Lee Quiñones: Graffiti and the Gallery

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Anyone who remembers New York City’s “golden age” of graffiti in the late ’70s and early ’80s knows about the lion spray-painted on the handball court at Corlears Junior High School, roaring next to metallic blue letters spelling the word “Lee.” In this episode of the Hyperallergic podcast, we speak with its creator, Lee Quiñones, whose paintings of dragons, lions, and Howard the Duck on over 120 MTA train cars were part of the movement that brought light and color to the otherwise dingy, dark, and drastically underfunded subway system. 

Quiñones’s paintings caught the attention of art collectors and gallerists. By the time he was 19, he was showing his work at Galleria La Medusa in Rome, alongside fellow graffiti writer Fred Brathwaite, also known as “Fab 5 Freddy.” Among other writers, the following years would bring his graffiti art to more shows, both at home in New York City and in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and even Documenta 7 in 1982 in Kassel, Germany. 

Quiñones is the rare graffiti writer from this era who maintained a successful career in the gallery space. Today, he continues to experiment through paintings, drawings, and collages in an ever-changing range of styles. His art is in the collections of several major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

In this episode, Quiñones reflects on the monster movies that inspired him as a kid, running the tracks as a graffiti-writing teen, making art alongside Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jenny Holzer in the 1980s East Village scene, and much more. He also discusses the new book documenting his life and work, Lee Quiñones: Fifty Years of New York Graffiti Art and Beyond, which was published by Damiani on April 30. A solo show of his recent work, titled Quinquagenary, will be on display at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles until May 25, 2024. 

The music in this episode is courtesy of Soundstripe.

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  • (00:00) - Intro
  • (03:04) - Early life and work
  • (08:06) - Cinema
  • (19:43) - “Howard the Duck”
  • (27:17) - Lee is “WANTED” by the police
  • (28:58) - “Lion’s Den”
  • (38:57) - The East Village scene
  • (47:29) - “The buff” in the 80s
  • (53:03) - The 21st century
  • (57:00) - Outro

Lee Quiñones: Graffiti and the Gallery
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