Before hipsters scattered around urban areas like organic roaches. Before Bansky. Before 3-D images, bubble, boxed and futuristic typography sprayed on subway cars were called street art by mainstream art collectors and gallery curators, the 1970s spurred an army of devoted graffiti artists called “writers” who just wanted to showcase their art, talent and bomb their names all over New York City.
OK, so bomb and New York City is not the thing to say, especially after September 2011. But during the ‘70s and ‘80s the term “bombing” meant that your tag, name or artwork was spray-painted on one of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subways that traveled all over the concrete jungle of New York City. Along with break dancing, DJing and rapping, writers no older than 19, considered this unlawful, risky and dangerous act as one of the four elements of hiphop.
One of the pioneers who paved the way in creative expression while using his name as a tool to capture the attention of haters, fanatics and subway riders oblivious to the incoming artistry arriving at their station is Lee Quiñones. The Puerto Rican-born and Lower East Side-raised Quiñones debuted his unsolicited artistry in 1974. His underground fame became mainstream once “Wild Style,” a 1984 film that followed a group of New York graffiti writers and hip-hop artists, hit theaters. By the late ‘80s he was already selling urban style art pieces in galleries all over New York City. The graffiti icon is not only immortalized by films and documentaries but also by the art book “Subway Art,” which is one of the top selling art books to date.
The film “Wild Style” also featured Sandra Fabara, better known as Lady Pink. This Ecuadorian writer, who was raised in Queens and graduated from the High School of Art & Design in New York City, made her mark in the male dominated graffiti world from 1979 to 1985. Like most writers, Lady Pink traveled and entered the darkest and most dangerous subway tunnels to display her artistry. Quickly, the graffiti community recognized her creativity and fearlessness. Now, more than 30 years later, the respected, beloved and admired Lady Pink is still a highly sought-after painter, muralist and graffiti writer with works featured in art galleries, museums and sponsored building walls all over the U.S.
Most associate the history of graffiti with only New York. But Philadelphia, D.C. and Los Angeles also had writers showcasing their talents on billboards and vacant buildings. During the early ‘70s Mexican-American Chaz Bojórquez brought his style of Asian calligraphy and the Chicano graffiti style of the ‘50s to the streets of East Los Angeles. Bojórquez is now considered the godfather of The “Cholo”-style letters seen on the hoods of pimped-out rides, motorcycle jackets and tattoos that usually goes along with an image of a skull or a red rose placed next to them.