The legacy of a pioneering subway artist lives on in a latest art book

Two years after the passing of legendary spray artist and hip-hop pioneer PHASE 2, a new book features a series of drawings and poems he made from his hospital bed in his final days. This project epitomizes PHASE 2’s lifelong legacy of pushing the boundaries of visual expression, even amidst the most challenging of circumstances.

“He used to sit there in the [Grand] Concourse (149th St.) at Writer’s Bench in this cool outfit like super flightrecalls BLADE, a well-known underground artist who, like many other spray writers, was influenced by the work of PHASE 2 in the early 1970s. “He was actually drawing styles for the writers in his black books. The one that drew for me, I actually put that exact piece on the train.”

A “masterpiece” mural painted by PHASE 2 in 1995, featuring their complex transformation of letters into glyphic symbols (photo courtesy of PHASE 2)

Raised in the South Bronx’s Forest Houses housing project, PHASE 2 would emerge as an innovator in New York’s burgeoning underground art movement, creating elaborate murals that would shape the evolution of both the spray can and the art form. . “For my part, during and after my time in the public school system, I have always seen an insufficiency in the writing of the alphabet,” PHASE 2 wrote in a 1980s account of his artistic progression. “From the age of 10 [I] I felt the urge to alter its ‘terms’ to my liking”. This penchant for accentuating the alphabet led him to develop his famous puffy “bubble” letters, as well as interlocking arrows, cloud backgrounds, letters in the form of facial profiles, intentional paint drops, heart designs, and other styles and motifs that he continues to serve. as a basis for spray art throughout the world.

In this posthumous book, entitled PRAFODIVI: The final writings of PHASE 2, many of his early innovations can be seen rechanneled and altered into esoteric sketches, with sharp arrowheads, curved letters, and silhouetted faces appearing in various forms. There are also several original symbols that PHASE 2 redacted in the book, reminiscent of Chinese logograms, but enhanced with bubble outlines.

This steel sculpture from PHASE 2, titled “Misconceptions of an A,” was on display at the Jacob Javits Center for over 20 years before it was suddenly destroyed by administrators in 2013 (photo filed as Exhibit 4 at 13-CIV- 7902 (CM) Lonny Marrow and Douglas Abdell v. New York Convention Center).

The abstraction of the alphabet is something that PHASE 2 had been exploring for some time beyond trains and walls; he talks about this in several of the poems that accompany his drawings. Beginning with his pioneering gallery shows in New York and Chicago in the mid-1970s, he began applying his stylized “masterpieces” to canvas with spray paint and marker. In the 1980s, he showed his deconstruction of letters on canvas with sharp, mechanical, interlocking symbols. He explained in a 1984 interview with Zat Magazine that his work “is not about writing letters but about correcting letters”, suggesting that his aim had been to go beyond the literary function of the alphabet to a “techno-symbolist” reconstruction of its structure in new and different signs and motifs. captivating.

Around the same time, PHASE 2 produced the famous first spray-style letter sculpture, which they titled “Misconceptions of an A.” The three-dimensional piece was displayed at the Jacob Javits Center in New York for more than two decades, until, in the spring of 2013, the administrators got rid of the work without notice or explanation. This episode, which led him to file a lawsuit under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), was one of many scandalous experiences he had with the gallery world, leaving PHASE 2 looking down on those who they denigrated the art form he so passionately championed. However, he continued to conceive new and inventive paintings and sculptures throughout his career, delving into other genres such as collages, vinyl figures, clothing, and graphic design.

Considering the parallel impact that PHASE 2 had on popular music, fashion, dance, design, and historical understanding (there’s not enough space to discuss all of these achievements here), he was without a doubt one of the most prominent figures in history. modern urban culture. In fact, my own interaction with him was initially centered around dance, not art, as PHASE 2 was one of the early breakup pioneers in the Bronx. Our mutual interest in the dance led to an ongoing correspondence, as he selflessly shared his encyclopedic knowledge of form development in our conversations.

One of the many drawings that PHASE 2 drew from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)

In the fall of 2019, he unexpectedly contacted me and asked if I could help him transcribe and organize this hybrid collection of drawings and writings into a book. Although he knew he was in the hospital at the time, little did he know that he was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which had weakened his most dominant right hand and was rapidly taking over his body. Despite being confined to a hospital bed and having only a black pen and white paper at his disposal, he used his left hand to write. everything of these final works, which I learned only after his death.

All 60 pages of book content are available at www.PRAFODIVI.com and resemble the original PHASE 2 drawings, writings, and instructions. The title and website name, PRAFODIVI, is the pseudonym he used to sign all these works, the meaning of which remains unexplained. “A higher force kept me going,” PHASE 2 told me in one of our book discussions. In hindsight, this speaks to the remarkable resilience and ingenuity that he displayed until his final days.

One of the many drawings and poems that PHASE 2 wrote from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)
One of the many drawings and poems that PHASE 2 wrote from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)
One of the many drawings and poems that PHASE 2 wrote from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)
One of the many drawings and poems that PHASE 2 wrote from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)
One of the many drawings and poems that PHASE 2 wrote from his hospital bed in his last days, now included in the book. PRAFODIVI (image courtesy of Serouj “Midus” Aprahamian)

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