Whether portraying women as provocative street warriors in the concrete jungle or as mythical goddesses placed in surrealist environments, Lady Pink, the long-reigning queen of graffiti, consistently elevates the female figure through her murals and paintings by incorporating themes of fantasy, spiritualism, her South American heritage, and indigenous iconography. These ideas come alive in her current exhibit, A Rose in Spanish Harlem, on view at urban art space Hi-ARTS in East Harlem. Lady Pink shows a selection of woodblocks, giclee prints on canvas, and acrylic on canvas pieces, which according to the artist, “is a mixture of my favorite work, and it’s a presentation of larger pieces which I have now made smaller.”
An overall thread of female empowerment and pro-feminist messaging runs cohesively throughout the show. In Queen Matilda, the architectural centerpiece is sculpted to personify a woman. This gesture points to the centuries-long role women have held in society as nurturing caregivers and as the backbone of human civilization. In another striking work, Pink Foliage, intertwining vines and shrubs in an array of sumptuous garden shades illustrate her fondness for lush vegetation and botanical motifs.
Originally born in Ecuador, Lady Pink spent her early years growing up on a rainforest in the Amazon, interacting with nature at a very young age. In Avenue A, we return to more familiar ground, Lady Pink’s depiction of women in the urban context, replete with dazzling fantastical and supernatural influences. The show’s curator Carlos Mare tells The Creators Project, “What draws me to her work are the parallel threads that run through the arc of her career which are both graffiti and feminism. She manages to pull from both of these paradoxical ideas to tell her story as a woman in a man’s world.”
Her career dates back to 1979 when she was a lovelorn fifteen-year-old from Queens tagging walls to get over a breakup, but soon fell in love with the seductive thrill of illegally bombing subway cars with her signature stamp. From 1980-1985, she moved boldly and confidently in graffiti circles, carving out a niche identity for herself with her distinct lettering and visual style, within the testosterone-driven street art movement.
Although she wasn’t the first female writer, preceded by other female artists like Eva 62 and Barbara 62, Lady Pink did hold her own as the sole woman in graffiti amongst ten thousand male writers. While attending the High School of Art and Design, Lady Pink forged lifelong bonds with graffiti greats such as Daze, Crash, Lee Quiñones, Futura, and others, who welcomed her into the male-dominated scene. Soon she began exhibiting with her peers at the iconic Fashion Moda in the Bronx and other art spaces in New York. Her ascent as the First Lady of Graffiti happened rapidly, further boosted by her starring role in the epochal hip-hop film Wild Style in 1983. She quickly transitioned into the mainstream contemporary art world, as post-graffiti became all the rage in the mid to late 80s. In 1984 she landed her first solo show at Moore College of Art & Design and has continued evolving with a slew of high-profile US and international exhibits.
Today, Lady Pink's work has entered the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Groninger Museum. She is still active on the street art scene today, having participated in the inaugural edition of Coney Art Walls in 2015 and contributing to the Welling Court Mural Project earlier this year. Mentorship and giving back to the next crop of artists is paramount to Lady Pink. Alongside her exhibit at Hi-ARTS, a series of thirteen street art-inspired works from the 2016 Black Book Master Class which she helped nurture are on display. For over a decade she has been teaching art at The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, an endeavor she is monumentally passionate about and committed to. She is also being featured in two dynamic docs about women and graffiti, the recently released Girl Power and the upcoming Street Heroines. Speaking on the strength and power women graffiti artists possess, she states, “It’s not just a boys club. We have a sisterhood thing going.”
A Rose in Spanish Harlem will be on view at Hi-ARTS through July 30, 2016.