Lady Pink met with me over Zoom from a teal-green painted room in her upstate home.

For those of you who don’t know, Lady Pink is an Ecuadorian born, American artist raised in Astoria Queens. She was one of the first women graffiti artists in New York City in the height of graffiti’s popularity and prime (1970s and 1980s). She has never had a job where she had to work for anyone else. Since the moment she was 16 years old and sold her first painting for $500, she has been an entrepreneur and artist. 

Her father was an architect and her mother was a seamstress. Lady Pink went to the High School of Art and Design in hopes of following in her father’s footsteps, but being born in the generation before cell phones and pagers, her teenage-self succumbed to the more adventurous side of life. She didn’t listen to authority, she ran amok in the streets going to parties and events, and she got into creating graffiti by just hanging out with her friends. She nostalgically recalled the television announcement: “It’s 10 PM, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” Her mother, she admits, absolutely did not.

In her adolescence, she mostly spray-painted train cars by learning how to hang outside of the train windows, paint upside down and sideways, hang on to the top of the train by her fingernails, and “climb like a monkey”. Something her experience taught her that art school never did, was to have courage, confidence, and to create under all circumstances, even when “your knees are shaking, your heart is in your throat, you’re scared to death, [and] your hand is frozen solid.” Very often the thrill in graffiti-ing was trying not to get caught.

When asking about how she felt when seeing her work out in the wild, she said this: “There is no other feeling like it. To see you have been naughty and got away with it, and did something beyond expectations.” The subway cars from the dark alleyways now bursting in the daylight, running along the tracks, you can see “your lines are straight, and your colors line up, and everything is as it should be. You’re so proud and the rush that you get seeing that train pull up, the doors open, people [filing] in and out, and [watching] it as it roars away…it’s massive, and dirty, and gritty, and a part of the city. You don’t get that feeling seeing your painting sitting in a lovely gallery, and being praised by polite people. That’s a different feeling and a different rush. But this one- it’s very primal.”

Since moving out of her childhood home at age 20, she has gone on to meet many influential people (Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name a few), work and collaborate with several notable brands (like Louis Vuitton, Mattel’s Barbie, and DC Comics), and have many solo and group shows all around the world (one of her favorite being one with Georgia O’Keefe, and two of which are coming up this 2024 year in London and Paris). Her most treasured experience out of them all however, is holding mural workshops for teenagers at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts every year for the past 24 years. 

There, she teaches students to create murals, sometimes as long as 150 feet and sometimes even within the span of 2 days. She says, the students may think that “making art on demand is pretty hard, but meeting a real artist that believes in them, and nurtures them, and encourages them, makes a life-changing kind of a difference.” To her, it’s rewarding to watch them grow and gain confidence. To see that they are amazing, and get validation, not just from family and teachers, but from strangers who would often give them gifts for beautifying the neighborhood. She expresses that the kids themselves design, and paint everything, and feel accomplishment in their creation. Their success is her accomplishment.

Lady Pink’s generosity doesn’t just span in educating kids in her workshop, she  occasionally hands excess commissions to some of her younger student street artists. She works seven days a week, and doesn’t have the luxury of being uninspired. ”I bang my head into it, cry a little bit and then inspiration has got to come…I have to drag it out of somewhere. I always say, we [meaning creators] are channeling dead artists…all art that’s been created, and that will ever be created, needs to channel through you, and you must let your hand do something. Inspiration comes from everywhere.” Art books stolen in her adolescence, and bought in her adulthood, are also helpful for her in this feat of constantly having to create work. But she blissfully described her joy in sharing these opportunities with others, saying “validation in the form of a big fat check, gives you confidence.” 

The Seeds of The League Program gives scholarships to youth from underfunded communities. Upon learning this Lady Pink replied:

“Everyone looks up to the Art Students League, you guys set a standard for how things should be done.”

“To do commissioned jobs, the clients just want to know that you are going to meet their price and deadline and that the end product is going to be amazing. They don’t care how many trains you painted, or if you got a masters in university. None of that matters, they just want good recommendations to help their business look amazing and so they profit in their business.”

Now thinking about our young aspiring artists, I turned to the prolific painter for advice.

In general, she proclaims that the most important thing for artists is who you know. You have to go to galleries and openings and actually talk to strangers and network. “It’s barely what [you] do, it’s who [you] know” and you must “do it when you are young” she says. Some people may benefit from going to school, but being in school for too long can cripple you. “30 is too old to be discovered,” she says, “You must pursue things when you are still confident, and enthusiastic”, and you must also create a great body of work, and hustle.

Lady Pink’s advice for young aspiring graffiti artists is to not go overboard and commit felonies. In fact, since the late 80s, above ground work became more popular due to landlords getting tired of garbage on their walls. They’d ask artists to paint, and the artist would get complete control over how the work looked since they weren’t being paid for that job. This gave artists of the time more respect, by simply asking for permission. “It is more fun to get positive reactions from the community than negative”, she expresses, but a lot of young people don’t care for that, they love the thrill and approval from their peers. But “like the old saying goes, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”.

For aspiring graffiti artists, it is also imperative that you learn from a mentor. In graffiti, lettering, fonts, and styles aren’t something you inherently do or copy, it’s something you learn from rigorous practice under the study and tutelage of someone else. Graffiti is its own language and dialect, and you can tell where someone is from simply by the style that they have. The craft is traded down from Master to apprentice, from one person to another, and it’s for each little thing: letters, characters, how to spray paint, how to stretch canvases, how to break and enter, etc. She stresses that you can’t even learn this practice from a book. You must learn from others, and eventually you will find your own style within that genre.

For the college kids, her advice was “learn how to market yourself, learn your value, learn how you will survive after school, and learn how to bounce back from rejection. It’s not you personally, it’s your artwork. Someone will always be a little bit better. You must learn how to pick yourself up from the ground, stop crying, and submit for the next project. Like actors and actresses, you must audition over and over again. Keep going. It’s the same with artists- we only get one-third of the gigs and offers sent our way. You wont get every job. Don’t get too upset about it.”

She also urges the need for those in university to gain some of the ego and quickness of the more free-spirited. She noticed that those who recently graduate from university, are slow in courage and slow to meet deadlines.

On talking through surfaces she likes to paint on, she eventually poetically stated:“I don’t know if I have a preference, I paint whatever is standing still.”

Winding down from the accolades and advice, I wanted to know Lady Pink’s thoughts of the future. She expressed that she would love to step into 3-D sculpture work, sewing, embroidering on canvas, and creating things with fabric- a turn I delightedly realized was now more inspired from her seamstress mother. The artist professed that she often makes personal crafts similar to those aspirations for Christmas, and that she sells more unique merchandise besides her paintings on her website, but she hopes for more opportunities to pursue those avenues.

All in all, the feminist, Latinx, woman-pioneer for graffiti had a lot of riveting wisdom to share. It was a pleasure to get to interview such a powerhouse and a member of the Seeds of the League Program’s Advisory Board for this Women’s History Month Exclusive.

Kayla James

Jamaican American 
The High School of Art & Design
Fashion Institute of Technology
Speilberger Spanierman Scholarship

For More Information:
Kayla James’ Instagram

Kayla James’ Website

Lady Pink’s Website