The world of graffiti is a notoriously risky, rough, dark place. It is a subculture full of danger, gangs, and drugs. People have died or gone to prison for the love of it. When you’re scaling tall buildings, sneaking through back alleys, breaking and entering, shop lifting paint, there is always the risk of getting arrested or running into a rival crew or gang. To top it off, it is illegal, even a felony in some places.
In this subculture mostly dominated by men, there are a few women who are pushing just as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts. Among them are artists such as Utah, Claw, Fafi, Echo, Miss17, Queen Andrea, Lady Pink, Mickey. These are just a few women who have proved themselves and surpassed the boys in this game. Not only have they marked their city or state, most of them have painted all over the world. All illegally and for the love of the art. Nobody gets paid to do graffiti. Once you do, it turns into street art. The graffiti and street art world mix like oil and water. Next time you see graffiti and wonder how it got there, think about who might have done it and the risks that came with it. Here are 8 women whose graffiti stands out from the pack.
Utah is from NYC. She has painted on six continents and every major city in the world. In August 2008, she was arrested at JFK airport, returning from a graffiti trip in Europe. She was sentenced to six months in jail for painting subway trains in NYC. She was also sentenced to an additional six months in jail in Boston for painting their train system. After her release, she left the States and has been on the move ever since. Utah and her partner Ether documented 5 years of painting subways in Asia, through 11 countries and 37 cities, in Probation Vacation: Lost in Asia. Released in 2016, it is a multimedia project which includes photos, a 12 episode series of videos and a book. In May of 2016, Ether was arrested in Melbourne.
“More often than not, a street or a wall will look pretty similar wherever you are. Of course there are exceptions to this but generally speaking, a wall is a wall. Public transportation however, such as a train or subway, is really specific to an individual city. You can only paint a specific model of train in a specific place.” – Utah, in an interview with Vice Magazine, 2016
Claw is originally from Queens, NY. She dropped out of F.I.T. in 1986 to pursue her art. Her iconic paw with three claws could be seen all over NYC in the 1980s and early 90s. After making her mark throughout NYC, she became the fashion editor at Swindle Magazine. During this time, she began styling and became a vintage dealer. In 2002, she started her own clothing lines CLAW MONEY and Claw & Co. She has designed two styles of Claw Money custom sneakers for Nike and has collaborated with Calvin Klein, Marc Ecko, G Pen, Lord & Taylor, rag & bone, NASCAR, Converse, Vans, K2 Snowboarding, My Little Pony, and more. In 2007, she released her first book, titled Bombshell: The Life and Crimes of Claw Money.
“I think my tenacity set some standards for women, and from that there was this outpouring of love, which is really great. So mostly, it’s just been love — first it’s hate, then it’s love.” – Claw, in an interview with Racked, 2015
Check out an interview with Claw Money (including her highly entertaining, disapproving family) and Miss17
Fafi was born and raised in Toulouse, France. She currently lives and works in Paris. She is known for her sexy, funny, and sometimes aggressive female characters called the Fafinettes. She has painted all over Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States. She has done work for Sony, Adidas, Coca- Cola, Vogue, Elle, LeSportSac, to name a few. She has also released two books, titled Girls Rock (2004) and Love and Fafiness (2005). In 2012, she published a graphic novel, The Carmine Vault, which explores the world of the Fafinettes.
Echo is from Miami and currently lives in L.A. She attended Pratt Institute and has been writing graffiti since 1999. Her work can be seen all over the United States and Europe.
“Using spray paint doesn’t make you a Graffiti Writer, neither does painting a wall. Writing your name illegally a few times (and never doing it again) doesn’t make you a Graffiti Writer. Painting letters on legal wall doesn’t make you a Graffiti Writer – yeah you can call yourself a Graffiti Artist (cuz that mural sure does look like what illegal Graffiti might look like) – but to me, being a Graffiti Writer takes a lot more than simply knowing how to paint on a wall with a spray can… Only protective over the term “Graffiti” and “Graffiti Writer” because I’ve risked so much to be able to call myself that, I don’t like it when people use the term so loosely.” – Echo, in an interview with Spray Daily, 2015
“I’ve had a lot of different male writers tell me that I “don’t paint like a girl.” I’m still not sure what that means… I don’t think there’s a gender difference in applying spray paint.” – Echo, in an interview with Bombing Science, 2008
Miss17 is from NYC. Her signature “17” is instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent much time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Her work can also be seen all over the United States and Europe. There’s not much known publicly about Miss17 and she likes it that way.
Queen Andrea was born and raised in NYC. She is a master of typography and vibrant colors. She received her degree in design from Parsons School of Design. She works as a graphic designer by day, creating logos, designs for apparel, murals and branding. Her graffiti can be spotted in most major cities of the United States and Europe.
“I started practicing at age 14 in the early 1990’s. As a downtown kid, I was lucky to became friends with some of the most notorious NYC writers and piecers who I would hang out with in my neighbourhood, which helped me to develop my own unique style and technique. I love letters and I love writing my name even more. I’ve stayed focused on graffiti, and also graphic design and art, for my entire life since my early days.
I love graffiti to death! It was the first artform that I fell in love with, it really grabbed me from a young age. Whenever I see super vandalised walls, they’re like art to me – I carefully identify all the tags and handstyles, it’s an insane, chaotic mess that I enjoy. I’m a New Yorker, and the graffiti in my city is some of the best of the best, I’m constantly inspired by the bombers and piecers around me. I’m always motivated to practice new letters, hand styles and to seek out new spots to paint, it’s just a passion of mine.” – Queen Andrea in an interview with Spray Daily, 2015
Lady Pink was born in Ecuador, but raised in NYC. She started doing graffiti in 1979. She is known as “The first lady of graffiti”. She painted NYC subway trains from 1979-1985. She starred in the lead role of the 1982 cult classic movie “Wild Style”. Her paintings on canvas are included in the collections of Whitney Museum, the MET in New York City, the Brooklyn Museum and the Groningen Museum of Holland. Today she still paints and shares her experience by having mural workshops and lecturing to college students all over the world.
“When I first started, women were still trying to prove themselves, through the 70’s, that women could do everything guys could do. The feminist movement was growing very strong and as a teenager I think it affected me without me realizing that I was a young feminist. The more guys said “you can’t do that”, the more I had to prove them wrong. I had to hold it up for all my sisters who looked up to me to be brave and courageous and to prove that I could do what guys could do. We defend our artworks with our fists and our crazy courage. When you have guys that disrespect you you’re gonna have to teach them a lesson, otherwise they are going to keep walking all over you. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is out there, it’s not easy. But it also reflects what the art world in general is: 80% white males. So you have to fight tooth and nail, bitch and scream, be loud and be large to get respect.” – Lady Pink’s Feminist Artist Statement, excerpted from the Brooklyn Art Museum’s website
Mickey is from Groningen, Netherlands and has been doing graffiti since 1985. She currently lives and works in Amsterdam. Her art has been shown in numerous group and solo exhibitions, and she gives talks and masterclasses. She has recently been featured in the documentary Girl Power, a portrait of female graffiti writers from fifteen international cities.
“Just like there’s a thin line between love and hate, there is a thin line between graffiti viewed as art or vandalism. To me graffiti’s colorful pieces are never vandalism. Vandalism is wrecking something on purpose just for the heck of it. But graffiti is different. It is painting your name for others to see… to make the city look better. I think graffiti has become a folk art, like quilting or aboriginal art.” – Mickey, in an interview with Women’s Media Center in 2011