OS GÊMEOS in New York Times

August 04 2009 . 06:04am



With their first public artwork in Manhattan, which went up at the northwest corner of Houston Street and the Bowery on July 17, the Brazilian brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, who call themselves Os Gêmeos, bring graffiti art to its Rococo phase. Which is to say that their fantastic, epic mural, on a concrete wall about 17 feet high and about 51 feet long, is light and frothy, a dream of happiness with an underlying chord of melancholy. And everything in it is exquisitely fine-tuned and detailed, a dazzlement of effortless technique that sustains long bouts of close looking. It will remain up until March.

The delicate black lines that thread throughout the entire image like drizzled charcoal dust are feats of spray-can painting. The prismatic color of everything else has a saturation unusual in graffiti art. The sky alone is half a spectrum. It begins with deep blue green at the top and descends through green and chartreuse to a golden, sunbathed yellow that serves as land, water, light, human skin and more.

And the storybook imagery is out of this world, yet not. Sure, people and things often levitate or are impossibly stacked, and the setting is a tad unreal — simultaneously wet and dry, or hard and spongy. But both the subways of New York and the favelas of São Paulo are here, and the figures wear brightly patterned garments (thanks to ingenious small-bore stenciling) that seem truly Brazilian. Plus, there are enough fish to placate the fish lovers of both cities. Sometimes these creatures have scales of many colors. Often they carry something in their mouths, like the bringers of good luck they are supposed to be: radiant little shacks, people or heads, whole figures. It’s magical realism with a touch of grit.

While the onslaught of figures, episodes and colors is at first overwhelming, a casual left-to-right reading suggests some narrative possibilities. Basically what we have here is a tale of escape and growth that begins in darkness and — after taking a few tips from the Bible, Hieronymus Bosch and M. C. Escher — ends in a stunning vortex of brilliant color. At far left, in the gray dimness of a narrow, cell-like space, a small figure strains toward the golden light seeping through a chink in the wall. Wearing pants, a jacket and a girlish scalloped bonnet and shouldering a bag, she’s leaving home, as the song says. A small spotted dog watches from the safety of a tenderly, elaborately wood-grained floor.

Through the chink the golden world awaits, arrayed around and above what seems to be a nearly circular waterfall; it’s a world populated by spirit guides, with or without gills. And it all adds up, or at least it is all visibly linked. You’re supposed to keep going, from one thing to the next, gaining wisdom along the way.

To sketch in some of the action, the connections begin with a boy on a four-poster bed (Dreamland’s point of origin) with a peacock on his back, using a second peacock as an ear trumpet. He listens to a whale whose skin, a mosaic of blues, is dotted with extra eyes. Atop the whale lies a girl (maybe our heroine, but older) so relaxed that the dots on her lavender-pink blouse are rising into the atmosphere like bubbles. The whale’s tail hooks over the rail of a snaking subway track, while the beast itself balances on a stack of three figures teetering on a rope bridge with iffy wood slats (San Luis Rey, anyone?) extending from one side of the waterfall to the other. (Don’t ask.)

Back on the tracks a subway car — the N train — is straddled by a large boy, who has human heads gathered around him like the day’s catch and a galleon on his head. A fish that is also a dirigible on its side is anchored to his hand. (Behind all this stretches a yellow out-of-focus landscape where the hills are faces.)

Next we are in the city where two boys who could be Os Gêmeos (Portuguese for the Twins, which the 35-year-old Pandolfo brothers are) are cramped inside a two-story, two-room house. The tracks continue into a station with an Escher-like mural of bright checkerboards receding to a vanishing point, and also the tag of Dash Snow, a New York graffiti artist who died last month and to whom the mural is dedicated.

The station is also part of a boat (touring the waterfalls?), with plush red seats tufted with yellow faces. At the front of the boat, next to a protective figurehead, sits a knowing young woman looking out at us amid bundles of patterned fabric. She has little houses in her green-and-black hair and wears a blouse whose planetlike dots are, this time, staying put.

The final third of the mural explodes in the rainbow vortex that is fabulously explicit in color but physically indeterminate. Sometimes it is a beach at low tide, sometimes a prison wall, sometimes quicksand, at least for a figure carrying a grandfather clock. Also here is a small Trojan horse (or maybe a mule), which brings back the lovely wood grain in warmer colors. Its neck is open and forms a double cameo for the faces of a boy and girl.

This telling omits many wonderful details. One of the best is front and nearly center in the image: a boy who seems to sit on a waterspout, wearing a fish mask and a T-shirt that is one of the painting’s best moments. It depicts a landscape: note the white stenciled stone wall, the changing greens of the tiny stenciled trees, the golden setting sun. It is an idyll of pastoral, escape-from-the-city living, cottage and all.

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Michael Martin, Subway Graffiti Artist Iz the Wiz, Is Dead at 50

June 30 2009 . 04:23pm

Michael Martin, known as Iz the Wiz, was a prolific embellisher of New York subway cars, including this one painted in 1982.

Source: NYTIMES.com

In the 1970s and ’80s, chances were good that anyone traveling the New York subways rode at least once in a car emblazoned with “Iz the Wiz.” Cryptic but euphonious, often abbreviated to the ultraminimal Iz, the signature could be seen all over the subway system: fat capital letters spray-painted on a door, below a window, across an entire car or even along the full length of a train. 

Mr. Martin in 1982. His signature was inspired by a poster for the musical “The Wiz.”

Iz the Wiz was a legend among graffiti artists, by almost all accounts “the longest-reigning all-city king in N.Y.C. history,” as the graffiti Web site at149st.com puts it. In other words, Iz put his name, or tag, on subway cars running on every line in the system more times than any other artist.

Michael Martin — Iz the Wiz — died on June 17 in Spring Hill, Fla., where he had moved a few years ago. He was 50. The cause was a heart attack, said Ed Walker, who is working on a biography and documentary of Iz the Wiz.

“Look at any movie shot on location in New York from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and you will very likely see an Iz tag,” Mr. Walker said. “He told me once that in 1982 he went out every night and did at least a hundred throw-ups” — letters filled in quickly with a thin layer of color. “People can’t fathom it.”

Not everyone was appreciative. His career put him on the wrong side of the law — he was issued summonses on several occasions — and of New Yorkers who regarded graffiti as vandalism, not art. But he was a hero to generations of taggers. Mr. Martin started out spraying graffiti on walls and buildings when he was 14, using the tags Scat or FCN, for French Canadian National, although he was not Canadian. He soon graduated to subway cars, specializing in the A line, the longest in the New York subway system. He painted his first cars with the tag Ike — his nickname, Mike, minus the first letter.

In 1975, in the 68th Street Station of the Lexington Avenue line, he saw a poster for the Broadway play “The Wiz” with the slogan, “The Wiz Is a Wow.” It had a certain ring. “He said, ‘If the Wiz is a Wow, why can’t Iz be the Wiz?’ ” his friend and fellow graffiti artist SAR (real name, Charles Sar) recalled in a telephone interview last week.

With the graffiti artist Vinny, Mr. Martin mounted an intensive throw-up campaign on the A line. In the late 1970s he branched out to other lines, spray-painting top-to-bottoms (graffiti displays extending from the top of a train to the bottom), burners (complicated works intended to dazzle the competition) and fully realized scenes, like his homage to John Lennon, painted after Lennon was shot to death in 1980. It was a two-car scene with a portrait of Lennon and a graveyard filled with tombstones.

“He was an artist, but also a bomber, recognized as a person who made himself seen by everybody,” said the photographer Henry Chalfant, using the graffiti term for a prolific artist. “At the same time he appreciated the aesthetic side of it. He didn’t do wild style” — complex, interlocking letters — “he had a simple, readable style with great color and interesting forms within the lettering itself.”

With the photographer Martha Cooper, Mr. Chalfant published “Subway Art” (1984), recently reissued by Chronicle Books; with the director and producer Tony Silver, he produced the documentary film “Style Wars” (1983), which included Mr. Martin in its portraits of graffiti and hip-hop artists. He also appeared in the role of a transit police detective in the cult 1983 film "Wild Style”.

Mr. Martin was born in Manhattan and lived in a succession of foster homes after his mother was imprisoned for burglary. He did not know his father. He grew up in Ozone Park, Queens, and as a teenager lived in Covenant House on the Lower East Side.

Like many others, he found a community in the graffiti movement. Early on he worked with artists like Vinny, Epic 1&2, and Evil 13. Later he painted with many of the top crews, or graffiti collectives, in New York, including the Odd Partners, the Crew and the Three Yard Boys. At one point he was president of the Master Blasters and the Queens chapter of the Prisoners of Graffiti.

When the graffiti artist Spar One, interviewing Mr. Martin for at149st.com in 1995, asked how many complete cars he had decorated (“You mean like burner top-to-bottom jammies?” he asked), he said: “Oh, I don’t know, I never counted. But I know in the years ’81 to ’82 I did no less than 25.” Mr. Martin often added snippets from classic rock lyrics to his tags, like “whole lotta love” or “welcome to the machine,” which became the informal titles for his more famous works.

The displays enjoyed surprising longevity in the days before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began cracking down on graffiti. Elaborately painted cars could run for months or even years. Artists would often gather at certain stations to watch their work and keep an eye on the competition, much like their counterparts did in 15th-century Florence.

Mr. Martin withdrew from the scene in the mid-1980s. He managed a grocery store briefly, then began using drugs heavily. A marriage in the late 1980s ended in divorce. He is survived by a brother, Peter Poston of Spring Hill, and a sister, Evelyn Poston of East Stroudsburg, Pa.

In the 1990s Mr. Martin jumped back into graffiti, painting cars, but also taking part in the legal graffiti movement, expressing himself on walls set aside for the purpose. He was one of the first artists to work on the Phun Phactory, a 200,000-square-foot industrial building in Long Island City, Queens, that artists began covering with graffiti in 1993. It is now known as the 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, or the Institute of Higher Burnin’.

Mr. Martin learned he had kidney failure in 1996, which he assumed was a result of working with aerosol paint, and for the rest of his life he was on dialysis. His financial situation was dire. “He never made the connections he needed to make to be appreciated in the art world,” Mr. Sar said.

Iz the Wiz sought fame, and found it, but not on gallery walls. His work appeared on the old dusty brown subway cars known as coal mines, and their replacements, called ding dongs for the bell tone that chimes when the doors close. Painting one of those, end to end, Mr. Martin once said, “was like sex in a can.”

An earlier version of this article omitted the co-producer of "Style Wars."


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