‘It’s About Time’: Street Art Trailblazer Lady Pink on Why She’s Painting Memorials to the Unsung Legends of Graffiti
The show at the Museum of Graffiti honors the likes of KEL139, Caine One, Crash, and Erni Vales.
As soon as Lady Pink can get a vaccine, she’s headed down to Miami. The legendary street artist’s solo show—only her second in the last decade—opened on Friday at Miami’s Museum of Graffiti, but she could only attend virtually.
“I’m scheduled for my vaccination on April 1,” the 57-year-old, born Sandra Fabara, told Artnet News in a joint phone call with the museum’s co-founder, street artist Alan Ket. But for now, she’s back in Gardiner, New York, a rural town west of Poughkeepsie.
“Can you prop me up on a computer?” Lady Pink asked Ket. “I’ll sit here with makeup on and a glass of wine and chit chat with people at the opening.”
One of the biggest names in street art history, Lady Pink began tagging with graffiti artists including Seen TC5 as a high school freshman in 1979, later co-starring in Charlie Ahearn’s hip-hop film Wild Style. Her work quickly crossed over to the gallery world when she was featured in the first major graffiti art show at New York’s Fashion Moda in 1980.
But despite her regular inclusion in blockbuster graffiti group shows such as “Beyond the Streets,” Lady Pink’s only solo museum show to date has been an offsite exhibition, “Respectfully Yours,” at the Queens Museum in 2015.
Enter the Museum of Graffiti, which opened in December 2019 to provide a permanent showcase for an often-ephemeral art form.
“As someone who loves this movement and who’s been painting on the streets and our trains for long time, I love that there’s finally a place dedicated to exhibiting graffiti, because there hasn’t been a place quite like this for a very long time, or maybe even ever,” Ket said. “Presenting Lady Pink for us is very important, a very big responsibility, and quite frankly, an honor.”
A hybrid museum-gallery model, the for-profit institution has a permanent exhibition showcasing the evolution of graffiti art over the last 50 years, but also stages temporary shows where the work is for sale as a way of funding the operation.
“Because we use the word graffiti and we’re dealing with an art form that is typically unsanctioned, people are very weird and wary about it, especially on the philanthropy level,” Ket explained. “Quite frankly, there are not enough places on the planet for these artists to present their work and to sell their work.”
Everything is for sale in the show, except for one canvas consigned to Jeffrey Deitch for an exhibition he is curating next year. Ket hopes to attract institutional buyers for her two new bodies of work: large-scale paintings with feminist themes, and a deeply personal portrait series dedicated to her friends in the graffiti community, including Dondi White, Crash, Lee Quiñones, Daze, and Caine One.
“These are some of the unsung heroes. You take us back and teach us the history of this art movement—but you’re doing it in such a loving way,” Ket told Lady Pink. “These should go to the PAMM, to the Museum of the City of New York.”
The portraits grew from work Lady Pink did on an app that turned photographs her friends had posted on Instagram into digital artworks.
“I decided, let me just turn them into real paintings,” she said. “I made 14 portraits of people and friends who have had an impact on me, the people behind all this graffiti, to make it a little more personal.”
This past year also saw Lady Pink create three new murals dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement—a continuation of her decades-long commitment to using art as a tool for activism. One was outside Cryptic Gallery in Poughkeepsie, one was for the Welling Court Mural Project in Queens, and the third was at a New Paltz handball court, created in conjunction with local high school students. The theme, she was proud to note, was at the students’ suggestion.
“Street art is everywhere. It can be done by everyone, for all kinds of causes—for happy events, and for fighting injustices. So it was amazing to see that,” Lady Pink said.
But even as social justice graffiti has flourished on the boarded up exteriors of New York businesses, there were reminders that such messages aren’t always welcome.
“In Queens, we wanted to write the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ in yellow paint, like they did in the streets,” Lady Pink said. “But the local neighborhood didn’t want that. They didn’t want a political statement or anything heavy.”
Instead, she and her team painted a field of flowers against a black background, with the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others written in gray paint. “Folks that were watching us kept throwing us more names to include,” she recalled. “The names kept coming and coming.”
As is the case with most street art sites, the Welling Court Mural Project gets repainted each year. Nevertheless, Lady Pink has saved examples of her works from over the years, which makes a future retrospective an intriguing possibility.
“It’s about time,” Ket said. He hopes that such large-scale projects will become possible as his museum continues to grow.
Lady Pink is on board—sort of. “If someone offered to do a retrospective, I would. But you know, it’s also difficult to want to pull out work that I did when I was very young,” she admitted. “I paint so much better now!”
In the meantime, the artist is looking forward to life after the vaccine. “Let’s make some plans,” Lady Pink told Ket of her upcoming trip to Miami. “I want to paint some walls and burn something down.”
“Lady Pink: Graffiti Herstory” is on view at the Museum of Graffiti, 299 NW 25th Street, Miami, Florida, March 5–May 20, 2021.
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