(born 1960, Queens, New York; died 2010, New York, New York)
Born in Far Rockaway, New York, Rammellzee began spraying graffiti on New York City subway cars as a teenager. Already enraptured by the power of the alphabet, he worked across media to investigate the currency of letters as weapons and as elements in mathematical equations. The artist adopted the name Rammellzee, which he viewed as a mathematical equation. Through graffiti, hip-hop, painting and sculpture, Rammellzee reimagined the alphabet’s historical trajectory. In a 1979 manifesto entitled “Iconic Treatise on Gothic Futurism,” the artist asserts that letters, when separated from their literary function, are weapons that can be harnessed to battle the oppression imposed by counterfeit linguistic systems. Though his aesthetic may appear rooted in science fiction, Rammellzee saw a fundamental link between the cryptic script of 16th-century monks and his own late 20th-century conception of the alphabet.
Consumed by his guiding philosophy, the elusive artist rarely emerged from his Tribeca loft, which he called the Battle Station. When he did appear in public it was in self-fashioned futuristic armor. Donning his samurai-inspired costumes such as Chaser the Eraser (c. 1994) and Barshaw Gangstarr (c. 1994), Rammellzee interacted freely with his surroundings. Though Rammellzee’s public and private personas were one and the same, in costume the artist openly demonstrated the vitality of his own Gothic Futurist cosmology.
Rammellzee was a visual and graffiti artist, performer, hip-hop musician, art theoretician and sculptor. His solo exhibitions include The Rammellzee Galaxseum, Children’s Museum of Art, New York (2012); Rammellzee: The Equation, the Letter Racers, Suzanne Geiss Company, New York (2012); Bi-Conicals of Rammellzee Tour, Venice Biennale (2005); and Retrospective, Gemeentemuseum, Helmond, Netherlands (1986). His group exhibitions include Art in the Streets, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011); L’art modeste sous les bombes, Musee International des Arts Modestes, Sete, France (2007); Music Is a Better Noise, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY (2006); Americas, Fabbrica del Vapore, Milan (2002); American Graffiti: A Survey, Liverpool Gallery, Brussels (1991); Hip Hop ’til You Drop, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1989); Between Science and Fiction, Bienal de Sao Paulo (1985); Rapid Enamel: The Art of Graffiti, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1984); New York Graffiti, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark (1984); and New York, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1982).