80 Year Old Street Artist

Robert Janz
Tribeca, NYC



When Banksy announced his month long “artist residency” in New York in October 2013, I joined the crowds who followed his elaborate works around the city.  It was at debut of Banksy’s 9/11 tribute when I noticed a small gathering around an unremarkable looking man.  Curious to find out who he was – who knew, he could be Banksy, – I asked him who he was. His response: “I’m a street artist.”  Now, I know the great limitations that stereotypes carry, but I’d be lying if I were to say that I wasn’t intrigued by Robert’s obviously unconventional street-demeanor… I needed to find out this guy’s story.

In his early teens, he was drawn to the ancient stick figure drawings found on walls and rocks, specifically found on his trips to New Mexico, Montana, and Utah.  During a visit to the South of Spain, he noticed the same types of drawing in the Pyrenees caves.  He realized that the most ancient form of art expression was found in the natural habitats of the artist; this was when he decided he too would do the same.  The streets of where he lived became Robert’s canvas.

“Graffiti artist” is not a term Robert likes to be referred to; he prefers to be called a “street artist.”  He doesn’t condone graffiti because he feels it is disrespectful.  Confused at first to his logic, I asked him what the difference is between what he does and what every other graffiti artist does.  Robert response was that he never defaces property that hasn’t already been defaced.  He paints over posters, ads, and graffiti, but never over clean walls.  “The city is our environment; I would like to walk the streets without being inundated by ads or “POST NO BILLS” signs.”  Through his simple paintings of transparentmountains and animals, he transforms a little piece of the urban clutter we are bombarded with, into a dream-like landscape.

At 80 years old, Robert has had his fair share of run-ins with the Law.  But that hasn’t slowed him down.  He goes out every morning with paint in hand.  I got a chance to go out with him and watch him transform a wall covered in “POST NO BILLS” signs, into a beautiful poem…. and luckily, there were no cops that morning.