“Before New York City made graffiti world famous, BLADE was one of the people who made it famous in New York.”
– Roger Gastman
BLADE (nee Steven Ogburn; January 23rd, 1957) tagged his first train in New York city when Hondo 1 took him to Baychester layup in the Bronx to paint in 1972. By 1974 he was painting full cars. By the time he moved on to new art forms, he’d painted on 5,000 trains on the New York Subway. He as the ‘King of Graffiti’.
Each paintings was planned. His invention and use of style caught the attention of photographers such as Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. When graffiti art moved into uptown art galleries in the early 1980s, BLADE began to work on canvas, exhibiting his work in museums. With that came mainstream recognition and two monographs. Un-commissioned art was now for sale.
Gallery 98 has a fabulous collection of Blade’s work and ephemera – much of which is for sale.
Graffiti in one form another has been found on ancient Roman, Pompeian, and Mayan architecture. Modern graffiti began in Philadelphia in the mid- to late 1960s as a form of activist expression and as a way for street gangs to mark their territory. By the early 1970s, it had made its way to New York City and quickly became a phenomenon.
In 1981 the P.S.1 Gallery in New York staged the now New York/New Wave exhibition which showed the BLADE and other graffiti artists, including DONDI, SEEN, and LEE. BLADE also exhibited at the Fun Gallery in Manhattan, co-founded by Patti Astor.
She recall how the artists liked to be known as writers:
It was a sadly sweet comment on society that the artists chose to call themselves “writers.” One artist meeting another would ask, “What do you write?” i.e. what is your graffiti name? It was logical, as much of the subject matter consisted of words, i.e. their “tags,” or graffiti names, but also a reaction from the kids the New York City educational system had given up on long ago.…
Graffiti began to decorate the neighborhood.
Jean Michel Basquiat and his partner Al Diaz had begun the trend with their political SAMO© sayings, i.e. “Build a fort, burn it down.” All of the downtowners developed tags (even me), and the crumbling walls of the East Village became a gigantic outdoor bulletin board.
– Gallery owner Patti Astor
I started writing graffiti in early 1972 with Hondo1, Fresco, Dr. Sex and Camaro 170. My name ‘Blade’ comes from the fact that I always carried my box cutter to work and to gang fights. I was only 15 in 1972 so I always wrote Blade!
Because I was doing graffiti from the beginning there were no graffiti influences – we learned as we went along. I painted my first character in November 1974 (Easel Man & Snowman). Back then the security in train yards was not so tough. I started writing on mail trucks with Chino1 in 1972, then the buses, then the outside of trains. I did the insides of trains later.
I got my paint from hardware stores and I racked up all over the city [racking means stealing paint]. In the beginning we would make sketches in school; I sketched until 1980 but many times we we’d go out to paint I would freestyle. My style evolved because I dream in color! My mind has always drifted through space (which you can see in my work).
The golden age of graffiti was 1970-1975 because that was the start in NYC! At the start there were no masterpieces, only single hits [bombs] and tags. Masterpieces developed in the summer of 1972; graffiti just got bigger and bigger and now it exists around the whole world.
In terms of styles, I created overlapping 3D letters in 1975 and Blockbuster Letters in 1977.
Many of his street artworks are documented in the book Subway Art. You can also read King of Graffiti by graffiti artist Chris Pepe aka FREEDOM. You can check out his own website here.
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