Cult figure and pioneering graffitti artist Rammellzee was born in Queens, New York. An artist, scultptor, hip-hop original, and graffiti philosopher, he left his mark on the Beastie Boys and many others, including Jim Jarmusch and his his own rival/collaborator, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
He died at the age of 49, Rammellzee did, in June of 2010. No word leaked from his friends, family, or colleagues revealing his actual birth name. And it wasn't until spring of this year that New Yorkers had a chance to take in a retrospective of some of his work.
Art excavated from 'Battle Station Earth', or more truthfully, rescued from the storage unit in which they lay waiting, was shown at Suzanne Geiss's downtown New York Gallery. Among his pieces in exhibition were the graffiti writer's 'alphabet' - a set of harpooned characters painted and spray-painted on canvas. Also in view were Rammellzee's "letter racers": the alphabet as a platoon of 26 toy-like vehicles suspended from the ceiling in attack formation (much as they were at the atists' legendary TriBeCa loft, which everyone referred to as the Battle Station). Made from various bits of New York garbage - cast off flip-flops, sunglasses, toy cars, cheap umbrellas, Bic pens, and air-freshener tops, the letter racers are testimony to the creative mind of Rammellzee.
The artist and musician would welcome a visitor to TriBeCa's live-work-create Battle Station space with grand and enveloping warmth. He lived and worked there, opening it less and less to others, during a majority of his life. Cosmic paintings, militarized plastic scultpture, and Samuri-like handmade costumes filled his loft. Battle Station's building was sold shortly after 9-11, in order to make way for luxury apartments. Rammellzee, his wife, and 20 odd years of obsessive art making and collecting were thrown to the streets. Husband and wife were relocated to a smaller place in Battery Park City. The loads of artwork were escourted via truck, to a storage locker - out of sight for years.
Last year, the Museum of Contemporary art in Los Angeles hosted a graffiti survey in which Rammellzee's Art in The Streets gained acclaim, attention, and created a thirst for more. Suzanne Geiss's more recent show leaves an understanding that graffiti and street artists were waging a war in the subway trains, with alphabets, words, and even dada.
Filmmaker and graffiti scholar, Henry Chalfant, who last saw him about a month before his death, said that one of the most striking things about Rammellzee was how he persuaded those around him to participate in the world he had built, one in which he had sprung forth fully formed.
Look for more work from the individualist, maverick artist, and cultural icon in future shows that Suzanne Geiss will be holding in New York City, and that the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum's director will be having to showcase Rammellzee, whose spirit will endure undaunted.