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Painting Over / Landlord says patron of the art has worn out hiw welcome

THE CANS of spray paint hissed like radiators as the two

teens tagged the drab stairwell. As they worked, a rusty door bolt creaked and

a woman poked her head out and asked them to avoid marring the door to her

shop. The boys gave their assurance and calmly went back to work.

There was no need to fear that the woman would call the police, since the

two graffiti taggers, Eksorc154 and SevereOner, were inside the Phun Phactory,

a Long Island City institution billed as "the largest aerosol art museum in the

world." Since 1993, the establishment has tried to provide a positive outlet

for kids who might paint in inappropriate locations.

To founder Pat DiLillo, graffiti is a fact of urban life. "They can either

do it on your home or they can do it here," he said. "Imagine how many kids you

could save from the cops if you could have six more Phun Phactories just for

Queens? That's where they would do their thing instead of hanging out on the

corner, getting arrested."

Last month, though, DiLillo's landlord barred him from the property and the

Phun Phactory's future is murky. Some of the artwork offended the tenants,

including a depiction of the devil and a pig being gored with a knife.

"I have no problem with the graffiti guys staying there, but I don't want

Pat running the show anymore," said Jerry Wolkoff, the building's owner. "If

someone else takes over, that's fine, but Pat is a loose cannon. I asked him

not to upset my other tenants, who are devout, churchgoing people, and he

wouldn't listen."

From its inception, the Phun Phactory has triggered controversy, due in

part to DiLillo's hard-boiled personality. Some people see graffiti as

vandalism. Others view it as a legitimate art form. Depending on one's

perspective, the Phun Phactory's possible demise is either a blessing or a

curse.

"There are people who are opposed to any type of graffiti, but it's all in

the eyes of the beholder," said Dolores Rizzotto, district manager of Community

Board 2. "There are mixed views toward him [DiLillo], but he has done a lot of

cleanups in the area, taking graffiti off of mailboxes and light poles."

A former plumber who lives in Woodside, DiLillo receives disability since

breaking his back falling off a ladder. Ironically, he used to crusade against

graffiti with an ad hoc civic group called the Graffiti Terminators in 1989.

"After a while, I didn't have the passion for whitewashing walls and taking

graffiti off of bricks," he said as the No. 7 train rumbled by overhead and

nearly drowned out his words. "One day, in Bayside, I noticed a wall full of

graffiti, thought it was nice, and skipped over it, just left it there. I

realized that so many kids were getting [sentences of] community service and

getting arrested and that there were no programs for them, nothing."

Introduced to DiLillo by a mutual friend in 1993, Wolkoff donated space in

his factory building at 45-14 Davis St., which houses mostly clothing

manufacturers. DiLillo and his crew of teens and helpers covered the exterior

with aerosol art and opened for business as a nonprofit organization. In

addition to a room on the ground floor for impromptu graffiti scrawling, the

building has since provided studio space for traditional artists on the upper

floors.

The teens don't receive any pay from Phun Phactory, although some used to

receive a stipend from the Corrections Department. DiLillo basically donates

his time, and operates the organization on a shoestring budget funded by

donations.

In 1993, the year it opened, the Phun Phactory served as a hub for artists

from all over the city and the world, who regarded the place as if it were an

exclusive art gallery. The loading dock is a riot of color that looks like

unintelligible scrawl to the uninitiated. Taggers applied to DiLillo and his

committee of artists for coveted outdoor wall space visible from the No. 7

train. Exhibits rotated every three months.

Since its inception, the Phun Phactory has gone beyond helping hundreds of

graffiti artists flash their skills. DiLillo also tried to rehabilitate lives,

offering tough love for those sentenced to community service or to work release.

Five years ago, when Eddie Perez received a work release assignment at the

Phun Phactory, he chafed at DiLillo's abrasive nature. "A lot of people at

first don't see eye to eye with Pat; he's not the easiest person to get along

with," he said. "But if you try to work with him a little bit, he opens up. A

lot of people don't make it through that first day with him and they go the

wrong way."

Perez, 27, never had much interest in graffiti, but DiLillo found plenty of

tasks for him to do. "I cleaned out garbage, whitewashed the walls, answered

phones and assigned people spots. I became his right-hand man. Pat guided me in

the right direction. He taught me about discipline, but unlike other programs,

there's no textbook where we're obligated to do this today or we're obligated

to do that today. He lets you be yourself."

Perez, of Long Island City, used to make $100 a week working for DiLillo.

Now, he makes $19 an hour working for Waste Management Inc. He gets a gleam in

his eye when he talks about his three children.

"I grew up in jail, but now I'm living my life the way I should be," he

said. "Pat was like a father figure to me. He was always there for me; to this

day he's still there for me. It's not for everybody, but for those who are open

to it, he gives the kids a sense of direction and teaches them how to take

their negative stuff and turn it into a positive. I've seen a lot of kids get

helped."

Despite success stories like this, one afternoon last month DiLillo slumped

in his office chair like a bloodied boxer waiting for the 15th round. He plans

to take the winter off and mull his options. No successor has stepped forward

to fill his shoes, and at least for now, the Phun Phactory is defunct.

"They want to throw the kids in jail for vandalism, but did they ever open

a program to help them?" DiLillo asked. "Did they ever think that maybe some of

these kids are addicted to graffiti? A lot of these kids are addicted to it."

Graffiti art has proliferated since its inception in the mid-1970s. Bombers

are exhibitionists who constantly look for new places to tag. To them,

subways, freight cars, trucks, and buses are rolling canvases that offer broad

exposure. They also travel elevated lines looking at the work emblazoned on

walls and rooftops along the route.

For "SevereOner," who lives in Woodhaven, and "Eksorc154," a Maspeth

resident, nothing short of shock treatment would be able to sway them from

their artistic leaning. (They wouldn't give their real names because what they

consider art, graffiti on public property, police consider a crime.)

"When you get the rush to do it, you can't stop," said SevereOner, 13. "The

7 line is the best line. It runs on top of the world. It makes me proud to be

from Queens. I want to do stuff where people on the 7 will see it. It's the

line with the most graffiti on the roofs."

His friend, Eksorc154, also 13, nodded in agreement. The two speak in a

lingo all their own, spit like baseball players and curse like longshoremen. As

they walked near the factory, they jiggled doorknobs. (The two often try to

find an unlocked door that will provide access to an inside wall unadorned with

graffiti.) As they hung out inside a warren of rooms and garages, three men

rushed over shouting, "No graffiti, no graffiti!"

"Look what they did to my truck," said Mohamed Foula of the Long Island

City Wholesale Service, a pushcart graveyard, referring to unknown

perpetrators. He pointed to the black paint blotches that covered the side

panels and windshield of one of his delivery trucks.

"It doesn't look like art. We just put the sign on and they messed it up.

It cost us $2,000 for that sign. If the truck looked nice, I wouldn't mind, but

the same night they did this, my driver got into an accident. They paint the

garbage containers, then the service won't come and pick them up. The other

week, we got three tickets."

SevereOner and Eksorc154 agreed that the blotches were aesthetically

unappealing. Continuing their adventure undaunted, the teens pulled all kinds

of markers and paint cans out of their pockets and backpacks as they

absentmindedly tagged walls and lightposts and pointed out work they admire by

UTZ, KR and Korn.

"Half my life is graffiti. It's part of my daily thing," Eksorc said. "If

it's legal or illegal, kids will still do it to get fame and show off their

skills. It's not just our thing anymore. It's international now. It's bigger

than it's ever been."

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