Todd James (REAS) - "Stayhigh 149" Drawing. Marker and ink on paper. Measures 7x10.5, signed and dated lower right. Todd James.
Gordon Wayne Roberts created the tag Stay High 149, combined it with a smoking, halo-adorned stick man he borrowed from The Saint television show and changed the face of graffiti. It's hard to imagine a trip through the subway system in early 70's without seeing his name a dozen times. Changing to his secondary alias, voice of the ghetto, around 1974 , ,he introduced the world to two and three toned markers that spewed rainbows of psychedelic cool. After a 25 year disappearance , a time during which many assumed him dead, he reappeared at a graff show in 2000 and soon launched a comeback that gave a new generation a chance to know and love his work. His tags had the rarest combination of style and meaning I've ever witnessed . High Maintenance is about paying back one of the most inspirational , yet humble cats to ever wield a marker. His spirit and legacy has touched every era of a culture that's blown up world wide. The artists who so generously donated their work for this benefit are giving their collective thanks to a man who transcended graffiti culture and in time be remembered as an American Folk Hero. All net proceeds from this sale will go to Stayhigh's Family.
A prime example of the myriad ways in which a graffiti artist can make the crossover from the streets to galleries, Todd James is as much a celebrated fine artist as he is a respected contributor to the legacy of graffiti. Yet another alumnae of the Beautiful Losers school, James is revered for his mural and illustrative work as well as his graffiti, under his moniker 'Reas'.
James began painting in the subways of New York City as a teenager in the 1980's. Reas combined comedic and conceptual conceptual elements in subway pieces that included his name cooking in a frying pan and his infamous Eat Shit whole car with a cartoon turd character.Eventually he would go on to create intricate work much influenced by comic books (namely those by Sid & Marty and Hanna-Barbera), mixing his comic emulating style of caricature with his graffiti roots, creating large scale works. Often painting in flat colors, James' subject matter crosses lines of sexuality and vulgarity that would never be accepted in the more mainstream publications his work emulates. James' tongue-in-cheek paintings encompass violence, quirky creatures, naked women with bombs for perky breasts, pools of blood, and grim reapers. A psychedelic mishmash of imagined worlds.
James took part in the seminal Deitch projects show "Street Market" in 2000, alongside Stephen "ESPO" Powers, and Barry "TWIST" Mcgee. The show travelled to the Venice Biennale, serving as an announcement of graffiti's arrival in the fine art realm, and offering James, Mcgee, and Powers as the front running standard bearers of the art form.
Today, James has exhibited his work internationally, including at The Tate Museum in Liverpool, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, V1 Gallery in Copenhagen, and Alleged Gallery in New York.