Ever notice these absurd, pithy phrases spray-painted around town? “Colin Powell = Vanilla Ice” “Pat Berry sat on my face” “Tony Danza is my dad” “Chris Sabo died for our sins”
Who is the genius behind these seemly ridiculous yet socially-inspired tags?
The man behind the aerosol can is renowned street artist Leon Reid IV. Reid is often recognized as a pioneer of 21st century street art and first emblazoned doodles on Cincinnati’s streets at the age of fifteen in 1995. At the time his nom de plume was VERBS, and while to some his artwork was simply an act of vandalism, fellow street artists quickly realized Reid was a visionary. He left Cincinnati for Brooklyn in 1998 and enrolled in the Pratt Institute. While home on summer break in 2000, Reid and childhood friend Andre Hyland collaborated and left their infamous marks around town. Under the pseudonyms Darius Jones (Reid) and Buddy Lembeck (Hyland), the two streaked witty phrases that would not soon be forgotten ‘ or forgiven.
While city officials were up in arms over the graffiti, Reid defended his illicit scrawls, saying that his goal was to challenge the negativity in Cincinnati, especially toward graffiti.’ “Why not take something big and illegal and make it positive?” he purportedly told friends. Similar to other socially-conscious yet now wildly famous street artists like Banksy or Basquiat, Reid’s brilliance is the irony. What is “Chris Sabo died for our sins” really saying about our culture and values?
As for the rest of us, we’re just thankful the duo’s memorable musings make us chuckle (and sometimes think a little deeper) on our morning commutes. While Leon Reid IV has moved on to commissioned (legal) street art in the UK and New York City, we can’t help but wonder what he’d graffiti in Cincinnati today ‘ maybe something like “Dhani Jones is the walrus?”
If you had a can of spray paint, what would you graffiti?