The legendary Bronx graffiti artist Lonny Wood, aka Phase 2 passed away. It is believed he has been in a New York hospital with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Phase 2, also known as Lonny Wood. was one of the first graffiti artists to become popular in his community. He was a DJ, made flyers, and was a member of the B-Boy crew Electrified Movement as well as a member of the Zulu Nation.
As the spray-painting culture took off during the late 1970s, Wood engaged himself in spreading the developing hip-hop scene from the Bronx to Manhattan.
He began writing in late 1971 under the name Phase 2, a moniker which had a rather mundane provenance. As Phase 2 would later recall, “the previous year we’d given this party. We were getting ready to give another one and I said, ‘We’ll call this one Phase Two.’ I don’t know why, but I was stuck on the name. It had meaning for me. I started writing ‘Phase 2.
Part of the appeal of aerosol graffiti writing for Phase 2 was that it allowed him to get his “name” known yet remain anonymous. He noted later that tagging provided disadvantaged urban teens “the only significant vehicle to represent their ‘existence.'”
It was in late 1972 that Phase 2 first used an early version of the “bubble letter” or “softie”, a style of writing which would become extremely influential and is considered a “giant leap” in the art form. The puffed-out, graffiti, marshmallow-like letters drawn by Phase 2 were soon copied by other artists who added their own variations.
Phase himself quickly embellished on his original form, creating and naming dozens of varieties of softies such as bubble letters with stars, bubble cloud, and bubble drip. He is also credited with pioneering the use of arrows in aerosol writing, writing about the same time.
Hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang has noted that Phase 2 graffiti from 1973 have “been widely recognised as defining the early genre.”
In 1975 Phase 2 joined the newly created United Graffiti Artists, a professional aerosol writer collective which began to attract media attention.
He was featured in an important essay on graffiti art by Richard Goldstein which appeared in New York magazine and inspired a new generation of graffiti artists.
In 1986, Phase 2 became the art director of International Get Hip Times, the first zine about aerosol graffiti culture.
Unlike some other pioneers of New York City aerosol scene, Phase 2 had a prominent role in the South Bronx hip-hop scene in the early 1980s. He also continues to be referenced in hip-hop songs.
Phase participated in the legendary hip-hop shows organized by Kool Lady Blue during the summer of 1982 at the Roxy nightclub in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan.
These shows brought together the top DJ’s, MC’s, breakers, and aerosol artist from the South Bronx and introduced hip-hop music and culture to the downtown punk and new wave scenes. Phase 2 designed the flyers for these events and often did aerosol pieces live on stage.
Phase 2 was one of the few aerosol artists to be involved in the musical side of hip-hop culture as well. He had a background as a DJ in the very early days of hip-hop, though he never made a name for himself in that role.
Phase was also an early b-boy and claims that his dance crew pioneered the uprock (or “battle rock”) style of dance despite claims that it originated in Brooklyn.
In his 1995 song “Out for Fame” – an homage to aerosol artists and culture – KRS-One implores his audience “in the name of Phase 2” and fellow Bronx legend Stay Highto “grab your cans and hit the streets.”
Several years later Mos Def mentioned Phase 2 on his widely respected debut album Black on Both Sides, specifically on the track “Hip Hop”, in which he noted that hip-hop itself was “all city like Phase 2” – presumably a reference to the ubiquity of Phase 2’s spray-painted pieces on trains throughout the city during the early 1970s.
Prior to his death, Phase 2 was working as a fine artist, creating skateboard decks, prints and vinyl.