Remembering Michael Tracy who made subways cars his canvas.
He was there almost from the very beginning in 1970, until the last days of his life. His influence was felt by multiple generations, and his impact on style can be seen in some of the most famous writers in the world.
Michael Tracy was born February 14, 1958, in the Bronx. As a kid he spent three days a week in Manhattan with his Puerto Rican grandfather, and four days with his Irish mother in the Bronx. His father had left the family early on. Tracy roamed the Bronx fearlessly, at night he broke into the Bronx Zoo to play with the animals, and drive the carts around.
As the graffiti movement blossomed around him in the early '70s, he started writing with a group of kids from his school, Sacred Heart. Those kids would turn into some of the most talented writers of the 1970s.
In 1974, he officially named the group Wanted. He quickly turned over the presidency of the crew to his right hand man, Chi-Chi 133.
In 1975, he started a newer group with limited membership called Wild Style. To Tracy, wild style was more than just a style, it was a way of life, as he said in a recent interview. “To me it’s almost like a religion or way of life, but it started as a series of interlocking mechanical letters that we did our pieces with. So people would see a TRACY 168, or a PNUT 2 piece and they’d have a little WS inside them and whether they could read them or not they’d say “Yo, WILD STYLE!“ So it was not only a crew but it was also the type of style we represented.”
To later generations it would always be the title of the Hip-Hop film by Charlie Ahearn.
The bulk of Tracy’s work was done on the trains from 1972 to 1976. His earlier pieces were just outlines of his eponymous tag. By 1973, he started to blossom, adding his innate artistic ability into his works.
In 1974, he painted a perfect rendering of Yosemite Sam on the side of the trains. Cartoons were fairly new at the time, and his rendering was highly sophisticated.
In 1975, he painted a rocket going sideways, the flames shooting out and enveloping his name, taking a great concept and rendering it perfectly. At the same time as doing these elaborate pieces, he continued to blanket the lines with his name, and painted in billboard letters with silver and black in under ten minutes. His speed and efficiency were so great that he could do twenty of these in a night.