The Graffiti Artist
Lee Quiñones at UNM's Keller Hall
By Steven Robert Allen
In the late '60s, graffiti artists, many of them extraordinarily talented teenagers, began painting on subway cars and other surfaces all over New York City. Lee Quiñones' family didn't have a car at the time, so the subway was their principle mode of transportation. As a youngster, he saw graffiti everywhere he went. When he was 14 years old, he picked up a spray can and started doing it himself.
Quiñones, though, was no ordinary street vandal. Both his teachers in school and his peers on the street quickly recognized his talent. Both his skill with a spray can and his raging ambition soon set him apart from the pack. In the mid '70s, he formed the vanguard of a movement aimed at painting whole subway cars. The work took from 8 to 10 hours to complete, covering the car from front to back and top to bottom. These murals also required an enormous amount of planning.
"To be involved in that scene was intense," Quiñones said in a recent interview with the Alibi. "Those of us who took it seriously really had to study the [subway] system and become a part of it. We knew exactly where trains would be parked for a few hours or maybe a night or a whole weekend. In those days, trains were sometimes out of service for a whole weekend because the city couldn't afford to run them. It was a pre-planned marathon of commitment and conviction."
Quiñones subway murals soon became legendary. "When you saw one of these mega whole cars," he says, "these gigantic paintings, it was so distinctive, especially when it came in and out of the dark. It left you so tantalized. It was like, wow, what was that about? I rode the subways for a number of years after doing these murals just to see people's responses to them, almost like a director sneaking in to see one of his own films. It was a great feeling."
Quiñones, along with fellow street artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, is one of the few graffiti practitioners who eventually achieved broad acceptance in the mainstream art world. He moved from subway cars to canvas in the late '70s, and his paintings have been collected by such prestigious institutions as New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
This legendary "post-graffiti" artist will appear at UNM's Keller Hall this Friday evening to deliver a multi-media lecture titled Modern Antiquity. With some help from a DJ friend, Quiñones will present a slide show that transports viewers back to the early days of the street art movement. In the process, he'll delve deeply into the roots of hip-hop culture and present images of his paintings up through the present, showing the evolution of his work over the decades.
Don't miss this opportunity to meet and interact with this ground-breaking artist.
Lee Quiñones will deliver a presentation with a slide-show and music in Keller Hall, located in UNM's Center for the Arts, on Friday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. Admission is free.
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