Arguably (and maybe it's not even close) the most prolific train writer in the history of the world passed away today.
Better known as buZ blurr, aka Colossus of Roads, he "painted more self-portraits than Picasso" and was widely known for continuing a tradition of "cowboy" or "hobo" graffiti. His most enduring image was a riff on of the iconic "Bozo Texino" character, turned side profile, self-portrait often accompanied by haiku-like text documenting his mood and musings on "Railroad Earth."
His government name was Russell Butler, and he was born August 23, 1943, in Lafe, Arkansas. His father, Eugene, worked for Missouri Pacific Railroad, as did his grandfather. His mother, Cleda, managed restaurants.
buZ was an anomaly in small town Arkansas. An astute and smart child, he grew up wanting to be an artist and gravitated toward counterculture as early as The Beat Generation in the 1950's. He bought and drove around a hearse in high school and was considered a sort of "freak of the town." He grew up next to Gary Floyd, vocalist of the groundbreaking punk band The Dicks.
He went to college for art but the realities of what to do with that degree led him to work for the Missouri Pacific Railroad like his father and grandfather. He was a switchman for forty-four years.
On November 11, 1971, he created his first "dispatch" writing on the train the moniker "Gypsy Sphinx." He began writing on that day, specifically, as homage to Kurt Vonnegut, who was born on 11/11. After reading an article in Rolling Stone, buZ began to innovate in the genre of "mail art" where he'd manipulate the images of US postage with wood cut printmaking techniques, often details scenes from his own life.
A year later, buZ changed his moniker to Colossus of Roads, a play and reference to statue of the Greek sun god Helios. Colossus of Roads is where he perfected the enduring image and side profile, self-portrait with a plume of cigarette smoke trailing the floating head.
Below the character he'd often write text in Latin, references to Hungarian performance artists, puns, street jokes, Jack Kerouac prose and more wild, cryptic, and playful musings.
He did not consider his job done until each side of the train received a mark. Innumerable trains dispersed from Gurdon, Arkansas to the disparate regions of the country began to influence other railroad workers to take up oil pens.
buZ blurr was a pioneer of the freight train graffiti movement, providing inspiration to writers from all over the States to hit the rails and write their names and nom de plumes and stories. He helped to dislocate graffiti from the five boroughs in New York and helped to popularize the art form in the lower forty-eight states, giving other outlaws and outcasts inspiration to leave their mark on and in society.
His artwork had been featured in galleries and museum exhibits around the country including in the groundbreaking Beyond the Streets exhibition in Los Angeles in 2018 and at Deitch Projects in New York, as a tribute to San Francisco painter Margaret Kilgallen. buZ blurr is also featured prominently in the documentary, Rolling like Thunder, directed by Roger Gastman.
Russel aka buZ blurr aka Colossus of Roads, known as kind, humble and eccentric man, married his high school sweetheart, Emmy, after meeting her at the Arkansas State Fair. He is survived by her and their three children.
Thank you to Matthew Thompson of @flukefanzine for the additional insight and information