ART: Remembering Graffiti Icon ‘STAYHIGH 149’

PHOTO CREDIT: ALESSANDRO ZUEK SIMONETTI

PHOTO CREDIT: ALESSANDRO ZUEK SIMONETTI

I live in the Bronx and pass through E. 149th Street and Grand Concourse often enough to spot graffiti by people I may never get a chance to meet and find out what’s their story. Today, I learned that Wayne “STAYHIGH 149” Roberts died from complications of liver disease at a Bronx hospital earlier this week. I wish I could have talked with him at some point in his lifetime. Roberts, considered a legend and pioneering 1970s graffiti writer, returned to the art scene in 2000 following a 25-year hiatus. Last year, the 61-year-old’s artwork was featured in Gallery 69’s “From Trains & Walls to NYC Art Exhibition Show” in New York.

“Wayne was one of the original guys and really did a lot in the world of graffiti,” says Steve Cornell of Gallery 69. “He was the embodiment of cool. He was very laid-back, no ego, no B.S. I always got along great with him … but he was kind of a tortured soul.”

A visit to Roberts’ official Web site gives a glimpse of where “STAYHIGH 149” was coming from and how he got his start. His bio states Roberts was raised in the Bronx and “grew up at a time when the social unrest of the streets resulted in riots. In 1971, he started writing STAYHIGH along the Grand Concourse, and he quickly added the street number he lived on – 149. STAYHIGH’s style evolved rapidly and in 1972, he added the final element to his signature: the ‘Smoker.’ The classic STAYHIGH tag had been formed and to this day most writers agree that it was the best tag ever.”

In 1973, author Norman Mailer teamed up with photographer Jon Naar to produce “The Faith of Graffiti,” which examines the birth of the street art movement in New York City. The book documents graffiti’s importance in modern urban culture. One of the young graffiti writers appearing prominently in the book was “STAYHIGH 149.”

Recommended:

‘Stay High 149’ official Web site: http://www.stayhigh149.com/

“The Faith of Graffiti”: http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061961700

New York Times obit on Wayne Roberts aka ‘Stay High 149’: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/nyregion/wayne-roberts-stay-high-149-in-graffiti-circles-is-dead-at-61.html

@149st-The Cyber Bench: http://www.at149st.com/index.html

Gallery 69: http://nygallery69.com/

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