Monday, June 29, 2009

IZ the Wiz

(video and death notification via Gothamist)

New York City Subway graffiti artist Iz the Wiz died earlier this month. Born Michael Martin, Iz tagged every line more than any artist. He died at 49 June 17 in his brother's home in Florida as the result of a heart attack. Iz suffered severe kidney trouble, which is believed to be the result of inhaling toxic paint fumes and tunnel dust.

Iz is quoted by the Telegraph as referring to his norotoriety with some disdain: "I would trade it all back for perfect health." And though the grafiti and art world is at a loss for losing him, we've probably received a greater gift from his work than he ever realized. And I'm saying a lot, because Iz appeared in 1983's Style Wars and Wild Style, and videogame Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.

Iz's career in 1972 at the age of 14. He worked his way through each subway line, sometimes completing up to, or more than, 100 throw-ups a night. Iz sometimes worked alone, covering the full length of a train, covering the area from top to bottom (see above video), but he sometimes worked with other artists, covering the entire surface of a subway car. (You can read an interview detailing more here.) When MTA took a hard line in the 80s to these infractions, Iz took on freight trains and (presumably blank) wall space in Queens. The following decade Iz was "instrumental in the development of the Phun factory as a place where writers could paint legally, allowing many writers to emerge from retirement."


I can't endorse this activity—it is illegal, and for good reasons, plus bad grafitti brings down the value of the property people are riding, and degrades the image of transit—but I can certainly appreciate Iz's work, both as a amaetur artist myself, a serios transity rider, and hip hop culture enthusiast (is there a better way to say that and sound less pretentious?). I know my favorite stretches on the Light Rail were over and under bridges, when the sun shone brights, illuminating the city, and large stretches of brightly painted concrete.

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