Word on the street (and the Gothamist) is that three paintings by the fundamental street artist and graffiti writer, Phase 2 — née Michael Lawrence Marrow, aka Lonny Wood, aka True Mathematics — were stolen last month from a Lower East Side studio. This week, according to the New York Post, police have released video footage of a suspect in the burglary, as well as images of the stolen paintings.
The video feed shows a nondescript figure in a bulky black coat walk through the frame, apparently around 3:40am, just before throwing a brick through a window of 67 Avenue C and removing three paintings by the Bronx-born street artist, who died just a few months ago of complications connected with Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 64. The paintings are purportedly worth an estimated $18,000.
Phase 2 is hailed as one of the most influential writers and level-setter for street art as an emergent movement in the 1970s.
“He started painting at the dawn of the writing movement in the Bronx in 1971 (from his home base in Forest Projects) and was mentored by LEE163,” wrote Alan Ket, in a memorial on the website of the Museum of Graffiti. “In 1972 he became a founding member of the collective United Graffiti Artists (‘UGA’) and exhibited his paintings in the first-ever organized art exhibitions to focus on the writers. With the birth of Hip Hop approaching he served as both architect and artist by rapping, dancing, and creating the early flyers that would define the jams of the era.”
The three images taken from Alphabet City are less in the bubble letter or “softies” style pioneered by the artist, but his expansive expressive motifs included numerous other text treatments, as well as flier and album graphic design, and even music. By all accounts, Phase 2 was embedded in the confluence of street art and fine art movements that helped put New York City on the map as a wellspring of cutting-edge cool.
It might be seen as ironic that NYPD Crimestoppers is now seeking information to help in the recovery of the stolen artworks when it has historically devoted much time and manpower to try to shut down Phase 2’s street art practice, particularly his subway tagging. Just another reminder that on a long enough timeline and with enough endurance, all art becomes hallowed in some way. Maybe this was a cold-hearted burglar, looking to cash in, or maybe just a brick-throwing vigilante, doing their best to return the street art to its natural environment.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.