One of New York’s earliest street artist/graffiti artists Wayne “Stay High 149” Roberts, passed yesterday at the age of 61.
Wayne Roberts was born in Emporia, VA in 1950, and lived there until his family migrated to Harlem seven years later. His family later settled in the Grand Concourse in the Bronx’s after the assassination of Malcolm X.
In 1969 Wayne’s best friend Dave gave him the nickname STAYHIGH, in reference to the amount of pot he was smoking. Before long, everyone on the Grand Concourse knew him by that name.
In the early 70’s Wayne took a job as a messenger on Wall Street. While commuting he began to notice names appearing on the insides of the trains and stations, TAKI 183, JOE 182, and PRAY. This inspired him to start writing STAYHIGH along the Grand Concourse, quickly adding the street number he lived on.
STAYHIGH’s style evolved rapidly and in 1972 he added the final element to his signature: the “Smoker.” Wayne had been an avid fan of The Saint television show, and took the Saint stick figure, turned him around, and drew him smoking a joint. The classic STAYHIGH tag had been formed. The tag quickly appeared everywhere, with Wayne sometimes tagging up to 100 trains during the day while working and another 200 more at night.
In 1973 New York magazine published an 8 – page essay on the subway graffiti movement, they included a photo of a STAYHIGH piece on a train, as well as a portrait and his tag. New Yorkers could finally place the face with the tag – of course, so could the police. He was arrested just a month later in Brooklyn. After the bust, which resulted in a $20 dollar fine, STAYHIGH had to give up his name. It was at this time that he started using the VOICE OF THE GHETTO tag. He tried to keep the new tag a secret, however other writers quickly noticed that STAYHIGH’s partners, DEADLEG 167 and LSD OM, were tagging with the same markers, and the secret was out.
STAYHIGH’s status as in icon in the writing world was cemented by 1974 when The Faith of Graffiti was published, with his work prominently featured throughout the book. In 1975 he retired from the writing scene.
In 2000, after a 25 year disappearance STAYHIGH emerged at a gallery show. Shortly after at the age of 50 STAYHIGH began writing again for a whole new generation, leaving his trademark “Smoker” image everywhere he went.
STAYHIGH was a major pioneer in the New York City graffiti movement and his tags will surely be missed.