Lee Quinones

Lee Quinones is born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1960. He is one of the most famous artists of the New York grafitti scene. Since 1975 his illegal drawings appear on subways and on the walls enclosing public sport fields and courts in New York.

Quinones acquires fame beyond the inner circle of the graffiti scene when he succeeds in painting entire subway trains, for example, the Christmas Train (1977). The dramatic circumstances under which these projects are realized, the spectacular mobility, and the large format of his graffiti attract a scene of its own that starts to cluster around him and his friends. Yet, obviously, the work of the subway sprayer is not without danger. Moreover, the authorities resort to using paint-repellent substances on the trains, and many graffiti artists give up their transgressive actions. Quinones reacts to the increasing difficulties by discovering handball courts as new fields for his activities. With his group called Fab 5 (Fabulous Five), including Doc, Mono, and Slave, he succeeds in also doing first commissioned works.

In the by now legendary film »Wild Style« (1982) by Charlie Ahearn, Quinones appears as Zoro and plays a Puerto Rican sprayer whose story immediately reflects on Hip Hop, Rap culture, and the atmosphere of the New York scene. In the film, Zoro successfully refuses to be »bought« by the galleries, but Quinones himself soon starts to create works for the legal art market. In 1979 he starts exhibiting his sprayed canvas paintings, and in 1980 he has his first solo exhibition at the White Columns Gallery, New York, and at the Galleria Paolo Seno, in Milan.

A year later, Quinones finishes his career as a sprayer, and canvas becomes his main field of work. He now uses more pictorial means of representation, but still works with the spray can. The transition from an illegal scene to international exhibition rooms goes smoothly. He succeeds in conveying the spontaneity of his graffiti to the picture as medium. Consisting mostly of sprayed enamel on canvas or metal, his works now employ codes and icons, seemingly imitating illegal wall art (Angry Young Man, 1982), or they create large-format portraits that remind of the world of advertising and of comic strips (Debby Harry, 1981).

In 1982 Quinones’ work is shown at the Documenta 7. In 1984 he exhibits at the American Graffiti Gallery, Amsterdam, and at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Quinones lives in New York.

Selected Literature

Pittura dura, Dal graffitismo alla street art: Ausst.-Kat. Turin Fondazione Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin 1999

American Graffiti: Ausst.-Kat. Museo Civico di Castelnuovo Neapel, hg. v. Achille Bonito Oliva, Neapel 1997

Stahl, Johannes: Graffiti. Zwischen Alltag und Ästhetik, München 1990

Bianchi, Paolo (Hg.): Graffiti, Wandkunst u. wilde Bilder, Basel 1984

Classical Amercan Graffiti Writers and High Graffiti Artist: Ausst.-Kat. München Galerie Thomas, München 1984

Amerikanische Kunst der Siebziger und Achtziger, Back to the USA: Ausst.-Kat. Luzern, hg. v. Klaus Honnef u.a., Bonn 1983

Castleman, Craig: Getting up. Subway graffiti in New York, Cambridge/Mass. u.a. 1982

New York Graffiti: Ausst.-Kat. Wilhelm-Hack-Museum Ludwigshafen, hg. v. Richard W. Gassen, Ludwigshafen/Rhein, 1987

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014

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