BLADE completes his tag with crown on a metal gate. From a gallery invitation, 2004.
In the words of curator Roger Gastman, “Before New York City made graffiti world famous, BLADE was one of the people who made it famous in New York.” BLADE (Steven Ogburn) was only fifteen years old when in 1972 he tagged his first train. By 1974 he was painting full cars, and over the next ten years he is said to have painted over 5,000 trains. Far more prolific than his peers, BLADE was the self-proclaimed “King of Trains.”
BLADE was also a talented and ambitious artist. Each of his subway paintings was planned in advance. He was always inventing new ways to render his name, coming up with original color schemes, and creating new cartoon characters to enliven his works. His paintings on trains clearly stood out and were often captured by the two most important photographers of subway art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.
When graffiti-based art moved into art galleries in the early 1980s, BLADE began working on canvas. He was included in all the early “graffiti shows,” and over the years has exhibited in hundreds of museums and galleries. Energetic, personable and ambitious, BLADE personifies the graffiti art movement in all its varied manifestations. His work is not only represented in most books on graffiti, but he is also the subject of two artist monographs.
Gallery 98 has recently obtained a large collection of BLADE ephemera from his lifelong Bronx friend Ronald Glazer. Over the years BLADE shared with his friend photographs of his works, gallery invitation cards, publications, and regularly left behind spontaneous sketches. Almost all the items are signed and many contain personal messages.
The multi-talented BLADE was also a prolific photographer who documented his work in over 10,000 pictures. In the early 1970s when graffiti was not yet targeted by the police, the extroverted artist was not shy about posing in front of his trains and distributing photographs to friends like Glazer. Many of the pictures in this section of photographs by Blade have handwritten descriptions on their reverse sides.
BLADE was included in some of the earliest gallery exhibitions that included graffiti based art. The vogue for graffiti had spread worldwide and the cards and flyers show the Bronx-based artist traveling the globe. Selling paintings was not always easy but BLADE’s prices rose after 2000, and he now jokingly boasts that graffiti paid for his house in Florida.
Like other graffiti artists, BLADE found inspiration in comic books and cartoons. This section features sketches and notes that he gave his friend Glazer. In some of these drawings the generally upbeat and optimistic BLADE reveals the difficulties of his itinerant freelance lifestyle. Some even show a fatalistic side that is perhaps a by-product of the dangers he and colleagues once faced while illegally painting trains at night. However, the news of BLADE’s death pictured above is premature. He is alive and well, living in Florida.
BLADE proudly presented his friend Glazer with signed copies of all the books in which his art was featured. Of particular interest is Photo/Graff, a limited edition book in which BLADE is billed alongside Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant as a photographer of subway art. An article in ¡Mira! The Magazine of the South Bronx recounts BLADES’ romance with Delores who saw his subway art on the elevated tracks outside her bedroom window, and developed a crush on the artist years before they actually met.