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gallery & outlaw art museum

May 19, 2005 | opening reception 7 - 10 pm
161 Essex Street btwn Houston & Stanton | New York
Open by appointment only after the opening | Call 929-530-2142

Semz flyer

semz with guitar
Semz with his guitar

Clayton and Elsa at Semz concert
Clayton & Elsa

Semz concert visitors
Semz concert visitors

ABOUT JOE SEMZ (October 26, 1976 – April 7, 2007): He was a prolific graffiti artist[2] who gained notoriety as a graffiti writer for writing the name SEMZ throughout the five boroughs of New York City among fellow crew members of the IRAK graffiti movement, including Dash Snow. An aspiring acoustic folk guitarist and singer-songwriter, his last years were mostly dedicated to making music in and about, New York City, where he died at aged 30 on April 7, 2007. He created and self-recorded a number of bootleg CD’s bearing different titles that would often be peddled, but mostly given away to friends at venues that he would be playing at: such as Joe’s Pub, Don Hill’s, 205, Piano’s, and M1-5. In 2006, the record label aNYthing, recorded and released a CD of his music titled “A Great Believer”.

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RANDI HOFFMAN: Joey Semz, 31, graffitist who turned to folk music
in: The Villager, New York, Volume 76, Number 51, May 16 -22, 2007

Joez Senz portraitJoey Semz, 31, a prolific Lower East Side graffiti artist and musician, died unexpectedly at his parents’ home in Staten Island on April 7. He gained fame for spray-painting “SEMZ” all over the city, and for co-founding the graffiti crew IRAK in the late 1990s. More recently, he recorded the CDs “Cowboys in IRAK” and “A Great Believer.” He played his acoustic folk music at the clubs Joe’s Pub, Don Hill’s and 205.

He began his graffiti career at 14 with stolen magic markers, tagging on Staten Island. Around 1997, he began writing his name all over Manhattan. Semz painted a backyard mural at the Sweet and Vicious Bar on Spring St., showed his work at Clayton Patterson’s storefront gallery at Essex and Stanton Sts. and displayed his art at the aNYthing store, established by the IRAK crew at 51 Hester St.

“I met Joey in ’97 or ’98 when he was king of the city,” said Ben Solomon, 24, a filmmaker and D.J. at 205 and the Anchor Bar, who goes by the name King Solomon. “He had ‘SEMZ’ on everything. The vandalism cops had a huge vendetta on him. As he grew up, he moved away from graffiti and into music, to keep his name alive and express himself.”

On Autograf, a Web site of autobiographical pieces, Semz wrote that he was arrested by the police about 13 times, but that the charges did not stick. His last run-in came when he was picked up by the police on Spring St. in the summer of 2002. After being questioned for four hours, he confessed to numerous graffiti crimes. He served five days in jail with five years probation. At that point, he stopped creating graffiti and began painting on canvas and writing music instead.

“I’ve known Joey since I was in high school. We met through graffiti and mutual friends,” said Nico Ponce de Leon Dios, 24, another IRAK crew member. “Our paths crossed again and again. He was very natural in his art and in his music. It flowed from him. He would write songs on the Staten Island Ferry. He was very atypical in that he dressed like a construction worker. He didn’t wear flashy clothes.’

“Joey and the IRAK crew are a legend,” said Clayton Patterson, who is a photographer as well as a gallery owner. “His songs were about decadence and drugs and youth culture.”

“A lot of his music is about the darker side of being young and coming up in New York City,” said Solomon. “It was about the highs and lows of being an artist and trying to live freely in the world.”

Joey Semz was born Joseph McCarthy, Jr., in Staten Island to a kindergarten teacher mother and a steamfitter father. He attended the College of Staten Island for a year and then took classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. To make money, he painted murals in people’s homes and did carpentry and wall painting.

At 21, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to his mother, Nancy McCarthy. She said that during his manic phases he was very creative. He took medication to treat the condition.

By all accounts, Semz was outgoing, generous and easygoing.

“He was friendly and funny and never said anything bad about anyone,” said Ms. McCarthy. “For the last 10 months he had been living here, and I got used to having him around. I keep expecting him to walk through the door.”

On his MySpace page, Semz wrote that his influences were “people who take all the bad and make something beautiful, people who love life through its horror and its joy.”

The cause of his death has not been determined. An autopsy is being performed. His mother said there is a history of heart disease in the family.

Joey Semz is survived by his mother and his father, Joseph McCarthy, on Staten Island, and a sister, Elizabeth McCarthy, of Westchester. A memorial service was held in April at Casey’s Funeral Home on Staten Island.


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