Fernando Miteff liked his art so much, he gave it away.
Using the graffiti tag Nic 707, he was known for giving scraps of paper adorned with his graceful letter designs and outlines to up-and-coming artists to guide them, and to fans to thank them. And for the last decade he did something most straphangers thought had vanished in the late 1980s: He brought graffiti back to the subway.
But this time, he did it by boarding a train, replacing ads with pieces by some of the country’s best-known and most influential graffiti artists, like Taki 183, and switching them back at the end of his ride.
“I wanted to bring a new ideology to graffiti,” he said in a 2015 interview about his guerrilla subway car exhibits, which he called InstaFame Phantom Art. “I didn’t want to leave a mark that stays. I wanted to leave an impression. As long as you saw and remembered it, I’m happy with that.”
Mr. Miteff died on April 12 at his home in the Bronx. He was 60. The cause was complications of Covid-19, said his younger brother Karim, who managed his archives and was writing a book about Mr. Miteff’s graffiti career.
In a culture known for egos and arguments, Mr. Miteff prided himself on sharing his love of the art.
“He was always giving, giving and giving,” Karim Miteff said. “He’d sit at McDonald’s doodling on napkins and pass it out. He would be more apt to give away his work than to sell it.”
Mr. Miteff was born in Buenos Aires to Diana and Alexis Pablo Miteff, a professional boxer who once fought Muhammad Ali and worked as a television production manager after retiring. His parents had been spending a year in Argentina before returning to New York.
Karim said his brother was raised in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, where he started tagging at 12 after discovering a can of spray paint in his home’s basement. He later founded the Out to Bomb crew, a loose-knit group of collaborators, and influenced younger artists like Serve and his protégé, NOC167, who went on to fame.
Though he spent much of his adult life working odd jobs, including chauffeur and standup comic, he returned to the subways in 2009 after he and a friend had a brainstorm; it led to his InstaFame project. His easy personality and sense of humor helped him persuade collaborators — from established to up-and-coming ones — even to paint pieces on the sidewalk outside art openings.
“He was a funny dude, but he took a lot of people under his wing,” said Eric Felisbret, author of “Graffiti New York,” a survey of the city’s graffiti history. “He was completely into graffiti for the love of it. All those panels he did, he could have only written NIC and that would put him in the spotlight. Instead, he put his love for the art in the spotlight.”