A Graffiti Titan With New York City Cred Is Remembered

The mourners, many of them in middle age, came adorned in sprawling tattoos and wearing crisp Air Jordans. They gathered in Queens on Monday to honor Jason Wulf, a titan of New York’s graffiti movement who was found dead last week next to the third rail in a subway station.

Known for reveling in graffiti’s outlaw origins even as the movement won mainstream renown, Mr. Wulf, 42, was a link to a vanished New York in which teenagers slipped through fences and etched wild letters on the metal husks of subway cars.

“He was the last of the Mohicans,” said Louis Rivera, 50, a longtime friend who also uses the name UTW-U5. “The last of the great graffiti artists that there was.”

At a funeral home on Monday on the corner of Greene and Seneca Avenues, remnants from that old New York reassembled. They introduced each other by the tag names they once painted under bridges and on walls along the Long Island Expressway. But in a sign that the mourners had not resisted the same stabilizing forces that have swept the city clean, many brought along new wives and stories of recently born children.

Like many other longtime graffiti writers, Mr. Wulf, 42, had started to paint canvasses for art shows in New York and overseas, friends said. But even in a city that some fear is growing too antiseptic, Mr. Wulf refused to turn his back on its rougher days. Though many artists now use Facebook to transmit the tags that once traveled through the city on subway cars, Mr. Wulf never sought social media fame.

“He was with the art world,” said Nathan Reid, 50, a member of the Look Out Crew, “but his friends were on the street. That was his crew.”

A small painting of Mr. Wulf’s exuberant graffiti signature adorned his white coffin.

In recent years, Mr. Wulf had adopted some of the trappings of a more settled life. He belonged to a carpenters’ union, friends said, though he had been inactive for some time. He picked up work as a sign painter, too, and spent some evenings cooking with the men who once followed him on nightlong journeys through the city’s rail yards.

Friends remembered him stealing paint from hardware stores and scrambling through the yards. But even as former colleagues abandoned their hard-nosed street lives, Mr. Wulf did not lose his edge. On the day of his death, Wednesday, he had been painting an elaborate piece with an 18-year-old who identified himself only by the tag SY.

“It’s almost like an addiction he had, a fever you can’t shake,” said one of Mr. Wulf’s former protégés, MD1, wearing a shiny graphite suit as he sipped water from a Perrier bottle.

Befitting his old-school personality, friends said, his trademark characters were throwbacks to a simpler time. He painted dogs dressed in Superman costumes and Felix the Cat. He painted sprawling murals that blended clashing colors, and drew characters dressed in pixelated “digital camo” outfits before the Army ever adopted the design.

As the afternoon wake wore down, not far from the funeral home, a 35-year-old artist who uses the name RIME was completing a quirky tribute mural that he said honored “an unconventional guy.” Two cartoon characters, a hat-wearing villain and Porky Pig, floated over a wallpaper of the DG tags that were Mr. Wulf’s signature. The villain offered up a delirious laugh. In the background floated one of Mr. Wulf’s popular sayings: “See you later Crazyman.”

A few moments earlier, RIME had sent a text message to another graffiti artist, GIZ, as he stood outside the funeral home. RIME wanted to know how to express Mr. Wulf’s outsize personality in his painting.

“Yo,” RIME wrote, “how do you spell his laugh?”

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