LAST WEEK 30-something Jonone spent two nights holed up in a designer clothes shop in Causeway Bay. Once the last customer left, he locked up, shoved a couple of racks of clothes out of the way and covered the floor with sheets of plastic. Then he got down to doing what he does best: graffiti. Jonone has been splashing walls with paint for more than 20 years. But when he started, as a 16-year-old in New York's roughest neighbourhood, he never thought that he would find himself doing the same thing on the other side of the world for fashion label Agnes B. Jonone was born John Perello in 1963. His family was poor and his prospects, as a Hispanic youth in Harlem, were not good. 'Most Hispanic kids like myself, we either ended up in jail or in rehabilitation centres. New York at the time was controlled by yuppies, we felt like we were invisible,' he said. Tired of walking into shops and being followed as though he were a thief, he decided to stamp his mark on the world and began writing his name on walls - and then trains. What began as a simple tag line, his signature, soon developed into a series of designs. He was not alone - there was a network of underground graffiti artists - and he soon joined them. They did not see their work as vandalism, but as a community service, providing art for all, and a way of affirming their identities. 'People kept trying to tell me what to do and I just wanted to be free. My work was a way of saying 'I am here. I am alive',' Jonone said. Life was hard, but he was lucky to have the support of his parents and to be part of a circle of artists to share his ideas with. But by 23 he had itchy feet and wanted to go to Paris where graffiti was in full swing. He arrived in Paris with no money and began painting on canvases, rather than just walls, so that he could sell his work. Money was hard to come by in Paris, but he did meet the famous graffiti artist Brando, who introduced him to other fellow artists Delta, Mode, BBC and Loomit - all of whom went on to become leading names in European graffiti. 'I have never seen myself as a traditional artist. When I go to art museums in Paris, I don't have the culture to understand the paintings of the great masters, like Monet. Graffiti was the only thing that ever spoke to me,' he said. As Jonone earned a name for himself with his artistic style and began to sell his paintings more regularly, so life became easier. 'People started to respect me when I started making money, but my art has always been the same. I'm an artist, life will always be full of ups and downs,' he said. And if his commissions dry up, if people stop buying his paintings, what will he do? 'I would just go back onto the street, find a good wall and start painting. I will always find someone who likes what I do,' Jonone said. If you want to see Jonone's most recent work in Hong Kong, go to the shops in Causeway Bay (2-4 Kingston Street), Tsim Sha Tsui (26 Canton Road) or Pacific Place (The Mall, Shop 223), Admiralty.