TAKI 183, Elusive NY Graffiti Legend, Comes Out of Retirement

Photo: TAKI 183 gets up in house paint. Wall also features EVA 62, HELLAFIED SISTERS 184 and more. Circa 1971. Photo by Andrea Nelli.

On July 21, 1971, The New York Times ran a story titled “TAKI 183 Spawns Pen Pals,” in which journalist Mark Perigut interviewed a 17-year-old high school graduate who wrote the name TAKI 183 up and down the streets of New York City. With marker in hand, he got up everywhere from lampposts to trains, airports to train stations.

Also: Secret Histories | “Wall Writers” Uncovers Graffiti’s Earliest Years

The story makes note of a call-and-response effect, where the appearance of TAKI 183 created a chain effect. Suddenly names like BARBARA 62, EEL 159, and LEO 136 could be seen sharing the walls, as well as find their own spots. Perigut immediately takes note of the cost required to remove graffiti, estimating $300,000 worth of damages ($1.8M today). He confronts TAKI about the cost, TAKI is nonplussed, observing, “I work, I pay taxes too and it doesn’t harm anybody.”

The story, which appeared in the Metropolitan section of the paper, put TAKI 183 on the map, cementing his place in the history of graffiti. It appeared on the first page of the second section of the paper, prime real estate, for a movement that was born out of a desire for name recognition. It’s impossible to know if Perigut understood the raw impulse for fame, or how coverage in the Times would transform the city’s landscape, but the story catapulted graffiti into a new stratosphere.

WWBookCover-e1473858136571The Times story was the first, but it wouldn’t be the last. In the following years, Rolling Stone and Interview ran features on TAKI, continuing to build his name and reputation. But it was a PSA made inside the Statue of Liberty that blew people away. It showed footage of a TAKI 183 tag, adding another layer to the legend. But the documentary film and book Wall Writers: Graffiti in Its Innocence reveals that the tag was actually in the staircase at the A train station at 181 Street.

As a member of the first generation of graffiti, TAKI 183 did not get caught up in the 1980s art scene that capitalized on the second generation of writers. By then, he was out of the game—but his legend lived on. Hollywood saw the way graffiti had captured the public imagination, inspiring art, fashion, music, and culture while simultaneous enraging the squares who dominated the status quo. In 1985, 20th Century Fox released Turk 182, a feature film that had all the hallmarks of an afterschool special that clearly ripped off TAKI’s legacy.

Over the past four decades, graffiti has gone mainstream, with a number of artists able to parlay a passion for writing into careers in art, design, and fashion. But TAKI 183 kept it underground, leaving the game to the next generation and setting up a career-repair garage in Yonkers. It is only with the advent of Wall Writers that TAKI 183 has stepped back into the spotlight. He just launched his website and store, where he sells classic tags spraypainted on canvas board.

On Wednesday, March 22, 2017, The Museum of the City of New York will host a screening of Wall Writers at 6:30pm. The film, narrated by John Waters, tells the history of the first generation of writers from New York and Philadelphia during the 1960s and early 1970s, shining light on a pivotal but little-known era. After the film, director Roger Gastman will join legendary graffiti writers MIKE-171, Wicked Gary, and COCO 144 for a talk moderated by curator Sean Corcoran.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.