Today, at 6;14 P.M. Wayne Roberts drew his last breath. He had been fighting a debilitating battle with cirrhosis of the liver, which ultimately took him from this world. Born on October, 20th 1950, Wayne held the distinction of being graffiti’s elder statesman dating back to the artform’s infancy. Wayne’s Stay High 149 tag is my favorite ever for both it’s style and spirit and his smoking stick figure ,co-opted from the 60’s “The Saint” TV show remains graffiti’s most enduring icon. Handwriting is the root of our culture and evolved before piecing crossed anyone’s mind.
During the nascent pre-masterpiece era Stay High 149’s tags mesmerized thousands of would be followers , myself included. In his hands, markers were transformed into magic wands and the insides of trains became his gallery. Two and three tone rainbow colored flo-master uni-wide renditions of his “voice of the ghetto” tags raised the stylistic bar higher than anyone else could ever reach. He battled addictions through most of his adult life, disappearing from 1976 -2000.
His re-emergence worthy of a NY Times article, introduced him to a new generation of fans. It was during this time that I met and got to know Wayne. What impressed me most was his humility. Modesty and graff are almost mutually exclusive, but Wayne Roberts radiated kindness and humility. The Voice of the Ghetto spoke loudly and eloquently and a whole generation listened.Simply put, he was the truth. He is the type of figure who will be written about in art history books a hundred years from now. My condolences to his daughter, Michelle and son Dwayne. Your father was my hero.
Text: Terror 161
Photo: Martha Cooper