Discover the street art origins of 4 internationally known female figures.

street art origins

As we recently passed the International women’s day (8th March), we wanted to pay tribute to different female pioneers in our industry. What are their street art origins?

Who are they? How did they start? We will now introduce you to the most relevant female artists.

  • Lady Pink 
  • Margaret Kilgallen
  • Lady Aiko
  • Martha Cooper

Lady Pink, one of NYC’s most epic names.

Lady Pink US
Decoration of Cycle and Lady Pink, two pioneers in the street art origins.

First of all, we could find Sandra Fabara, also known as Lady Pink. She is an Ecuadorian artist raised in New York since she was 7 years old.

Her aesthetics, activism and effort made her artworks worldwide famous. Mrs. Fabara is nowadays a highly praised fine muralist.

The ‘first lady’ observed in the street art origins (1979-present)

Street art origins: Lady Pink
Lady Pink, picture taken by Dr Garageland from the book Subway Art.

Lady Pink is considered to be one of the first women who found her spot in the late 70s NYC graffiti industry.

She became interested in graffiti at a very young age, but she then realized a discouraging fact. Above all, it was a man’s world. It was the male figures who went to the subway tunnels at night, trespass and paint their tags on the subway’s wagons. 

Certainly, they were the ones who had fun. Would you say that the street art origins restricted women in the graffiti world?

As a result, she realized that these male graffiti writers didn’t want to include her, or any other female artist, in their adventures. She fought for it and prove them wrong. Men thought girls were a problem.

Soon enough she found herself living this nighttime adventure with her graffiti friends. She met a lot of people at this stage. They became real graffiti icons. As an example, we could mention Lee Quiñones.  

Four decades passed since the first time Lady Pink used a spray can. Her presence in the underground scene helped other female graffiti writers to have spot in the community.

Empowering a whole community.

Lady Pink in 2006
Picture by Garrison Gunter in 11 Spring St. Fourth Floor

Sandra abandoned the world of “illegal art” in the mid 80’s. Ever since, she’s dedicated to mural paintings with her husband Smith.

How is she contributing to equity?

  • Her name is an irony of the term “Lady” in romantic Literature.
  • She includes strong female figures in her murals,
  • The pink colour is used as a symbol of gender norms,
  • Empowering ‘Latino’ female artists across America.

Due to several police vandal accusations, Lady Pink ran away from New York city. She now lives in a chill area, where she dedicates to studio works.

Even though she’d never used the term “activist”, Lady Pink is committed with a more inclusive graffiti scene. She skypes with communities all over the world, teaching them how to start creating their own artworks, and how to become an artist.

Margaret Kilgallen & the beauty of simplicity.

The street art origins in California
Black Vomit shared this image to pay tribute to ‘META’

Secondly, we could find another American illustrator. Ms. Kilgallen was an urban artist born in Washington D.C. in 1971. She passed away at the age of 33 in 2001.

For the reason that she passed away that young, Margaret is one of those still unknown female artists. The street art origins should revalue her artworks more profoundly! Our community should also pay tribute to the generation of street artists who worked in California during the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Shepard Fairey and Harmony Korine are examples of other members who worked within this generation. 

How could the street art origins be inspired by the basics?

Artwork observed in a gallery
Beautiful Losers & Lightning Bolts Exhibition at Laforet Museum Harajuku

This young artist learnt from printmaking and book designing. As a young woman, she became very interested in lettering art and the simplicity of hand-made signs.

Her art would consist of handmade paintings, with no prior preparation or sketching. As a result, she expressed how much care and dedication someone needs in order to create handcrafts.

Her style was very simple and clean, mostly representing women with simple compositions and colours. She soon became fond of:

  • mural paintings,
  • wholecars,
  • other large surfaces.

The figures that she represented weren’t doing extraordinary things. They were often observed in common scenes. For example, people riding bikes or just chilling in the park. Her style differed from the overloaded graffiti techniques.

Margaret signed with the nicknames “Meta” or “Matokie Slaughter”. This last one was inspired by one of her all time icons, a renowned banjo player with the same name.

Alongside with her husband Barry Mcgee, they turned into key players in the street art origins. Urban art trespassed from an understatement to more visibility in galleries and American Museums.

This visibilization was one of the first steps for the great acceptance which urban creators do count with nowadays.

Who inspired her artworks?

Kilgallen felt a strong connection with some aspects in the American culture, such as Folk music and freight graffiti. The main characters in Margaret’s murals were mostly women.

These figures were, for example:

  • professional swimmers,
  • musicians,
  • not so famous feminist icons.

Unlike other heroines that showed a very innovative way to represent women back in the day, she felt that many other fields required empowering too.

It’s in the documentary “Heroines” where you can listen to Margaret talk about these inspiring women. At the same time, you’ll get the chance to see how she used to work.

Lady Aiko, where the East meets the West street art origins.

Street art mural by Aiko in Miami
Street art mural painted by Aiko in Wynwood district, Miami

Lady Aiko is the nickname of Japanese artist Aiko Nakagawa, born in Tokyo. She’s been based in NYC since 1990s. Mrs. Aiko is considered to be not only one of the most important figures of street art origins, but a key one in contemporary art.

Aiko’s strong links to her origins

The street art origins by Aiko
Artwork created by Aiko over a spray can

Her style is unmistakable. The aesthetics are unique, all related with her life experiences. 

She studied graphic design and filmmaking. Her inspiration comes from different sources:

  • XVIII centuries’ Japanese woodblock prints,
  • Women’s figure in Japanese culture,
  • Neon signs. Similar to those in the busy streets of Chinatown,
  • Love and romantic relationships. 

Although Aiko works with a variety of materials and techniques, she’s mostly known for her spray-paint large scale murals.They can be observed in many different countries!

Most noteworthy, Aiko’s artworks seek to represent the lack of equality that exists in the graffiti and street art culture. She wants to empower female graffiti artists, and even inspire little girls, by showing how much of a man’s world this scene is.

Aiko’s buddies, worldwide contemporary art icons.

Nakagawa ’s career has not only taken her to the world’s most prominent galleries, doing collective and solo shows, but also to collaborate with big names within the fashion industry.

Who has she collaborated with?

  • She worked with Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller in a project called FAILE.
  • Aiko also shared ideas & techniques with Lady Pink,  as part of a street art collective called A-Life.
  • Banksy included her in 2005 in “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. She was one of the movie makers.

Martha Cooper, photographing the graffiti and street art origins.

street art origins in NYC
A tribute to Photojournalist Martha Cooper, graffiti documentarian, for her birthday

Martha Cooper is one of the names we came across when talking about NYC’s graffiti origins. She’s an important figure in our culture because of her pictures.

This American photographer was born in 1940. Cooper has spent a good percentage of her life photographing graffiti art in New York and other places around the world.

Her photographs have had important relevance in graffiti and street art studies. She has served to document all the different artists and styles since the late 70’s . Luckily for us, Martha continues in the first line.

She was born to document the greatest artists’ adventures.

one of the pioneers in graffiti photography

Marty, as her friends know her, was born in a photography world. Her dad owned a camera shop and she was always in contact with different Polaroids, Kodaks and other 35mm from an early age.

As an adult she worked as a professional photographer for The New York Post, one of the US most famous newspapers. It was by then when she became interested in graffiti.

Soon enough, Cooper became close friend with the city’s most notorious and respectable graffiti artists from the time. They invited her everywhere they went, and so she documented all these adventures.

The creator of the “Graffiti Bible”.

One of the greatest gifts Cooper gave the community is what some of us consider the most important book for graffiti lovers.

Along with Henry Chalfant, they published in 1984 a book called “Subway Art”, in which they captured the hip-hop culture.

It is considered to be the first one of its kind. This momentum allowed people to understand graffiti in ways they hadn’t done before. It shows the birth of a culture which is still powerful nowadays. The book has inspired generations of artists.

Our opinion about important women in the street art origins.

We are sure that you can name at least a couple of names in your graffiti’s community or in the street art movement.

We consider that it’s important to highlight all the different narratives that have taken part in the scene.

Let’s empower the female street art origins and its current routes!

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