An invitational exhibition of contemporary art
All photographs by Phyllis Bilick
Lady Pink (Sandra Fabara) was my choice for Queens 1990, one of a series of regularly scheduled exhibitions at the Queens Museum intended to spotlight local artists who lived and worked in the borough of Queens. Fabara lived in Astoria Queens and although she was only 26-years-old at the time she already had an international reputation as a member of the graffiti art movement that had taken the art world by storm in the mid-1980s. Pink was one of the few women artists to paint in the subways and she was among the earliest group of graffiti-based artists who moved from doing illegal works on trains to legal works on canvas. I first met Pink in 1984 when I was working on the video program Graffiti/Post Graffiti and I interviewed her at the Sidney Janis Gallery.
The articulate and attractive Fabara made a strong first impression at the museum when she arrived barefoot carrying rolled up canvases under her arms. Her section of the exhibition included new aerosol paintings on canvas from a series about violence against gays; earlier acrylic paintings infused with symbolic references to her Ecuadorian lineage; and, the pièce de résistance, a huge mural spray painted directly on the museum wall. The mural, based on a print that Fabara had recently made at the Lower East Side Printshop, showed a homeless girl in a cardboard shantytown drawing her dream house onto one of the boxes.
My essay about Lady Pink in the catalog summed up the early history of an artist who remains active today.
Success came early to Sandra "Lady Pink" Fabara. While still in high school, she was already exhibiting paintings in art galleries and, at the age of 21, had her first one-person show. As a leading participant in the rise of graffiti-based art, Lady Pink's canvases have entered important art collections and are regularly exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout America and Europe. Now, in her late 20's, Lady Pink continues to mature as an artist, producing ambitious murals commissioned for clubs and restaurants, and creating new paintings on canvas that express her unique personal vision.
Born in Ecuador, the daughter of an architect, Fabara moved with her family to New York at the age of eight. In 1979 she entered the High School of Art and Design, a magnet school for artistically talented youngsters. Much to the dismay of the teachers at the school, most of the young students at the time were interested in the ubiquitous street and subway graffiti, which emerged in the early '70s. With the advent of the '80s, graffiti was at its height, and the best practitioners were cult heroes to their teenage peers. "Writers" as the artists were called, no longer merely scribbled their "tags" (names or nicknames) with magic markers. The best were doing large-scale, spray-painted works that completely covered subway cars, handball courts, and other public places. Fabara chose the tag "Lady Pink", and soon distinguished herself as a talented woman in a macho world where art was created surreptitiously during dangerous, nighttime forays into train yards and subway tunnels. As the mainstream art world became interested in graffiti in the early 1980's, Lady Pink easily made the transition from creating illegal paintings on subways to legal works on canvas, and was included in all the important early group shows of the emergent style.
New York's graffiti art movement began as a calligraphic art in which writers did stylized renderings of their names or tags. Lady Pink is part of a later wave of artists who expanded the genre by incorporating cartoon images. Cartoons appealed to the city teens who were the original audience for graffiti, and they also communicated with an art world long familiar with Pop art. But cartoon graffiti art is very different from cartoon Pop. Roy Lichtenstein, the Pop artist most associated with comic-book imagery, views his cartoon subject matter with irony as he creates formally complex, hard-edged paintings. Graffiti-based artists strongly identify with their imagery and work in a quick, spontaneous, gestural fashion with spray paint. Their art is more closely related to the expressionist art of the 1980s than to 1960s Pop.
Lady Pink's cartoon canvases Initially used imagery drawn from the world of hip- hop and teen culture, but as her art evolved, she used a wider variety of themes. In a unique series of acrylic brush paintings (done in 1986 when a hand injury prevented her from working with spray paint), Pink delves into her inner self, mixing self-portraits with an eclectic collection of images primarily related to women and third-world cultures. Often Pink's paintings identify with the disenfranchised and abused victims of senseless violence. Her current work deals with the violent "wolf pack" behavior of urban youth gangs and the recent spate of attacks on innocent victims like gays, women, and the homeless.
It has been over six years since "Post-Graffiti" -- the illegal art movement transposed to the gallery -- first became an international art world phenomenon. As Lady Pink and other artists associated with the movement continue to work, it becomes clear that their art, initially born outside the traditional art world, is part of an expanding mainstream Increasingly sensitive to race, gender, and social issues. As her artistic skills sharpen and her vision matures, Lady Pink is forging well-crafted expressionist-inflected art that effectively communicates an important perspective on contemporary urban life.
- Marc H. Miller, 1990