Astoria’s Steinway Street Paved with golden graffiti
Most people consider graffiti an eyesore. But that hasn’t stopped Astoria jeweler Larry Lakhati from taking the street art and turning it into gold. His shop, Yogi Lala at 30-07 Steinway St., specializes in 14-karat, graffiti-style nameplates and rings. At $90-$250 a piece, they are among his most popular items with more than 200 sold over the past two years.
“We are the only people doing graffiti-style jewelry,” the 64 year-old Indian immigrant said. “This is artwork. It’s not destroying someone’s property.” Lakhati, who has been in business for more than 26 years, has been a graffiti enthusiast since the 1980’s, when he formed a unique partnership with the legendary subway muralist Eddie Caine, or “Caine 1.”
“He was known to be the No. 1 graffiti artist in the United States,” said Lakhati’s son, JT, who works with his father in the shop. Caine, a Queens resident who died in the mid-80’s, had the dubious distinction of being the first to spray-paint an entire subway train in 1976. He became friendly with Lakhati in the early 80’s, when the young man offered to throw up a mural on the front of Yogi Lala’s security gate. The piece, a surrealistic purple and blue castle in the sky behind two black elephants straddling a rainbow, has adorned the storefront untounched for more than 20 years. Lakhati liked it so much that he commissioned Caine to design artwork for the T-shirts and leather jackets he sold over the counter until a few years ago.
After Caine died, Lakhati hooked up with the artist’d protégé, PC Kid, who gave him the idea of graffiti-inspired jewelry. He began selling custom designs with little fanfare about two years ago, quickly building a client base through word of mouth. Most customers are in their teens or 20’s, Lakhati said, and orders take about 10 days to process. PC Kid, a master of a handful of graffiti styles, sketches about three designs for each name –m from classic bubble and block letters to nearly illegible “wildstyle” renderings that look like twisted calligraphy. After the customer picks a favorite, Lakhati has it etched on gold plate, which is cut out and detailed by hand at his workshop in Manhattan. The most expensive works are iced with diamonds. The piece “are very popular,” Lakhati said. “Not everyone can make it.”