Robert Janz, whose shadowy stick figures and transformed advertisements added to the streetscape of Lower Manhattan for more than a decade, died on October 26, at the age of 89. Although he had some success as an international artist, making kinetic artwork, he had gained a loyal following over the past several years, revered by many in the graffiti and street art communities for his prolific late-career work, which he created almost daily throughout his 80s in Tribeca and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Janz used a wide brush to paint silhouettes, stick creatures, and mountain peaks on construction-shed boards, building doorways, and, especially, pasted-up poster advertisements and billboards. He would also rip away and repaste parts of ad posters and turn them into images of faces, landscapes, flowers, animals, and birds. Janz would remake these ads into his own work (an “ad takeover,” in street art parlance), communicating his ideas about consumerism, the environment, and the fleeting nature of doing art in the street. He also painted on walls with water, wrote wordplay poems on billboards, and made temporary sculptures with sticks and city flotsam.
It was a treat to randomly run into him on the street—to see him in action. He worked mostly by himself, carrying a small sack, a bucket of paint, and a few brushes. He would not hesitate to discuss his work and ideas with curious people walking by, and he would talk with other artists (almost always younger than him) who were moved by his ideas as well as his relentlessness and perseverance. As he traveled and ripped and painted, he carried himself with a serene belief in his work and creativity. ❖