Tag Archives: 5Pointz

After a decade in Long Island City, Local Project searches for a new home


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Carolina Penafiel-16

At the edge of Long Island City, where warehouses haunt like rusty fossils of an industrial past, obscured by the elevated subway tracks, street art fights for survival.

Encircled in graffiti-wrapped sarcophagi, the low brow legacy of Local Project and 5Pointz await doomsday, untouched by the sterile glass high-rises that erupt from the ground almost monthly — for now, at least.

It’s only a matter of time before the building they share becomes nothing more than piles of scrap metal and drywall dust. Several months ago, the space’s owner announced plans to sell the warehouse to a builder who would turn the space into luxury condominiums – “yuppie projects,” scoff the locals. Local Project, a space for emerging artists to nurture their craft and connect with the public, that shares a building with graffiti holy land 5Pointz, must depart their home in search of new prospects.

Carolina Penafiel, a part-time food stylist and Local Project’s founder, moved to New York from Chile 13 years ago in pursuit of her American Dream.

“I wanted to live like in the movies,” she said.

Penafiel began her career as an artist, but a bad experience during a group show changed her mind. It took too much to be an artist, to open her work to the masses, resting on talent and believing in the message behind her art. Even the title “artist” felt wrong.

“I’ve always done exactly what I’ve set myself to do,” said Penafiel. “Thankfully, I’ve always gotten where I’ve wanted to go.”

Instead, she focused on her administrative skills, training as an independent curator. She fell in love with the process of putting together a show, nurturing artists and watching them develop. One show called “Hot in Hell’s Kitchen,” held at the Fountain Gallery – a center for those struggling with mental illness. The exhibit told stories from the iconic Manhattan neighborhood. Visitors stuck notes to the wall, scribbled with memories from Hell’s Kitchen – “I got drunk,” “I met my ex,” “I kissed somebody.”

Penafiel’s shows center around creating community rather than bringing culture to high society. Local Project’s doctrine of art for the people allows her to build bridges – the most rewarding part of her job. Instead of judging artists based on reputation, Local Project celebrates unknown entities on the rise. Each resident artist is required to spend 40 hours in the building during their two week stint, creating a setting where visitors can dip into the work organically.

Local Project draws tourists from around the world. One artist, keeping tabs on the gallery’s visitors, had a person from every livable continent come see his show in a single day.

“That’s what makes us different from other spaces,” Penafiel said. “You get to come in and talk to the artists. How cool is that?”

Artists of all mediums present in the space. Every Saturday, a DJ spins for a crowd who dance and chat, huddled together in the chilly space. They host video festivals, including one of exclusively horror films before Halloween where the audience dresses as zombies and four times a year, emerging musicians play acoustic sets in a series called “Music under the 7.” Penafiel said they do as much as they can – as much as everyone wants to do.

But now, everything needs to go somewhere else.

They have begun searching for a new space – a topic not easily broached among the staff, unhappy about the move. For years, rumors of the demise of the building on Davis Street swirled. Now they are coming true.

It’s happening all too much in New York City – art institutions knocked down in favor of bourgeoisie-friendly entities. Penafiel mentioned DUMBO, formerly raw, now spotless and new like a suburban art fair.

“Unfortunately, we, the ones who helped bring [LIC] to that level are not the ones that live there or have stores there,” said Penafiel. “That’s just life I guess. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Long Island City.”

Lady Pink: Graffiti’s feisty first lady


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

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Graffiti was a man’s world— until she painted it pink.

Lady Pink, graffiti’s first and fieriest female figurehead, still reigns supreme as an icon in the American art arena. While her medium switched from subway cars and cinderblock walls to canvas over the years, the Astoria-based creative is still spreading her message — art is everywhere.

Lady Pink, born Sandra Fabara, emerged on the scene in 1979, when girl power prevailed and the public worshipped fierce, feminine idols like Charlie’s Angels and Marsha Brady. Riding on pure personality and perseverance, at 16, she busted into the proverbial boys club, proclaiming that girls could do anything boys could do, only better. The older male artists adopted her as their little sister and influenced by her fixation on historical-romance novels, they bestowed upon her the intentionally girly and definitely regal moniker, “Lady Pink.”

In the early 1980s, she scaled fences and scrawled her designs on subway cars.

“It was all about the adventure and the fame,” she said. “It was less about the art then, it was just teenagers having fun.”

She was expelled from the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan after some kids from the Bronx shot up the school during her first graffiti exhibit. While no one was killed, a stray bullet struck a kid in the back and injured him. After a heated argument with the principal and the dropping of a single f-bomb, Lady Pink’s show was shut down and she was told to leave school.

She said she didn’t like school anyway, but went on to graduate from public school.

In 1982, Lady Pink starred in the film “Wild Style,” a graffiti hip-hop amalgamation that elevated her to cult figure status. Regardless of the seemingly inseparable connection between the musical genre and the art style, Lady Pink says it’s a lifestyle she never subscribed to.

“The grassroots beginning are connected,” she said. “Other than that, there is little we have in common. They lump us up as background art so it can be a nice complete culture that can be packaged and sold. The truth of the matter is most graffiti writers are only exposed to the music of the area they come from.”

While working, Lady Pink listens to The Beatles and Metallica.

Graffiti remains, according to Lady Pink, very much its own entity, retaining what she feels is an incredibly sexist attitude.

“My background grants me respect but I see other young ladies struggling to be heard and seen,” said Lady Pink. “We have to bust our butts twice as hard to be seen and noticed.”

When she and her husband, another prominent graffiti artist whose tags terrorized multiple mayors throughout the 1970s and 1980s, work together on projects for their professional muralist company, she has him deal with the overtly-macho and occasionally misogynistic contractors and construction workers. She believes it’s about playing the game and not fighting nature.

A lifetime of running the streets, she says, prepared her.

“Graffiti to us when we’re young is like what people go to college for,” she said. “It’s boot camp for artists — how to work fast — how to work with sharks at your throat. It’s how to survive in the real world.”

Even though a portion of the population still regards graffiti as a nuisance and an eyesore, Lady Pink believes the art form gained legitimacy through sheer exposure. The artist has shown work in countless galleries and museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles and the MoMA PS1. Nevertheless, there are always people waiting below her scaffold, ranting about the bright colors of the mural she’s painting.

“I get robbed, I get insulted, I get harassed by the police,” she said. “I welcomed the invention of the Walkman. I put on my music and shut them out.”

Lady Pink mentioned the newly announced demise of 5Pointz – graffiti’s holy land, recently fated to be closed and turned into high-rise apartment buildings. She hopes the displaced artists will find artistic refuge somewhere else, but recognized the city’s shortcomings in artistic preservation.

“That’s progress in New York City,” she said. “All murals are fleeting. You paint it and kiss it goodbye.”

The loss, she says, will be devastating in the annals of art history.

In contributing to the continuity of art, Lady Pink teams with kids from the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts. They design and paint public murals around Astoria and Long Island City, covering walls under the Hell Gate Bridge with sweeping images from Greek myths.

“I put the kids in big situations because that’s what happened to me,” she said. “Kids perform better when they’re given responsibilities and tasks beyond their comprehensions — their confidence grows.”

She insists her apprentices bring their own music to listen to while they paint.

“Music makes better art,” said Lady Pink. “I don’t know how art can happen in the quiet.”

Together, they put on their headphones and drown out the noise of the world.

Local artists angry over plans for 5Pointz


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo by Alex DiBlasi

Taggers armed with cans of spray paint who flocked to leave their mark on the paint-laden walls of graffiti mecca 5Pointz may soon be searching for another canvas.

The 200,000-square-foot Long Island City graffiti art exhibition space, home to over 350 multicolored murals, could soon be knocked down in favor of building two high-rise apartment complexes.

“We’ve been waiting for this sort of transformation,” said building owner David Wolkoff. “We saw it happening a long time ago because of its proximity to Manhattan. We knew that Long Island City was going to transform at some point and now it’s happening at a rapid pace.”

According to Wolkoff — whose family’s business has owned the 5Pointz property for 40 years – the new structure will include dual rental towers equaling approximately one-million-square-feet, outfitted with state-of-the-art amenities including a gymnasium, pool and media rooms. The structure, expected to be completed by 2016, will also boast retail space.

“We have a very good feeling about the project and the likelihood we’ll get the changes we’re looking for,” said Wolkoff. “Nothing is 100 percent certain. I think the neighborhood is very positive about the project. A project like mine will bring life to the area. I think Long Island City is ready for it.”

While Wolkoff believes the development will benefit the neighborhood, area artists are upset at the alterations.

“Now everyone wants to be in LIC and everyone who created it is going to be kicked out,” said local artist Carolina Penafiel. “Changes are good but when they change history it’s screwed up. Everyone new is coming and the old ones are leaving.”

Wolkoff claims the building plans include keeping walls in place where graffiti artists can continue their craft, as well as opening two 1,200-square-foot open art studios.

“There will at least be a link to what it was at one point,” said Wolkoff. “We love the art that’s on the walls and we want to continue that.”

5Pointz, which earned its name by bringing together the five boroughs of New York City, attracts aerosol artists from across the country as well as the Netherlands, Japan and Brazil. Hip-hop artists and singers — enamored by the site’s visual stimuli — including Doug E. Fresh, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Kaz, Mobb Deep and Joss Stone, found creative ignition inside the abandoned factory.

According to a representative from the Department of City Planning, an application to demolish and rebuild at the current 5Pointz location has yet to be submitted.