Michael “Iz the Wiz” Martin (November 30, 1958 – June 17, 2009) was one of the most prominent graffiti writers of the New York graffiti movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Martin was from the New York City borough of Queens, a Rockaway Beach native. Beginning in 1972, he became a long reigning All-City king of New York, known primarily for his quick, simple two letter tag, ‘IZ’. IZ represented a new breed of fame-obsessed writers concerned with finding the perfect balance between quantity and quality. He also wrote “CI” (for Crazy IZ), and “Ike”, (short for Mike). He rolled with few crews, the most notable being TMB (The Master Blasters), RTW (Rolling Thunder Writers), and TPA (The Public Animals). He wrote graffiti on every train line in New York City. IZ was also prominently featured in the 1983 documentary Style Wars.
On September 29, 1994, Martin married Katherine M. Lucev, also from the Rockaways, in St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach, New York.
From years of using toxic aerosol products without any type of protective mask, IZ was diagnosed with kidney failure in 1996. In early 2000, in an interview for Style Wars revisited, he commented that he would give up all his past fame for full health. In August 2003 he self-curated a solo gallery exhibition in New York City showcasing his legal artwork.
IZ also had his art appear in video games such as Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure and The Warriors. His tag is also seen the 1979 cult movie The Warriors.
Martin died of a heart attack on June 17, 2009.
Iz the Wiz painted his name hundreds of times on New York City subway cars, earning a reputation as one of the most prolific graffiti artists of the 1970s and ’80s. His style was marked by legible letters filled with colourful designs and often an inclusion of rock music lyrics. Iz never knew his father and grew up in foster homes in New York City after his mother was imprisoned.
He began spray painting, or tagging, at age 14, and in 1975 a poster for the Broadway musical The Wiz inspired his name and trademark tag. He specialized in tagging the A-line subway, but he was said to have put his tag on every subway line more times than anyone else, making him an “all-city king.” Iz said that in 1982 each night he painted more than 100 throw-ups (quickly done tags) and that during 1981–82 he painted at least 25 complete subway cars. In the mid-1980s Iz retired to Florida, where he suffered from financial troubles and drug abuse, but in the 1990s he resumed work in spaces approved for graffiti. His work was featured in books, documentaries, and galleries.