STRAAT celebrates the life and legacy of Jim Prigoff
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Jim Prigoff RIP
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Jim Prigoff: celebrating a legacy

The passing of Jim Prigoff on April 21st, 2021 has definitely rocked the international graffiti and street art community. But although we lost an icon, Jim Prigoff leaves a legacy that should last us - his fans - a lifetime.


Jim Prigoff’s biggest claim to fame is undeniably his iconic book Spraycan Art, with Henry Chalfant. Spraycan Art has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide, and there are probably just as many, if not more stories of graffiti writers stealing and/or borrowing it in the late ‘80’s and beyond.


While a lot has been said about Spraycan Art, it should be noted once more that it was the ultimate follow-up to Subway Art; the book perfectly documents the international explosion of graffiti all the way to Australia and New Zealand, as well as our hometown Amsterdam. Simultaneously, it was just another chapter in a never ending quest for Jim Prigoff to document graffiti and street art all over the planet, resulting in more than 100,000 pictures.


Born in New York City - how fitting? -, Jim Prigoff attended MIT after graduating high school. He was brilliant in Track and Field, and after graduating MIT he went on to win the National Squash Tennis title 7 times in the 1960’s. 


Besides killing it at school and in sports, Jim Prigoff also excelled on a corporate level. He was eventually recruited to join Levi Strauss in San Francisco as divisional president in the early 80´s.

Jim Prigoff, Henry Chalfant
Jim Prigoff (left) with Henry Chalfant


By then, he had already fallen in love with graffiti and street art. This love-affair had started with mural art in the early ‘70s, but then graffiti really took off in Philadelphia and New York. Jim Prigoff was strongly drawn to this artform, and there was no telling him it wasn´t art. As he so very eloquently said it himself in 2007:


“‘Vandalism’ may be a matter of point of view, but it is clearly art. Museums and collectors buy it, corporations co-opt it, and it matches all the dictionary definitions of art.” 


While the international graffiti and street art community may have lost a true champion, we feel even more so for the people that knew Jim Prigoff personally. A website launched by his grandchildren is full of touching stories of what a great human being he was. To get a taste of these testimonies, head over to https://www.forevermissed.com/james-prigoff/about 


In the international storm of people remembering Jim Prigoff, two quotes in particular stood out to us:


“Along with Subway Art by Chalfant and Martha Cooper, Spraycan Art is annually sighted as a powerful inspiration to thousands of artists worldwide who needed that encouragement to express themselves as artists. That alone is a reason to celebrate his life and be thankful for his work and deep dedication to the culture.” / BrooklynStreetArt


“You took an art form that was inherently temporary and made it permanent. You took an art form that was the voice of an entire generation, who could not find a platform to be heard, and shared their voice with the world.” / Granddaughter Trisha F [via BSA]


A lot of people paying homage to Jim Prigoff - and we’ll gladly follow suit - have pointed out that they find comfort in the fact that Jim will be reunited with his wife of 72 years, Arline, who passed away in 2018. Furthermore, we can find comfort in the fact that Jim Prigoff’s work and legacy lives on. The James Prigoff Archive is just a small example of that.


Spraycan Art has a noteworthy quote, from Phase 2, saying: “This thing has reached all the way around the world from Harlem to Japan. When has something else had an impact like that on every ethnic group in the world?” 


We think it’s fair to say Jim Prigoff played a major part in making that happen. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.


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Alex Pope