Known as the self-declared King of Style despite losing an arm and a leg in a childhood accident, early graffiti writer KASE 2 passed away two weekends ago, adding another famous name to the roster of graffiti artist deaths that go nearly unnoticed by the corporate art world press.
Along with his partner BUTCH 2, KASE 2 was a part of The Fantastic Partners (TFP), a Bronx graffiti crew that painted whole train cars during the 1970s and early 1980s. KASE 2 (or CASE 2, as his name was sometimes written) featured heavily in the pivotal 1983 graffiti documentary Style Wars, produced by the late Tony Silver and graffiti photographer Henry Chalfant.
Like the deaths of many graffiti writers, such as ODIN, FADE’s partner, POKE, whose throw-ups could be seen throughout New York, and ELF MPC, KASE 2’s passing has been relatively unnoticed by major art news organizations or even, smaller non-graffiti-based art blogs. The only main outlet with a reference to his passing has been, oddly, MTV.
While most of these papers or websites will devote countless space to Shepard Fairey, KASE 2 also had a significant impact on art that reaches beyond merely graffiti. Whether the art world likes to admit it or not, graffiti and now, street art has become an important part of the art world and has been since the 1980s. Yet, when an important graffiti artist dies, minimal art world sources devote any space to honoring the artist. This needs to change and it should start with KASE 2.
Born in the South Bronx, KASE 2 lost his right arm and leg in a train accident when he was a child, burning the muscle and tissue so badly that he had to have his arm amputated. Even with half of his limbs and the trauma connected to trains, KASE 2 continued to write on the trains.
Graffiti writing in the abandoned train yards and lay-ups, which are areas where the out-of-service train cars are stored, is an extremely demanding physical act. Even after a graffiti writer manages to get access to where the trains are kept, the graffiti writer usually braces himself between two cars, leaving both hands free to spray-paint. Sometimes a writer will grab onto one of the train’s windows to prop themselves up between the cars. KASE 2 performed all of these feats without one arm and also managed to create an innovative graffiti style.
KASE 2 developed his own style of graffiti, which he called “computer rock,” a form of wild style. Along with wild styles’s zigzagging shapes, “computer rock”-style graffiti transformed the alphabet into boxes and jumbled them up, presenting a dynamic movement of the letters.
With his stylistic prowess, KASE 2 knew he was a style master and was quite open about boasting about it. However as Eric Deal, who runs graffiti website @149th Street, remembers on a blog tribute to KASE 2:
Much like Muhammad Ali, KASE was a boastful and charismatic showman and much like Muhammad Ali, he had unquestionable ability to back up every word.
I first heard of KASE 2 through the documentary Style Wars, all of which can now be found online, which looks into the lives and youth subculture of graffiti. With his enthusiasm for writing and his overcoming his own physical situation, I was fascinated by KASE 2’s talent. Due to his bombastic personality, KASE 2 somewhat takes over the film and was completely engrossing to watch.
While I did not know KASE 2 in person, I spoke to COPE 2, the now well-known graffiti writer, about his relationship with KASE 2 and thought it was important to have a first person account of being friends with KASE 2. Also coming from the Bronx, COPE 2 met KASE 2 in 1980 through KASE 2’s cousin HEP, who he went to school with. When HEP told COPE 2 that KASE 2 was his cousin, COPE 2 did not believe him. As COPE 2 explains:
So he [HEP] said, “Ok, Why dont you come with me and meet him at the bench at 149st?” It was the place where all the graffiti writers would go to watch and see there burners role by on the #2 & 5 trains and the #4 was upstairs. I went several times with my boy TRAP OTB but I stood away from there because it was a crazy spot. You can get robbed for your clothes, graffiti supplies or your money. So HEP hooked it for the that following Friday. I went down there and HEP really was there with KASE 2!
I was in shock because KASE 2 was like my idol. I would watch his burners go by everyday on the subway cars and at the time, I just started hitting the subways but kase2 was so cool. Just cause I was cool with his cousin, he gave me mad love and he told me I can come to the writers bench anytime. If somebody fucks with me, just tell them your down with KASE 2.
I was so gassed up. The energy KASE 2 had was unique and amazing. He was so raw smart in everything he said and did. He was definitely a God’s gift to this world because if you would had saw his whole car burners role by, you would never ever think he did them cause he only had 1 arm and 1 leg!”
Even after many years, COPE 2 said he still kept in touch with KASE 2 and is now, like many graffiti writers and enthusiasts, extremely saddened by the news of KASE 2’s passing. As COPE 2 explains:
I love that man and today my heart hurts deeply because I lost not only my childhood graffiti friend and idol but a big brother. KASE 2 will always live in my heart. He brought styles and styles to this graffiti art culture. If it wasn’t for legends and style masters like KASE 2, the world of graffiti wouldn’t have the style they have today and the world knows it. But, his legacy lives on and through us all he’ll be deeply missed, no doubt about it.
Like COPE 2’s statement on KASE 2’s legacy, KASE 2’s work will live on in photographs that are plastered all over the internet and in books and his style has influenced many graffiti artists who are working today.
Anyone who admires or knows KASE 2 can be secure in the knowledge that his legacy will live on in the graffiti subculture. However, his legacy in the art world still remains under question. I hope KASE 2’s death along with the deaths of other graffiti artists will eventually be wider recognized and honored.