Last week I wanted to explore the absence of women on the graffiti door, and their struggle to fit in. Taking a quick glimpse through Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s, I discovered that some of the female names on the graffiti door, like Yvonne, were tagged by males. It turns out that these jubilant teenage boys would tag their girlfriend’s name to honor them.
This may have also been the case with the multiple Tracy-168 and Jimmy ha-ha tags. When another graffiti artist tags someone else’s name, a huge honor is being done. After all, a graffiti artist’s main goal was to be tagged in as many places as possible. Placing someone else’s tag in lieu of one’s own is a sign of respect, trust, and mutual friendship. This was illustrated in an arrest highlighted in Graffiti Kings. In the 157 Street 1 train station in the winter of 1972, two writers—Hitler II and Cody—were arrested. One of the tags on there was a female writer, Stoney. It was assumed that one of the two men tagged Stoney’s name as a favor.
Changing times also called for changing styles of graffiti. As new styles emerged, individuals would adapt, or “bite” off of each other. A prime example of this is illustrated in Graffiti Kings. Stay High 149, bit off of a stick figure form in the logo from the television show The Saint. In turn, Creeper 167 “bit” from Stay High 149. The idea of “biting” off of one another also serves as a plausible explanation as to why there are multiple “Jimmy ha-ha” and “Tracy 168” tags.
Many of these graffiti artists, as noted in a previous post, were under the age of sixteen. According to Graffiti Kings, many artists stopped at the age of sixteen. Once these artists turned seventeen, they would not be tried as minors. If a graffiti artist was caught and arrested at the age of sixteen or under, even if he went to court, he’d usually just get a generic “Don’t do it again” type of lecture. If arrested at age seventeen, the penalties were much harsher. Some of these graffiti artists stopped tagging for good. Others enjoyed the thrill of breaking the law and continued tagging. Yet others would temporarily stop at the age of seventeen, and come back later. According to Jack Stewart, it was fairly common for a graffiti artist to go on a temporary hiatus, then “hit” a train with their tag along with the words “is back”.
When a train terminates at its last stop, the tracks usually continue. If one goes a little further, there are several trains stored at the center track during the morning and evening rush hours. It was these “layup” trains that were the prime target for tagging. But, as Tracy 168 notes, this sometimes came with risks. Tracy 168 highlights a near death experience in Graffiti Kings. …”All of the sudden I saw this one guy stop working. He was making faces, and I thought, “What’s he doing?” He was pointing in front of me. Then I sense it in his faces that he was scared, because he realized he was about to see me die…”