An early "panel-piece" artist, he developed jagged-edged "crunched" lettering with a "reverse-rainbow" color scheme, well before the late-70s emergence of "wildstyle" graffiti art. Something of a purist, he painted subway trains and tunnel walls illegally, stole his spray-cans as a rule, and never sold canvases or other commercial graffiti art for profit (despite being a successful professional graphic artist). He was never caught or arrested for graffiti. His 32nd train piece graces the cover of Subway Art, Henry Chalfant's seminal photo book on New York City graffiti art.
KITE began tagging on walls and billboards on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, using squash-tipped markers with permanent ink. He soon fell in with a crew of teen writers calling themselves the Underground (UND), who staked out the Zoo York Tunnel running beneath the Central Park Zoo as their "clubhouse". (This tunnel, where extensions of the Broadway BMT and Sixth Avenue IND lines merged underneath Central Park, housed four tracks on two levels, which curved underneath the zoo and out below Fifth Avenue to the 63rd Street Line; dubbed "Zoo York" by UND co-founder ALI, it served as a gathering point for early Central Park-based graffiti artists from 1971 through 1973.)
CRUNCH, as KITE, tagged his first moving subway car in the summer of 1972. Two years later, he changed his tag to LAKE (containing the same hard "K" and idyllic imagery as KITE), and progressed to the use of "Uni-Wides" and "Midi-Wides" drenched with opaque inks in every color of the spectrum. To his credit, as LAKE, he was one of the earliest graffiti writers to shun the popular "black plague" carpet-bombing of subway car interiors in favor of multi-color "ribbon" tags, an effect created by "edging" the broad felt blades of wide-markers with contrasting colors straight from the nozzles of Flo-Master ink-cans.
He reserved his heavier weaponry— spray-paint like Krylon and Red Devil topped with "fat caps" (wide-nozzles stolen off orally nitrous-depleted whipped-cream cans)—for exterior traincar sides, abandoned stations (i.e., West 91st and East 18th Streets), and tunnels like "Zoo York" and the "Freedom Tunnel" of the New York Central Railroad running underneath Riverside Park.
In the autumn of 1974, he was beknighted "The Crunch" -- a play on his actual surname -- after knocking out rival DOC with a kick to the head. The name stuck: it had the hard sound he liked, a good run of letters to play with, and, best of all, it was earned in the street, not egotistically devised. Trained in by elders including ALI and LSD-3, CRUNCH started solo-bombing the Broadway and CPW locals, later teaming up with a succession of running buddies and graffiti crews. By pickpocketing drunk-on-the-job yard-masters, he gained illegal possession of all six major NYC subway keys: both IRT conductor and end-door keys; both IND/BMT conductor and end-door keys; and both of the Transit Authority's Master Lock #375 and #400 subway station keys -- gaining him unimpeded access to Manhattan trains, stations and railyards.
Adhering to the strict code of true subway artists, he never tagged or painted temples, churches or mosques or defaced private property, and frowned upon the widely accepted practice of "getting up" on MTA buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles, which he considered the folly of "toys" (talentless wannabes). In CRUNCH's esteem, trains, their stations and tunnels, and of course one's own guarded turf, were the only "legitimate" canvases for street and subway graffiti.
His ritual was to steal his cans in the morning; spend the day at leisure (often snoozing atop the old Wisteria Pergola behind the Central Park Bandshell); attend rock concerts, parties, or both, in the evening; then go clubbing downtown until the magic hour of 2am, when he would proceed, alone or with one or two cohorts, to the uptown yards or lay-ups where the trains slept. Often as not, daybreak found him and his boys covered in soot and spitting rainbows, collapsed on a subway station bench, watching in numb satisfaction as their newly-emblazoned cars thundered by (hopefully waking up the suits and other urban zombies who rode the drab subways to their 9-to-5 jobs).
An ongoing game of "points" was often tallied at these reflective moments: 1 point for an artful exterior tag; 2 points for a two-tone "throw-up"; 3-5 points (depending on colors and quality) for a "panel piece" between passenger doors; 6-10 for a below-windows "end-to-end"; 10 and up for a "T2B/E2E" (a top-to-bottom, end-to-end, full-car masterpiece); and up to 25 points off for an incomplete piece (meaning the artist had been run off by authorities or a rival gang, and had failed to return and complete it -- "conduct unbecoming" in the wargame of nocturnal hit-and-run raids which set subway "bombing" completely apart from the safe and cozy "home artistry" of toylers). The writer with the highest score -- whoever was "up" the most at any given moment -- was "king" of that line, until inevitably "knocked off" by another subway artist.
A close friend of ALI, Johnny Crunch was "master-of-arms" of ALI's Soul Artists while Futura 2000 was away in the military. CRUNCH and ALI enjoyed raiding the yards toting the former's fully-automatic 9mm greasegun, which Ali dubbed the "Ratchet" in reference to lyrics from Jimmy Cliff's tune, "Johnny You're Too Bad" ("Walking down the street with a rachet in your hand,/Johnny you're too bad...") Crunch also wrote with SIE-1, Haze (when he was writing SE-3), Revolt and Zephyr, among other contemporary luminaries. He befriended SAMO (Jean-Michel Basquiat), when the latter was crashing on Ali's couch. He also made the early acquaintance of a guy he came across in stations in the dead of night, who drew cryptic characters in chalk on the ad spaces along subway platforms, which got posted-over with black paper between paid advertisements: a young artist named Keith Haring.
A member of numerous graffiti crews from the early 1970s into the 1980s, Johnny Crunch laid up his cans at age 21, his philosophy being that at some point one gets too old for such frolic. He spent most of the 1980s in a heroin-induced stupor before hanging up drugs altogether in 1986.
CRUNCH was a member of several prominent crews, including: