The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery
In the courtyard of Gustiamo, 1715 W. Farms Road, lies an outdoor art gallery: 1,500 square feet of wall space donated to Bronx graffiti artists, curated by Lady K-Fever and Scratch, featuring famed artists Ces, Kingbee and Tats Cru.
Kathleena Howie, known professionally as Lady K-Fever, began her art career nearly 25 years ago in Vancouver, Canada, “bombing” walls throughout the city in the early 1990s with a particular interest in human rights and social activism. She has spent the last 15 years living and working in New York City. With an extensive background in multiple mediums as an artist, art educator and art advocate, her passion is clearly graffiti.
In 2014 Howie co-founded The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery. “We wanted to create a gallery for the community, but the premise is the value of the art,” she says. “It’s also a vehicle for me to advocate art education.” For Howie, this is an important aspect of her work. Many art historians say the practice is classical, dating back to the ancient Roman and Greek empires. “It’s one of the longest movements in art history.”
The art movement and history of graffiti, especially in the outer boroughs, has had an enormous impact on New York City culture. Graffiti made its NYC debut on subway cars in the early 1970s and continued to grow in popularity until untouched cars were a rare sight.
“Most boys in the ’70s did graffiti in the subway yard on a Sunday because there was no one else there, it was safe. If they went to the park or anywhere else, they could be robbed or worse.” Ironically, she says, “There isn’t even graffiti represented at the Transit Museum, and it’s such a big part of history.”
It was a time of uncertainty in New York City history, especially in the Bronx: “The city was going through an economic crisis” that ultimately led the birth of new art and expression.
Howie stresses the importance of allowing younger generations the opportunity to express themselves through street art, noting that graffiti often reflects the political climate and social movements. “There are blank walls all over this city, and I wish they would allow people to express themselves more freely without getting a fine.”
She attributes much of her success to her more traditional art background. “It’s business, and I was an artist before I came to New York so I kinda knew the business.” Many young untrained artists don’t know how to navigate their art in the world. “A lot of kids tag because they don’t know that they can ask the building owner for permission,” and without that permission they often draw a fine for defacing property, perpetuating negative connotations.
Since the 1970s the graffiti world has been largely saturated by men. Being a female artist in a male-dominated industry has been a challenge for Howie. “I have my walls and create my own projects because if I sat around waiting for a man to invite me, I’d still be waiting.” To date she has over 20 walls throughout the Bronx, adding light and positivity to each neighborhood with her floral and botanical themed pieces, incorporating traditional graffiti lettering with an energetic abstract style. “I have a lot of respect for the guys, and I’m treated equally—some of the time—but it’s taken a long time, nearly 25 years. It’s a man’s world out there.”
The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery was another avenue for her to help promote the value of graffiti. It was born of a connection built on Howie’s contagious passion and clear vision, plus a little bit of luck. While she was working with the Bronx River Art Center, the Italian import company Gustiamo sponsored food for an after-school event. Company owner Beatrice Ughi, didn’t attend that day but a year later Ughi and Howie finally crossed paths—bumping into each other at another event
“How I met Bea was magical,” Howie recalls. “Bea came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been looking for you.’” The two women took a trip to see a wall outside the Gustiamo warehouse, a perfect canvas for a Lady K-Fever mural, Howie said to Ughi “I’d love to paint this, but I have a better idea.”
The idea was a curated outdoor gallery, celebrating Bronx graffiti. The idea was an easy sell, “Bea loves graffiti. I wish there were more people like her. And she doesn’t just like the refined graffiti, she likes tagging; she loves it all.”
Howie is hopeful the art space will help break down negative stereotypes about graffiti and that the perception will continue to change. As well as preserve and celebrate the rich history of street art in New York City.
Someday soon, if not already, the colorful creations seen splashed throughout New York City will be viewed as an important, uplifting component to the neighborhoods adorned with graffiti.
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