(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.
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.
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