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Middle-aged graffiti elders are still picking up the spray

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(31 Jul 2012) LEADIN: Graffiti art was a radical form of expression that changed the landscape of New York's streets in the 1970s and 80s. Three decades on, many of the original graffiti artists are still spray painting their feelings and creating art on New York's streets despite their middle-aged responsibilities. STORYLINE: In torn jeans and saddled with a black backpack, Andrew Witten glances up and down the street for police, and then whips out his black marker pen and scribbles "Zephyr" on a wall. Witten was part of a generation of urban latchkey kids who spray-painted their initials all over Manhattan in the 1970s and '80s. Now the artistic rebels that transformed the city's urban landscape, and art scene are coming of age - middle age, that is. But the 51-year-old single father is having trouble putting away his spray paint can. Now revered as a graffiti elder, Witten says it is the only time he feels free. "I'm chronologically old to be out there doing it. I'm sure I can't run quite as fast. But it's the only time that I feel completely free actually," he says. Witten built a reputation as a master at spray-painting extravagant graffiti pieces on freight and subway trains, called train-bombing, in the neighbourhoods 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 he is all too aware of the consequences of being caught by the police for expressing himself on public property when he is a single father caring for his daughter. "I'm ready. I could go tonight. But I have to be pragmatic and look at the benefits if I go tonight and the risks. And because of my daughter that wouldn't be the responsible thing to do because she needs her father and in jail I'm not much use as a father," he says. 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. On a tour of past works of graffiti, Witten says something from 1994 is a rarity: usually work would be spray painted over, or cleaned away. 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. "Well she's a big fan of graffiti but she has her own name for it which is 'crazy art' which she came up with on her own," he says. 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 last year. For decades, 45-year-old Ortiz, has been known on Manhattan's Lower East Side as LA Roc. 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. The streets are his canvasses he says. He usually scribbles with black marker pen, "LA Roc", and was doing this when he was caught by police. 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. Graffiti documentary maker and photographer Henry Chalfant looks back at Ortiz's heyday as a revolutionary time period in street art. You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/9fb502f92abaa42706c49d1f08967133 Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork
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Text Comments (59)
Mr Sully (30 days ago)
Im 35 w/ a family and own biz. I cant see myself not painting or throwing up tags....
Brough Jidus (1 month ago)
im an old 80s tagger. I have a young daughter too. one night i lost it and jumped the 8 ft wall of our complex and did a massive 7 ft piece on that wall. it was painted over the next day.....
CYRUS GRAHAM (2 months ago)
Zephyr is Legendary.
Michael Andrade (2 months ago)
Age doesn't matter just be smart like 007 anything is possible I'm a father too my culture is graffity
Pat Donnelly (2 months ago)
coolest, nicest guy ever!!!
Mario Geis (3 months ago)
Zephyr tags are like Reconvillier
Joey 9 (4 months ago)
His voice never changed.
Sam Zigo (4 months ago)
Can we please stop talking about these piece of shit vandals as artists? I found nothing beautiful in destruction of public property.
Phillip Banks (4 months ago)
Johnny b and Chrissy was all over in the 80s
Josh Done (5 months ago)
One of my favorite writers ever. Zephyr. LA Rock I've met and have him in my 1984 era, Fun Gallery blackbook.
Shut Up (5 months ago)
Where do i see myself in 30 years??
dusty bornfree (7 months ago)
Beat Supreme (7 months ago)
zeph's tags always ice cold C L E E E E E E A N
true legend unique style love seeing his master pieces back in the day AWESOME
Erick Rishel (8 months ago)
Respect ZEPHYR
Catch Wreck (8 months ago)
Brad Jennings (9 months ago)
Edwin Meijer (10 months ago)
Zeph's tag is art in itself
Carrot (11 months ago)
Where do you get them pens from?
A X (7 months ago)
carlitocacf (1 year ago)
Old school is always rockin shit.
Michael Colon (1 year ago)
peace 2 my peeps. Rist.1.Top in Da House!
Michael Colon (1 year ago)
Zeph did his thing. True Kings of NYC
SCORPIONS STING (1 year ago)
No doubt, Zephyr is a living legend. All City Artist. Still the best, your art never gets old.
Higinio Perez (1 year ago)
Age is only a number I'm almost 50 and I never stop tagging and bombing is who we are
dirty sprite (1 year ago)
Respect coming from a younger generation
Donovan Spaanstra (1 year ago)
victor castillo 46 here and same thing Keep it on
victor castillo (1 year ago)
Higinio Perez
Paul Singer (1 year ago)
Eddie Lopez (1 year ago)
props im old 2 but still bombin 37 years old still active
Red Hood (1 year ago)
old school writer.. legend
Skinny Penis (1 year ago)
Gotta work on speed.. But dope tag 👌🏻
Coconut Head (3 months ago)
Omg hahahahha
TOP CAT (4 months ago)
Skinny Penis u must be a troll😂😂😂😂
Polish Sausage (11 months ago)
Skinny Penis 😂😂😂😂 are you really telling ZEPHYR that he needs improvement?
iamknosound (1 year ago)
Zephyr ...top 3 tags of all time.
kagyu1 (10 months ago)
123oner of classic New York where everyone had to be original ? Slip 3, Rasta, Blade added to Zephyr. Late era... Flite TDS. Everything after 1990 is a bite .
123oner (1 year ago)
Nice man, i'll have to check Smash out, only know the Swiss one.
123oner (1 year ago)
Twist is a good shout my friend
iamknosound (1 year ago)
Wow tough call. I had a feeling this question would arise. Being from Pittsburgh, my homie Smash from the mid 80's would be #2. Number one...I will need a bit of time on that one.
Ros Ko (1 year ago)
YEEEESSSS! I love the flow and energy in that guys hand! TWIST from SF is up there too as far as the greats go.
Nigmatics (2 years ago)
That "Zeph" piece is in Jersey City. I think it finally got buffed after all these years.
Nigmatics (26 days ago)
Tyler T dope. I’ll look for it next time I’m out there
Nigmatics (26 days ago)
LAUW huh?
Tyler T (3 months ago)
I actually saw it about 2 weeks ago still there
LAUW (4 months ago)
Nigmatics you sound happy about it ? 😕
Johnny Biggunz (2 years ago)
respect to LAROC!!!.. OGEE.. I remember him back in the 80s having the lower east side bomb!!!!
Johnny Biggunz (2 years ago)
respect to LAROC!!!.. OGEE.. I remember him back in the 80s having the lower east side bomb!!!!
DU0ZA (2 years ago)
its zepho!
Olcay Kılınç (2 years ago)
ı love you zephyr :)
Ja Mor (2 years ago)
where's the rest??
tft666 (3 years ago)
where can you see the whole of this documentary. seems this is just an outtake.
redart webbski (3 years ago)
damn that Zypher tag always was one of the best handstyles, and to this day!
Ronaldo Gutierrez (4 months ago)
Even his pieces. Somple but hella funky. Frash af
CReKKKKKKK (3 years ago)
+redart webbski (Skabbymuff) Zephyr !!
Chipatu Mwasinga (3 years ago)
I'm out for fame
DFEKT Official (3 years ago)
Respect to all the old head's here. Good to see. Loving that throwie over cope haha.
MrSeedofdeath (2 years ago)
+DFEKT Official My good brotha PRT did that... #RFCNYC

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