Let Us Spray: Up Close and Personal with New York’s Early Graffiti Writers

by articulatenyc

Lee Quiñones, Howard the Duck, 1988, oil on canvas. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York.

Lee Quiñones, Howard the Duck, 1988, oil on canvas. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York.

Lady Pink’s 1982 painting Manic Depression depicts the New York street artist—then just a lanky teen—vulnerably slumped on the floor of a jail cell, which she shares with two prostitutes. The walls of the cell are scrawled with notes and graffiti tags, the largest of which reads, “Lady Pink.” The work isn’t as self-assured or psychedelic as Lady Pink’s later canvases, which often feature ghoulish creatures navigating trippy, urban wonderlands, but artist and collector Martin Wong knew he had to have it. Why? Because it is the first painting the artist created using a brush, rather than an aerosol can.

This canvas is one of many that Wong procured from his graffiti-writer friends. A fixture of the Lower East Side art scene in the ’80s and early ’90s, the Portland, Oregon–born Wong was deeply and personally connected to the graffiti movement. Tags and other street-art motifs even crept into the artist’s own paintings of prisons, redbrick tenements, and downtown neighborhoods. (The Estate of Martin Wong is now represented by P.P.O.W and his paintings are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Metropolitan Museum, among others. An exhibition of Wong’s personal possessions was on view at the Gugenheim Museum last spring.)

Through trading his paintings and buying work directly from his friends, Wong amassed a vast holding of sketches, photographs, notebooks, and early paintings by graffiti writers including Futura 2000, Daze, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, and Keith Haring. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994, Wong donated his expansive collection to the Museum of the City of New York and moved back to the West Coast. Beginning February 4, the museum will present Wong’s collection for the first time in a new exhibition titled “City as Canvas.” The show demonstrates Wong’s dedication to collecting artworks that not only highlight his personal taste, but that, together, tell the story of New York’s graffiti movement. “City as Canvas” is curated by Sean Corcoran and is accompanied by a catalogue edited by Corcoran and curator Carlo McCormick. Read the full story on artnews.com!