Brothers SANE and SMITH were pioneers in the late-1980s era as the New York subway system became graffiti-free and writers were pushed out. Their solution was to explore, in search of exciting new spots. In the summer of 1988, SANE and SMITH spent a late night painting their names on one of the outside pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge. Using large house-painting brushes, they pushed bucket paint into the craggy surface for hours while balanced on the foot-wide catwalk, defying a 120-foot fall into the East River with one miscalculation. It turned out that the big block letters across the Roebling family’s masterpiece and National Historic Landmark got far more of a reaction than anyone had anticipated.
By April of the following year, SANE and SMITH were being sued by the city and the Transit Authority in State Supreme Court. The brothers swung back by managing to secure lefty lawyer legend William Kunstler to represent them. The proceedings dragged out without the brothers paying a thing, but then SANE died young, Kunstler died as well, SMITH went underground, and eventually the authorities turned their attention elsewhere. SMITH sometimes signs his name now as SANESMITH in remembrance of his brother, and their feat has inspired a slew of other writers to paint the bridge, an act of homage or sheer competition.
BEYOND THE STREETS New York, 2019. Photo by Dan Bradica.