“I find it beautiful, that’s why I do it” – Wayne Roberts
As graffiti legends of the past enter into the winter of their lives and pass on, I am kicking myself that I didn’t venture into the study of graffiti art earlier. Just as I mourned the deaths of Frank Sinatra and Richard Pryor, as an aspiring actress I felt a sense of loss that I’d never get the opportunity to meet or work with these legends if I ever did “make it big,” I also feel a sense of loss with the death of graffiti artist I’ll never meet.
I’m not a graffiti artist, but I am a journalist who is hopelessly fascinated by graffiti culture. When I learned of the death of renowned graffiti writer, Wayne Roberts, I realized this would be yet another stone left unturned in my journey into the world of graffiti.
For artists, graffiti writing is a skill sometimes born of necessity; to develop a sense of belonging in a group, to hone ones God-given talents, to have a connection with someone because mom works long hours or dad was never there, to stay out of trouble, for comradery, for the thrill of it… the list goes on. For Wayne “Stay High 149” Roberts, graffiti may have been an escape from the struggles of growing up in a single parent home; just as he used marijuana to fly above the hassles of life. For authorities, Wayne Roberts’ aerosol etchings were a nuisance and a crime, but for fellow artists, Roberts’ tags were heroic.
Perhaps too humble to see himself as a hero, Roberts, who was inspired by TAKI 183 and PRAY, eventually graduated from ganja to heroine. He was most likely still trying to escape from the demons of his past, all the while parenting a son and daughter and being a husband.
Long after Roberts’ halted his infamous “Stay High 149” tag, the veil of secrecy over this former idol was lifted, after a graffiti exhibition in the year 2000 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where his work was being featured. His tagging ways were revived after being bombarded with the adoration of fans he didn’t know existed.
Roberts’ drug use resulted in liver disease, a disease that killed him at the age of 61 in June of this year. During Roberts’ absence from the graffiti scene for over 20 years, his tags and artwork continued to inspire other graffiti writers. In death, Roberts will undoubtedly be a muse to fledgling artists who paint their monikers with the hopes of becoming the next legend. And for me, a young blogger who fantasizes of experiencing graffiti in its heyday; train cars spray canned from top to bottom with elaborate art, artists sneaking into abandoned buildings just to for the chance to place their characters and names on plain brick walls, Wayne Roberts and the artists of his generation will represent the days of original graffiti art. Oh to be in the midst of it all.
To: all the history makers dead and gone. To: Wayne Roberts, a true graffiti king.