How cannabis conquered the Grand Concourse with a tag that will never die
In 1969 Wayne Robert’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 (Bronx, NY) 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.”
Roberts 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.
Roberts’ status as in icon in the writing world was cemented by 1974 when “The Faith of Graffiti” by Norman Mailer was published. 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, Roberts began writing again for a whole new generation, leaving his trademark “Smoker” image everywhere he went.
Wayne Roberts died on June 11, 2012.
Rest In Paint.
Excerpted from the Wayne Roberts biography