|1970s New York graffiti artists still have urge to tag |
Graffiti artist Angel "LA II" Ortiz, 45, poses for photos with one of his creations, in a schoolyard on New York's Lower East Side. A number of New York's graffiti artists of the 1970s and '80s still have the urge to tag. AP Photo/Richard Drew.
By: Bonny Ghosh, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP).- In torn jeans and saddled with a black backpack, Andrew Witten glances up and down the street for police. The 51-year-old then whips out a black marker scribbles "Zephyr" on a wall covered with movie posters. He admires his work for a few seconds before his tattooed arms reach for his daughter, holding her hand as he briskly walks away.
Witten and a generation of urban latchkey kids who spray-painted their initials all over Manhattan in the 1970s and '80s and landed in the city's street art scene are coming of age middle age, that is.
And like Witten, a 51-year-old single father, some street artists considered now to be graffiti elders are having trouble putting away their spray paint cans. As Witten says, "I'm ready. I could go tonight."
"I'm chronologically old to be out there doing it," Witten admits with a playful smile. "I'm sure I can't run quite as fast."
Witten built a reputation as a master at spray-painting extravagant graffiti pieces on freight and subway trains, called train-bombing, in the neighborhoods where he now teaches his 6-year-old daughter, Lulu, to skateboard. For him, spray-painting other people's property with his nickname, or tag, is almost an addiction, and danger is part of the drug. Crawling under barbed wire, ducking from police officers, even being shot at is all part of the experience.
But with an artist's heart, Witten describes painting graffiti in more poetic terms. He calls it a freeing experience, in which the silence of night gives way to the hiss and mist of the spray rising into the moonlight.
Angel Ortiz recently served 41 days of a 50-day sentence in the Rikers Island jail system after being busted for spraying his tag, LA Roc, on a billboard in March of last year. For decades, Ortiz, 45, has been known on Manhattan's Lower East Side as LA II. A traumatic loss of a girlfriend brought him out of a 14-year hiatus from graffiti writing. He has since been caught three times spraying his tag on property, each time while walking a friend's dog.
"Everywhere that dog stopped to pee I would write my name," Ortiz says. "The streets were like my canvases. I just started writing my name everywhere."
When a pair of police officers smelled the fresh paint and nabbed Ortiz, they asked if he saw himself as too old to be doing graffiti. But even now, Ortiz keeps a spray can or marker in his pocket to satisfy that incessant itch to tag mailboxes, signs and fire hydrants.
Ortiz often recalls those golden days in the '80s, when graffiti became the focal point of the counterculture art world and he partied with Madonna and Andy Warhol. He still lives in the neighborhood where a young art school dropout named Keith Haring showed up at his doorstep in cutoff jeans and glasses asking about his tagging style.
Graffiti documentarian and photographer Henry Chalfant looks back at Ortiz's heyday as a revolutionary time period in street art.
"The culture is gone really," Chalfant says. "The culture that was alive in the '70s and '80s doesn't exist anymore."
Artists gleaned the raw style off street kids, while tunnel-hopping graffiti writers honed in on their artistic abilities to be commercially successful. It was a time when graffiti tagging exploded into battles over the artists who could produce the most visually edgy, elaborate murals in the most dangerous, inaccessible places without getting caught.
Chalfant says change came when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority took over the New York regional train system and manufacturers started to build paint-resistant trains. Police also aggressively cracked down on graffiti in the '80s and '90s.
"The whole scene has evolved to something beyond just writing your name," Chalfant points out. "Artists are making comments about culture, about society. It's a personal vision of an artist."
Ortiz now spends his days painting, peddling his art to galleries and buyers. He never quite rose to the level of fame as some of his graffiti counterparts, and the appetite for graffiti art has diminished in the U.S. art world.
Long past Haring's death, Ortiz claims he rarely gets credit for the collaborations he and Haring did together, although his LA Roc tags are displayed on numerous Haring pieces.
Witten's brush with fame now often comes with his freelance art writing and his sporadic visits to his daughter's school, where he teaches her classmates how to draw. Lulu knows her father draws "crazy art," a term she picked up from seeing graffiti on trains.
From time to time, the thought of spending a few hours in a deserted freight yard still crosses Witten's mind. Taking into consideration his daughter, he won't admit if he still train-bombs. But he won't say he doesn't, either.
"I'll decide when I'm too old," he says. "Fortunately, there's no forced retirement in graffiti."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
July 30, 2012
Exhibition of Flemish and Dutch Caravaggism on view at Musée des Augustins in Toulouse
Christie's announces third edition of the contemporary art in editions fair: Multiplied
The Estate of Bruno Giacometti to be sold at Christie's in Zurich to benefit children's hospitals
Sydney "grunge" painter Adam Cullen, winner of the prestigious Archibald Prize, died at age 47
American classics, such as a 1930 Duesenberg, top RM's $6.8 million Michigan sale
Fotomuseum Winterthur explores the current state of the document and documentary image in exhibition
Major exhibition of photographs of Muhammad Ali on view at Forman's Smokehouse Gallery in London
Carnival: Caribbean grandeur comes alive at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
Unique film installation by Neil Jordan to be shown at IMMA at National Concert Hall
United Federation of Doll Clubs: Black cloth dolls growing in collector popularity
National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma debuts art biennale, prizes for weather in art
Colonial African-American stoneware artists, stolen, hidden, now rediscovered
Monumental sized paintings by Sean Scully on view at Valencian Institute for Modern Art
Inaugural Art Southampton proves to be game changer on Hamptons art scene
"Accidentally on Purpose" exhibition opens at QUAD Derby
1970s New York graffiti artists still have urge to tag
COLOROPHIL: Nomad cool-down at Reinisch Contemporary
Old Master exhibition at the Flint Institute of Arts drawing statewide visitation
Design September: The annual meeting for designers to host more than 100 cultural events in Brussels
"With and By Nature": New photographs by Hartmut Neumann on view at Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- Investigators analyse ashes taken from the house of one of the suspects as Dutch heist paintings feared burnt
2.- Exhibition of nude photography around 1900 on view at Berlin's Photography Museum
3.- A team of twelve restorers inspect the "Isenheim Altarpiece" at the Unterlinden museum
4.- Russian scientists make rare find of 'blood' in carcass of female woolly mammoth
5.- Taliban criticise Kabul's pink balloon art project by 31-year-old artist from New York
6.- Gagosian Gallery in London presents a group of four tapestries by Gerhard Richter
7.- Archaeologists find Colonial and Pre-hispanic vestiges thought to be 500-1,000 years-old
8.- RM stuns market as Villa Erba sale realises more than $35 million; Ferrari sells for $12,812,800
9.- Indianapolis Museum of Art receives major painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
10.- Newly discovered prisoner journal donated to Auschwitz by widow of US lieutenant Clifford Hensel
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|