Photo by Alessandro Zuek Simonetti

STAY HIGH 149, est. 1969

Wayne Roberts was born in Emporia, VA in 1950; his family migrated to Harlem seven years later. He grew up at a time when the social unrest of the streets resulted in riots. He watched as Harlem almost burned to the ground in 1964, a year later at the age of fifteen two assassins opened fire on Malcolm X and Harlem wept as it buried it’s native son. Wayne’s journey was far from over as his family made a brief escape to the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

In 1969 Wayne’s best friend Dave gave him the nickname STAYHIGH since he was smoking an ounce of marijuana a week; before long, everyone on the Grand Concourse knew him by that name. Wayne had taken a job as a messenger on Wall Street where he sold loose joints on his lunch break. During the early 70’s he began to notice names appearing on the insides of the trains and stations, TAKI 183, JOE 182, and PRAY were all inspirations for him. In 1971 he started writing STAYHIGH along the Grand Concourse, he quickly added the street number he lived on. As a messenger he could hit the trains on the way to work and back, as well as during the day when he had to make deliveries.

STAYHIGH’s style evolved rapidly and in 1972 he added the final element to his signature: the “Smoker.” Wayne had been an avid fan of The Saint television show, which was in reruns in New York. He took the Saint stick figure, turned him around, and drew him smoking a joint. The classic STAYHIGH tag had been formed and to this day most writers agree that it was the best tag ever. The fact that he was able to get it everywhere merely enhanced his reputation. He could hit 100 trains during the day while working and hit 200 more at night at a lay-up, sometimes doing signature pieces as well.

In 1973 New York magazine published an 8 - page essay on the subway graffiti movement, they included a photo of a STAYHIGH piece on a train, as well as a portrait and his tag. New Yorkers could finally place the face with the tag – of course, so could the police. He was arrested just a month later while motion tagging in Brooklyn. When he arrived at the precinct house the detective’s had a copy of the magazine on their desk. After the bust, which resulted in a $20 dollar fine, STAYHIGH had to give up his name.

No one loved the sub-culture of writing more then STAYHIGH and he quickly adopted the new name OVERDOSE. He hated the name and only wrote it for a month. One day on the way to work he looked down at a column in the newspaper called Voice of the People, the name immediately resonated with him and by the time he arrived at work he had turned it into a vertical signature that read VOICE OF THE GHETTO. He decided not to tell anybody and proceeded to hit the lay-ups and yards with the new name, tagging it almost exclusively in three color uni-wide magic markers. The secret didn’t last long when other writers noticed that STAYHIGH’s partners, DEADLEG 167 and LSD OM, were tagging with the same markers.

STAYHIGH’s status as in icon in the writing world was cemented by 1974 when The Faith of Graffiti was published. He was prominently featured in the book and in December 2008, when the 35th anniversary edition is published it will feature STAYHIGH on the cover. There was nothing left to do and in 1975 he retired from the writing scene for good.

In 2000, after a 25 year disappearance STAYHIGH emerged at a gallery show and was besieged by admirers. He signed over 400 autographs that night and left through a back door as the line for autographs got longer and longer. He was simply overwhelmed. At the age of 50 STAYHIGH began writing again for a whole new generation, leaving his trademark “Smoker” image everywhere he went, he’s 58 years old and he hasn’t stopped. STAYHIGH, perhaps more then any other writer truly is The Faith of Graffiti.