Lady Pink began her career back in 1979 tagging subway trains with graffiti legends like Daze, Lee Quiñones, and Futura and since then she has matured into one of the most unique voices in graffiti today. Below we had a chance to talk to her about the state of graffiti today, her history, and philosophy of art.
How did you get started in graffiti and what is your art education background?
The only art education I received was from an art high school I attended in New York. The school itself attracted a lot of graffiti artists, so it was a natural step for me to want to go out and paint with my friends. It took awhile before a lot of the boys that would go and tag late at night would let me come along, they viewed girls as a liability since they are the ones who might crack under the pressure if cops caught them. Most girls just wanted to sit on their boyfriends lap or stay and learn from books back at the high school but I wanted to actually go out and paint. It was an adventure.
I would have to travel across New York, late at night by subway dressed as a boy to get to the train yards so that men didn’t mess with me. I would bring a pocket knife with me while I traveled on the subway. If a guy decided to get creepy I would pull out my knife and pretend to dig the dirt out from under my nails and he would get the idea. I painted on trains from about the time I was 16 until I was 21 when I grew out of the illegal scene.
For people who are aspiring to make a living as an artist what kind of advice can you give them? How have you made your living as an artist?
Its not what you do, its who you know. A lot of the people I came up with were very talented but a lot of them fell to the wayside because they didn’t have a good business sense. If you don’t have a good business sense and a hustle then you won’t make it in the art world. I would recommend looking into grants for artists and going out and networking with people.
For an aspiring artist just starting I suggest first: do a commission wall for free and then from there use that as advertisement to get another wall that pays and so on. You can do this with charity organizations as well as a way to get your name out there. You have to learn that there is a balance between art and business, if you want to make a living doing art then it’s is a business not fun and games anymore so you should present yourself in a professional manner to your clients, buyers or audiences.
What kind of charity community work did you do?
I’ve done a lot of different things from painting actual female breasts cast in plaster to raise awareness for breast cancer to drawing on 200 index cards to be put inside of a vending machine in the Guggenheim Museum to help the orphans from a Japanese disasters. I think that was my favorite charity project to work on, I tried to draw everything I could think of for that project. I still do a lot of charity work because everyone wants free work and its hard to turn down causes I believe in supporting but I have to make a living as well. You have to know your price for everything and what your limitations are for giving away free work.
What is your day to day like nowadays?
Most of the time I chill, I like to play videogames and I have my gardening and pets to keep me busy. My husband Smith, and I rent out a house in New York City so I can be free to turn down stupid jobs so I get freedom to do what I want to do without killing myself by having to take every job whether I want to or not.
If I am working on a commission then I will work long 10 hour days but with our rental property its basically a steady income and I can dedicate my time to my fine art. My husband is the one who deals with the business, organizing trips, answering emails and that sort of thing. Artists typically aren’t business oriented so if you can’t do it then hire yourself a manager or at least marry one haha.
My husband and I started our own mural company 23 years ago and that can take up a good amount of our time as well. We typically hire street artists to do work for us since they are way faster at nailing deadlines and getting work done fast then a lot of the kids coming out of collage that we see.
What do you think about going to a University for art education? Do you think this burdens artists with unnecessary debt?
Going to school for fine art is a waste of time, but if you want to go for architecture or graphic design then sure it will be a good fit. But if you try to learn fine art from school it will destroy your original style and it will take 10 years to get back what it ruined, what I can say is to aspiring young artists is to get out there and start networking, go to gallery shows, at the openings get to know the artists and the people that run the space and schmooze!!!
You said that their were quite a few artists that fell off over the years but who are some of the artists that you came up with that have succeeded?
Quite a few are still around, some of them coming up were really dirt poor and living in the ghetto but its awesome to see that they have turned that around. One of them is Lee Quiñones ( it’s right) who sells his art for up to six figures now. He was the king of NYC graffiti in the 1970’s, living in the projects and now he’s living large!
Do you feel like being in the position you are in now with a rental properties earning your money it frees you up to be the artist you want to be? How did you get into the position you are at now?
I was driven from the city by the vandal squad. They’ve raided my house with flimsy warrants, twice in ten years. The first time the just took stuff, photos, books, artwork, for an “open investigation” searching for evidence. They can legally keep it all for a year and when no crime was found they returned most of our stuff, they kept what they wanted. The second time the vandal squad thugs raided us, 4 years ago, they also took my husband as well as a van full of our stuff, computers, photos, paint, they took almost a thousand cans of spray-paint, it took them hours to rob me. The cops made up fake graffiti charges on my husband, stemming from the “Under Belly Project” that I’d never heard of. They claimed that some graffiti piece had appeared in an abandoned subway tunnel and in also in a book called “We Own the Night”. The piece resembled my husbands style. With no proof they were able to pull up to my house with a Swat team, cops with shields and guns in my hallway! It took a year and a half for a judge to clear it up and throw out the case, it didn’t hold water. Although you may be innocent you still have to spend a bundle on an expensive attorney to prove your innocence. This is how they harass us, oppress us and drive us out of the city. The cops are just thugs with guns and NYC is now a police state. We had to move out of the city but it’s worked out now, I live in the tranquil country in a big house away from all people and stress. 🙂
Wow that is a crazy story. Do you ever feel isolated from being so secluded in the country?
No I’ve had my fill of people. Right now I do communicate with a lot of people though, I have a art education grant where I speak to a lot of people face to face online through skype and even though I don’t live close to people I do actually live in a artist community, traditional artists, way older than us. Every so often we have studio tours where the public can come and look at your workspace and I’ve met a lot of interesting artists up here. None of them are graffiti artists but they are artists so I get a lot of inspiration from seeing what they do at their age, still going strong!. #GOSTARTISTS
What kind of art grants do you recommend artists to check out?
There are all kinds of different grants at the federal level, as well as private grants and fellowships. The department of culture affairs has info available about grants for artists at different points in their careers. The grant I get is from a foundation from an artist I used to exhibit with, a dear friend Martin Wong, who died many years ago. His mom who manages his foundation has been giving me a grant to help support my art education efforts for over a decade. For example in May I will be visiting a public school in Maine to do some public speaking and painting a mural with kids. Thanks to the grant the school does not have to pay for my time, only the art supplies and my travel expenses.
What do you think of Trump taking away funding from the National Endowment of the Arts?
Its horrible. If they kill the NEA it will take away a lot of the support they give to artists around the nation. Its soul crusing, its devastating to see. You see a video online of ISIS destroying ancient artifacts and scluptures and this ranks right up there as a terrible insult to our human culture. There are so many artists, museums and events that would not be possible without the NEA.
Yea he seems to be changing a lot of laws, including rolling back pollution standards for businesses.
Its everything. Its climate change, womens rights, environmental rights. Its like all the progress that has been made is being lost. I hope that the private sector will step in and rescue our culture because the government is ruining it. It is possible that they can, but a lot of the times the corporate commercial culture just wants to control the creative culture. For example we recently did a mural event for Altoids, and they just wanted us to use nice green mint color somewhere, no logo, which was great but sometimes they want you to stick their logo all over the place so they can be proper .
Where do you think the responsibility of the artist lies in all of this?
We are the freethinkers and outsiders of our time and we should use our art as a platform to not turn the other cheek to these insults and that we won’t be led like sheep. there we are the activists we will not be like sheep art is a platform at times like this and not let these insults go unchecked.
What is art to you?
haha its a job, its who I am and what I do. Art is freedom of speech. It allows me to make my own schedule. I can stop and smell the roses, which I do.
Did you ever have a full time job?
I tried to have a 9 to 5 job as a file clerk for a few months and I ran out screaming. After that I tried working as a shop clerk but I couldn’t stand it, I have a big problem with authority. Being an artist allows me to be around a lot of other artists and creative people that I can learn from and our worlds kind of meld together. I found that if you are an artist and you try to have a regular job you’ll be miserable, surrounded by boring people. Working as an artists requires long hard hours, busting your butt harder than you imagined you could but its more rewarding than working for someone else to get rich. Being your own boss is the best!
Now I take a lot less jobs because I have my rental property that provide me an income but back in the day I used to have to take every freelance job I could get since you never know when it will all dry up.