If Walls Could Talk: Graffiti and Street Art of Queens, NY
By Marie Siracusa
The writing on NYC walls can be translated best as a sign of the times. Contrary to what some believe, street art is part of our community: colors, characters, bold lines and letters are all elements of expression. They embody the eccentric culture and can even inspire change. Murals, street art and graffiti all bring life to the neighborhoods of Queens and around the world. From 5Pointz LIC to The Welling Court Mural Project, these artists have the streets covered (literally). Louie Gasparro or “KR.ONE”, George “SEN-1” Morillo, Andrea von Bujdoss, Sek Fink and Matt Siren are hands down some of the most talented street artists of our time.
Born and raised in Astoria, Louie Gasparro got his start as a graffiti artist in 1977 after admiring subway graffiti and lettering. He recalls his first time seeing graffiti while leaving Shea Stadium on the 7 train where he was blown away by the marshmallow lettering and cartoons. From there, he became enthralled in graffiti writing. Since Louie lived in Astoria, he was relatively close to several train lines: “My vantage point was perfect: the 4, 5, 6 trains! Fuggettaboutit! Burner lines, hot colors, masterpieces!”
Some of Louie’s crews included: TSS (The Super Squad), TKC (The Killer Crew), BYB (Bad Yard Boys) and TNT (The Nation’s Top). KR was especially interested in tagging trains in the late 70s. his style could be described as “urban abstract contemporary.” “Growing up in Queens, it was pure freedom;” freedom that led him to major success as a graffiti artist, international drummer, author and actor – you may have seen Louie in Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix (2016).
Louie is a firm believer in doing what you love. To him, success is driven by passion. “I’m young at heart because I’m an artist.” Spoken like a true New Yorker, portraying continual inventiveness.
Although much of his work has been buffed, this artist took his talents across Astoria from 38th St. and Broadway to Welling Court to 5Pointz and he continues to create and sell art in his LIC Studio.
@louied.mugg | @originalkr1
Born in New York in 1968, Morillo is a graffiti legend and original member of the IBM or “Incredible Bombing Masters,” whose work best represents the mid-80s hip-hop scene. SEN-1 was the right age at the right time. he grew up with a member of the Zoo York crew, and by 12-years-old, “everything was popping off.” In 1982, SEN-1 became an official writer, respected and accepted in every element; he went on to catch a tag in every borough. “It was just part of the culture; everybody wrote on something.” Though Morillo is best known for his 1 train masterpieces, he recalls tagging Astoria and 5Pointz, Long Island City. The 5Pointz collaboration was a SEN piece done with fellow artist and friend, KEO. The vibrant green and pink piece is shown here.
According to SEN-1, NYC graffiti has changed significantly since the 80s. “It’s a completely different culture. What we had is dead; Graf, just like hip-hop, was a cry. We were coming out of the heroin epidemic. Most of us didn’t have fathers. There was really no hope in the 70s. It was more tribal. It wasn’t the same mentality people have today. We had a common image of what we wanted to present to the world. It was different.”
SEN-1 later created art through private commissions.He was recognized by fashion icon, Rachel Roy, and worked with her to produce a graffiti-inspired, women’s contemporary collection which was showcased in the famous Macy’s herald Square window display in 2009. This was a notable achievement and his biggest nationwide collaboration.
Recently, Morillo’s work was welcomed at Boston’s fine art institute, Galerie d’Orsay. He was not only the first from the hip-hop community to have his work on display here, but alongside the original work of Pablo Picasso. Morillo is now leading the gallery show titled, “An urban Conversation,” named after one of his paintings. The show will focus on the comparison between Paris street masters and American street masters, exploring the two different movements. “It’s a great exchange from two different art worlds.”
SEN-1 isn’t stopping there, as he plans to visit Queens later this year with upcoming projects. Visit his website to see his latest artwork and follow him on Instagram for updates.
sen1.com | galerie-dorsay.com/whatsnew @sen1original
Looking for an Insta-worthy photo wall? Check out Andrea von Bujdoss’ mural at Welling Court Mural Project. Andrea is an international style writer based in New York whose writing is extremely precise with the cleanest of lines. “I focus on lettering and phrases in most of my work, which is a result of being so immersed in learning graffiti letters from a young age. I also create different painting compositions using geometry and abstract forms that always have a dynamic flair. I love creating art that’s vibrant, dynamic, dramatic, bold and beautiful, with or without letters.”
The “BELIEVE” mural, located at Houston St. & Bowery in Manhattan, was Andrea’s favorite wall and one she won’t soon forget. “Not only is that wall one of the most legendary mural locations, it’s also in the neighborhood where I grew up. I chose the phrases ‘Believe’ and ‘Love More’ as reminders about the power of our beliefs to change our lives in positive ways, and the importance of love in daily life.” One glance at a Queen Andrea mural and your day is immediately brightened.
In addition to her Astoria masterpieces, Andrea has had some pretty impressive collaborations, some of which include MTV Video Music Awards, giant ad campaigns with McDonald’s and Northwell health and even an art fair in Spain. In 2018, she painted a “hello Beautiful” mural at Wynwood Walls, Miami. “It’s been amazing to be a part of that art family at such a renowned art destination. That mural lead to other creative collaborations with Citibike, New Era and big music festivals, not to mention the yearly influx of visitors to the walls, like literally millions of people.” Andrea has been recognized across the globe.
This Queen is also well-respected among other artists in the area. Sek Fink recalls seeing Andrea working on a sizable cafe mural on a 90-degree summer day. He offered a helping hand which she kindly refused. her admirable hard work is apparent in all of her art. A motto she lives by is “Go big or go home,” and it certainly shows.
Be on the lookout for new walls in Queens. “I’m constantly in motion planning new murals. This June, I’ll be back in Astoria at the Welling Court Mural Project on 30th Ave., which will be my 11th year painting there. I have new projects planned all over the city.” If you haven’t seen a Queen Andrea mural wall yet, add it to your 2021 bucket list. You can also follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more jaw-dropping murals.
superfreshdesign.com | @queenandreaone
Sek Fink is one of the most recognizable tags in Astoria. From Astoria Park to Brooklyn, this writer has definitely made his mark; his most popular character, Sek Fink, can also be found all around Queens. “Sek Fink” is influenced by Ed Roth’s “Rat Fink & Weirdos” characters, a cartoon style that originated in the 1950s and has been an impact on multiple other artists as well. Sek Fink was always interested in art as a child and started his writing journey in 1993. his most active years in the streets and painting freight trains ran from 1997 to 2000, but he still looks to brighten any drab, gray street. One of his favorite projects was done on a rusty hopper freight car. “I like the way the rusty background made the color stand out.” his styles consists of defined line work with a balance of color.
To get a taste of the Sek Fink vibe, watch “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim, a music video that brought Sek some of his inspiration. Currently, he’s “working on a collection of multi- layered, woodcut art. After I amass a good amount of pieces, I’ll be putting a pop-up show together. Stay tuned!” he is also a graphic and clothing designer – check out his merchandise on the website below.
You can see Sek Fink’s work on display and get the full visual experience at Welling Court as well as the following locations:
30th Ave. & 12th St.
31th Ave. & 14th St.
33rd Ave. & 12th St. SekFink.com | @SekFink
Matt Siren grew up in Queens in the 80s surrounded by graffiti. “I was raised with a steady diet of cartoons and video games. I thought it was a mesmerizing time with all the visuals. It was like living in a fantasy. Those are some of the main things that have influenced my art.” Matt often incorporates bold lines and a pop of color. One of his most popular poster tags and one you may have seen in Astoria is a cartoon skull located on 31st Ave. and Steinway St. using different mediums, this artist dabbles in a wide variety of art; he’s even known to tag his name using a fire extinguisher.
According to Matt, “NYC had a boom of street creativity in the early 2000s
– right before neighborhoods were getting gentrified and getting a facelift. Everything was covered in graffiti or illegal street posters.”
Matt views social media as an opportunity for street artists: “A lot of your favorite writers are now on some social platform and I feel it’s changed some of the dynamics of accessibility. It can be a large forum for discussion between writers, fans, collectors, etc. When I started writing, no one knew each other or knew how to get in touch with any other like-minded people. Things were more challenging and more mysterious pre-Internet.” Today, social media is an excellent tool to showcase projects, support sales, build reputations and form collaborations.
Matt appreciates the strong creative presence in Astoria and promises more work is coming once the warmer weather hits.
Street art carries a consistent theme throughout every generation: freedom of expression. This group of writers have astonished some of the most notable of artists with their work. Be sure to stop and appreciate the street art of Astoria on your next walk around the neighborhood and support our local artists.