Donald Joseph White, "DONDI" (April 7, 1961 – October 2, 1998) is considered one of the most influential graffiti artists in the history of the movement.
Born in the East New York section of Brooklyn, Dondi was the youngest of fourteen children. He was of African American and Italian American descent. He attended a catholic school during his sophomore years. By 1975, East New York became an unstable region with racial tensions and social conflicts such as the prominence of gangs. In an interview with Zephyr, Dondi stated that he had joined several gangs in the 1970s to avoid being attacked. Anxious to leave high school behind, he earned his GED in 1984, took a job in a government office, and began to indulge his interest in graffiti.
Graffiti became a serious part of Dondi's life in the mid-1970s. He tagged using “NACO” and “DONDI”, and worked on refining his style, gradually moving from simple tagging to building more elaborate pieces. Using the name Dondi (a version of his own name) was considered very risky at the time, as the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the New York police were trying to crack down on writers. In 1979, Dondi officially adopted his name when he painted a giant piece on the roof of his house.
He became a member of TOP crew (The Odd Partners) in 1977. In 1978, Dondi formed his own crew, named CIA (Crazy Inside Artists), which included other prominent artists such as his good friend DURO, CRASH, DOC and RASTA. For the next 20-odd years, Dondi became recognized as the stylistic standard, influencing a generation of graffiti writers.
Dondi pioneered many of the styles and techniques still used by modern graffiti artists. Though he would often do wildstyle pieces for the benefit of other writers (like the famous 2MANY piece), he wanted the public to be able to read and enjoy his work, so he would focus on readable letters with intricate fills and characters.
His most famous work was Children of the Grave Parts 1, 2 and 3—three whole cars on the New York subway in the years 1978–1980. The name of the piece was taken from a Black Sabbath song. Journalist Martha Cooper filmed the final piece from start to finish. On this last piece, Dondi adopted the cartoon characters from the late Vaughn Bode. It was a dream-come-true for Dondi, who was building his reputation as a graffiti writer. He later painted a version of "Children of the Grave 3" in a studio.
He was the first graffiti artist to have a one-man show in the Netherlands and Germany, and his work is collected by European museums.
Dondi died of AIDS on October 2, 1998.
Dondi had no children but left behind hundreds of paintings and drawings, the ownership of which is still being disputed. Zephyr, IZ the Wiz, Doc and Keo painted tribute murals between 1998-2000. In 2007 Dondi was featured on a Converse shoe as part of the Product Red project.
The glass-pipe artist Marbleslinger features a Dondi stencil on a series of pieces from 2008.
Exhibitions and appearances
- Martha Cooper and the Radiant Children (1979)
- Esses Studio (1980)
- New York/New Wave (1981)
- Fun Gallery (1982)
- New York City Rap Tour (1982)
- Yaki Kornblit Gallery (1983)
- Fun Gallery (2) (1983)
- Museum Boijmans - Van Beuningen (1983)
- European Museum Shows (1983–85)
- 56 Bleecker Gallery (1987)
- The Rempire Show (1992)
- Groninger Museum Retrospective (1992)
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