ARTSY: The Blizzard Of OZ

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DAILY NEWS: COULD NORTH PHILLY be the homeland of OZ? Of course we’re not talking about the Wonderful Wizard from the movie classic. We’re talking about “OZ,” the prolific and pesky graffiti vandal who has scrawled his “tag” on structures all over Philadelphia for more than 20 years, costing the city thousands of dollars to clean up. So who is OZ – this person who prowls the city at night armed with an arsenal of aerosol cans? OZ, much like the movie character, might turn out to be just an ordinary man. Like, say, a 37-year-old who works at a North Philly packaging plant and still lives with his parents in the Logan neighborhood. Perhaps a man named David Vernitsky who allegedly got beaten up by two cops after they caught him spray-painting on the wall of a beauty-supply store. Vernitsky says “no.” But those within the graffiti underground say “yes.”ozdudesepia.jpg

If so, Vernitsky now joins a list of unmasked “graff” outlaws who’ve left their indelible mark on Philadelphia’s graffiti culture: Retired taggers like Darryl McCray, now 54, better known as “Cornbread,” who gained notoriety for spray-painting a zoo elephant. Or Steve Powers, 40, now a New York artist, who for years wrote “ESPO” all over Philly and Manhattan. In May, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham filed criminal charges against Officers Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III, accusing them of breaking Vernitsky’s jaw and trying to cover up the August 2007 beating. The officers, both five-year veterans from the 25th District on Whitaker Avenue near Erie, have been suspended without pay. The day after Abraham charged Fitzgerald and Hill, the Daily News ran a photo of Vernitsky wearing a big grin and a T-shirt reading, “Hello, my name is OH-ZEE.” The photo prompted readers to call and e-mail to say they believe Vernitsky is the notorious OZ. “I’m not that person,” Vernitsky said in a recent telephone interview. “I know who that person is, but I can’t reveal that.” MORE

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