Graffiti legend Tracy 168 was born Michael Tracy in a New York hospital on E. 68th Street in 1958. He began his career in the late 1960s to “balance out his life” during the midst of the Vietnam War. Instead of sketching his illustrations on paper, he spray painted his work on the side of subway cars that could be seen throughout the urban areas of New York. Tracy 168 soon made a name for himself since his paintings could be seen sprawled over the Lexington Avenue Line of the subway which ran from Downtown Brookyln to East Harlem. His vivid use of color and impressive drawing skills led to the creation of “Wildstyle” which he defines as, “What you do in your life. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re not the best, then find your purpose, and be the best at that. If you’re an artist, postal carrier, plumber or salesman, just be the best.”
Now known as one of the kings of graffiti, Tracy 168 says its best year creatively was 1973 when artists began using a myriad of bright colors in their artwork. Competition for street credibility outside of one’s community became fierce and was often viewed as a cry out from society’s ignored youth. Soon, graffiti artists began competing on a level of scale and the challenge became a rivalry of who could create the largest and wildest pieces in the city.
Tracy 168 always made sure he outweighed his competition by keeping his style fresh and adorning entire subway cars and trains with illustrations from top to bottom. He also founded “writer” groups Wanted and Wild Style with fellow artists CLIFF, LSD, P NUT, KING 2, CHI CHI 133, LIONEL 168, SONNY 107 and ZEST.
After tiring of weak competition on the train yards in 1978, Tracy 168 landed his first paid assignment doing a wall mural on the side of French Charlys Bar on Webster Avenue in the Bronx. The majority of his murals were memorials for victims of city violence, but his other works also included anti-drug and anti-violence messages to help guide future generations of children. Though Tracy 168 was known for using public property as his canvas, audiences can now often find his work in business campaigns and museums.
In 2006, the Brooklyn Museum of Art featured his work on a real subway car door from 1984, and “Purple Haze,” a collage of tags dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, was a part of the Experience Music Project in Seattle. His pieces have also recently been featured in 2011’s “Art In The Streets” exhibit at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. He still enjoys creating artwork using cartoons as a common motif, and his work is available for purchase via his official website. His remarkable work has also been highlighted in 1983’s Style Wars, a Hip Hop documentary that originally aired on PBS and has become a staple in the culture. Many graffiti artists have cited Tracy 168 as a huge inspiration and continue to practice the elaborate art form of Wild Style he created in their work today.
New York City, New York
Tracy 168 was known for:
- Wild Style (He defines it as “What you do in your life. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re not the best, then find your purpose, and be the best at that. If you’re an artist, postal carrier, plumber or salesman, just be the best.”)
- Vivid color combinations
- Using New York subway cars and entire subway trains as canvases
- Memorial wall murals