the ability to make straight lines and not drip). He practiced on paper to refine his skills.

“I was really blown away by what you can do and get away with at a really quick amount of time,” Poli said. “In 10 minutes you could do something kind of cool and in an hour you can make something even cooler, and in three hours you could make it huge.”

Besides needing to work on his technique and style, Poli needed to spend his time fighting for the legitimacy of his work. He felt that he needed to explain why it was a “viable art form.”

“To me, it was always art,” Poli continued. “And it didn’t matter what anybody else thought.”

Due to his location in the tumultuous city of Los Angeles, people assumed that if you held a spray can then you also held a criminal record.

“It was no different than a mural. To me it was like, ‘It’s just a painting on a wall’; to other people it wasn’t that,” Poli said. “[When you have a spray can] it doesn’t become art anymore. It becomes, ‘You’re a gang member … we need to treat you like a criminal.’”

Man One, however, took the legal road. When he wanted to make a mural, he would ask for permission from building owners. As word spread of his work, he began getting contracts from companies like Coca-Cola and Capitol Records. He continued to paint and found the chance to grow as an artist and spread his talent.

Man One had his first solo exhibition in 1994. At the time, he said, no galleries were displaying graffiti because it wasn’t regarded as true art. But through persistence and perseverance, he kept making his own shows when no other opportunities arose. He found an artist community and “global network” that would paint together and collaborate all over the world. In 2002, Poli opened up the Crewest Gallery, a combination paint shop and exhibit. In 2006, he relocated to a bigger space in downtown LA.

Man One was part of a movement that transformed downtown LA in the late 2000s. The Mural Festival there helped the area gain attention, growth and prosperity. After seeing the effects on LA, both Man One and many students at Binghamton University believe that the same can happen to our own city.

The project is spearheaded by BU’s Innovation and Creativity class, a course under the School of Management and Watson School of Engineering. The class strives to pull together students from different schools to find new solutions to different problems. Taught by Kim Jaussi, students intend to “disrupt the universe, transform cultures and change mindsets.” They want to create change by involving the community and facilitating teamwork.

“It’s a holistic process that goes from big picture to very intimate details,” said Jacob Bogossiam, a senior majoring in management at SUNY Broome Community College.

The project is the perfect convoy for this class, as Man One made it clear that it’s all about community involvement. Before his lecture began, one could walk around the room and make a small contribution to the project. Large papers were hung on the wall, with questions posed above them such as “I feel connected to the city when…” and “What do you look for in a healthy neighborhood?” There were easels set up, with prompts such as “What does home look like?” and “The most beautiful place in Binghamton is…” Man One is looking for inspiration, and for help. As the project draws closer, there will be numerous ways to get involved and be a part of this project.

That being said, success won’t come easy. The community will need to band together to raise $75,000 to put on a mural festival. There will be food, musicians and, of course, tons of art supplies.

Man One sees potential in Downtown Binghamton.

“I think there’s some great buildings and some great areas where art is just like, calling out, you know … like needs to be in these areas, and I’m inspired by the architecture, I’m inspired by the landscape … I haven’t been there but I’ve heard there’s a great First Fridays that happens, and so I think bringing those things together will be awesome, I think the people are ready for it,” Poli said.