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November 23, 2005

Graffiti in the Academy

Here's a happy hip-hop story to usher in the holidays:

Be Sure to Read the Handwriting on the Wall

In the world of New York City graffiti, the artist who calls himself Tracy 168 is a kind of presiding deity, a founding member of the old school.

So it was somehow fitting the other day to find him in a classroom at his old school, specifically his old high school, Julia Richman, on East 67th Street in Manhattan. He admitted that he remembered little about his time there in 1975, a brief pit stop on the road to full-time delinquency. "Basically, lunch was my best subject," he said.

So even in his wildest, aerosol-enhanced dreams, he never thought he would be asked to return to the school as a mentor, certainly not for what he did best: painting and drawing, usually on subway cars or other highly visible pieces of public property.

But there he was, sitting in a second-floor classroom, and on the walls around him were classic Tracy 168 pieces, including one of his signatures: a smiling, feathered-haired cool guy who looks like a fugitive from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Surrounding this drawing and covering almost every inch of the classroom, from the radiator to the lockers, was an explosion of other graffiti, making the room look as if it had been struck in the middle of the night by a spray-can army.

In fact, all the artwork was legal, and far less indelible, rendered in chalk atop a special bottle-green chalkboard paint that had been used to coat the entire room and make it into an interior canvas for the kind of art that usually shows up outside the school's doors.

The project - conceived by Hugo Martinez, an art dealer who has long represented street artists - has allowed students of Urban Academy, a specialized high school inside the Julia Richman building that serves sometimes troubled students, to work side by side over the past several weeks with renowned, and sometimes infamous, graffiti artists.

Starting on Dec. 3, and on most Saturdays through the end of January, the school will allow the public to see the results in the classroom, at 317 East 67th Street, from noon to 6 p.m. At the end of the viewing period, depending on how students and teachers feel, the work will probably be erased - adding it to a long tradition of ephemeral art - and the classroom returned to its previously scheduled institutional color...

Posted by jsmooth995 at November 23, 2005 9:44 PM

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