Graffiti - the rise of the female street artist by Kate Cox
Cover photo - Artist MadC
With Street Art now a buzz-word, the mainstream is starting to understand this vibrant subculture and how Graffiti truly defined its own movement. In this often male-dominated scene, we explore the history of the female graffiti artist and some diverse approaches in style.
Blossomed from the seed of a handful of ‘tags’ in the mid 60’s-early 70’s around New York and Philadelphia, graffiti took solid roots a decade later creating a fresh, albeit controversial scene combining hip-hop and street dance. An explosive super-cool style, edgy enough to drive fear into the minds of many.
Solo painters and crews took to the streets leaving their marks on trains, walls, anything going, to get their tags seen. Writers experimented with bubbles and shapes, developing the ‘wildstyle’ lettering techniques that we recognise today; transitioning simple words into intricate artworks. An illegal statement by the creator, artists were ready to run if caught in the act of ‘vandalism’.
This literal explosion of colour on the streets started a massive movement and although recognised females like Lady Pink & Claw pushed to define their place during the early 80’s, it’s only now, almost half a century later, that ladies can finally stand up alongside the big boys.
The myth that graffiti was a man’s world was linked to its edgier side - being out late at night in dark places, a target for weirdos, breaking the law and running from police. It went against stereotypes. “Traditional” feminine qualities, being timid, delicate and unable to deal with fear* were not qualities of a graffiti writer.
Sneaking around at night, dirty, dangerous, surely that’s not for girls right?! Wrong.
There have been amazing women on the scene since the beginning. Graffiti veterans Barbara 62, Claw and Lady Pink gave the 80’s NYC guys a run for their money!
Breaking through this competitive, macho chauvinistic world was tough. Some women hid behind their anonymity, often manifesting themselves in masculine ways, whilst others dropped feminist nods through secret symbols.
Claw, who’s iconic tag - a three clawed paw - was spotted over NYC in the late 80’s, included what she describes as “little winks to the girls”, feminine slogans inside the claw, like “baby love”, “hot” or “PMS”.
Scrapes and being tough are part of the process. Lady Pink sneaked out of her bedroom window at night to paint. Claw recalled scaling the Manhattan Bridge on a four-inch plank. And Charmin 65 (the first woman to tag the New York subways) climbed fences, ran across train tracks and had scraps with men.
Sometimes being a woman had an advantage. Claw occasionally donned a prom dress, knowing that cops would never suspect she carried spray cans in her purse. Lady Pink, who at the age of 17 was going to parties with Andy Warhol and hobnobbing with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat , recalls similar experiences of talking herself out of trouble with the police.
Recent changes have allowed ‘ladies of the can’ to inch into the scene. It’s challenging, especially large scale, working on scaffolding at height, but there is a much greater comradery now. It’s no longer the boys club, it's a family. The feminine struggle for recognition is acknowledged as we celebrate the females adorning their personal statements all over the world. A handful of these amazing women with diverse styles are included below.
Faith47 - internationally acclaimed mixed-media visual artist making large scale work.
MadC - from ‘a teenager with a can’ to highly acclaimed street artist, responsible for some of the largest murals in the world.
Lady K Fever - long term graffiti artist with a passion for community and educational projects.
Maya Hayuk - feminista muralist creating bold geometric patterns.
Nomad Clan - duo Aylo & Cbloxx combine bold graphics with a surreal portrayal of life.
Christina Angelina -known for her monochrome, photorealistic portraits of women.
Swoon - pasting paper portraits to the sides of buildings for 20+ years.
More open dialogue around feminism has given female artists the space to be themselves and as popular culture embraces gender as irrelevant, transformations sprout and seeds grow. An artist is an artist.
At the same time, graffiti as a whole is finally being recognised for its monumental cultural influence, reaching all kinds of people in all corners of the world.
*not the views of the author!
1 & 2
Kelsey Ables. 2019. The Boundary-Breaking Women of New York’s Graffiti Scene”. artsy.net
Miss Rosen. 2019. “Claw Money is New York City’s First Lady of graffiti”. huckmag.com
4 & 5
Sarah Cascone. 2019. “‘I Was a Feminist and I Didn’t Know It’: How Lady Pink Made a Space for Herself in the Boys Club of New York’s Graffiti Scene”. artnet.com
Kate Cox is a Worcester based, Freelance Producer/Curator/Writer and the Director of ‘Clik Clik Collective‘ (creating immersive live art experiences for events), and ‘The Cabinet of Lost Secrets‘ (a weird and wonderful live music and arts venue at Nozstock The Hidden Valley).
With a passion for the arts (especially street art/graffiti) Kate is the Arts Editor for local music and arts magazine, Slap Mag and has written freelance articles for several arts organisations over the years. She is currently deep in planning on a new event for the city, Worcester Paint Festival in September 2021, in partnership with Cheltenham Paint Festival.