A rose grown from concrete, Indie has a very New York City story. She grew up in practically every borough and emerged as a creative by DIY. She’s straddled diverse genres from painting, commissioned graffiti work, and graphic design for her own streetwear brand, Kweenz Destroy. Via exposure to the total urban landscape, Indie has developed into her own and each art piece is an expression of her existence and powerful voice in a place muddled with self-expressionists.
I recently caught up with her at her solo show at TT-Underground Gallery dubbed “Fantasy”, a colorful collection of mixed medium collages on canvas that pay a strong homage to American women in Hollywood including Lucille Ball, Debra Paget, and Rita Hayworth.
How did you grow up?
We came from Puerto Rico by way of the Dominican Republic. My step dad passed away when I was 5 and after that I grew up in a single parent household. My mom raised 4 kids on her own. Growing up, we moved every year and with each change I was forced to make new friends and start fresh in a new neighborhood. The last place we settled in before living on my own was in the heart of Washington Heights. That’s where I spent my teenage years – hanging on the block with my cousins, drug dealers, and thugs. We played basketball, tagged walls…you know, did tomboy things.
…when did the art start?
It started in the street. I made my first stencil from a Jesus image I bought at a botanica and incorporated that into my street pieces, and later t-shirts which I debuted at a fashion show at Air Gallery in Soho. My very first art gig was creating a logo for an entertainment company started by local youth – they helped me buy my first film camera, a used Minolta. I used it to take photos of kinds in my neighborhood and all the culture. During that time I painted my first graffiti piece in bubble letters – it was terrible! But it helped me to grow and take it to the next level. I tried studying marketing in college but didn’t feel like I fit in…probably should have gone with art school :/
What inspires your graffiti and (later) painting styles?
As an adolescent, during one of my visits to the NY Public Library, I discovered “Subway Art” and “Spraycan Art” books. It completely changed my life. I wanted to be like the featured artists so I mimicked pieces from those books. My graffiti style is inspired by old school subway graffiti artists such as SEEN, LEE, WEST, SERVE and mainly my partner in crime COPE 2. Later on, I would meet and paint with many of the graffiti legends and learned lettering from a couple graffiti writer friends along the way. I love big bold letters with style that people can read and won’t forget. My graffiti pieces in the street always have rainbow colors and are accentuated with feminine accents like hearts and unicorns. I express my love for all things happy and flamboyant through my pieces. My graffiti style has trickled down to my painting style in the studio.
Why the evolution into mixed mediums?
I worked full time as a graphic designer at one point. I learned a lot about typography and layout but it was not liberating to design for someone else. So the transition was natural. When I first started painting on canvas, it was with just the Che icon face using acrylics and then stencils. I would sell them at local events. It was total experimentation. Then I shifted gears by focusing on pure graffiti from the streets onto canvas. Eventually, I wanted to do more than just graffiti. I love graffiti but it can be limiting and I know that I can showcase my whole vision through painting.
In my new painting style, I incorporate my foundations of graffiti, stenciling, and graphic design. During my 9-5 days, I interned at Interview magazine. For their anniversary issue, I was assigned to look up Andy Warhol quotes through their library of archives. I remember finding hundreds of striking photographs and quotes published way before I was born. It inspired me to work with vintage Hollywood female photographs with the purpose of evoking a mood behind the story I wanted to tell. I am totally obsessed with bright colors and I like using simple bold graphics to stand out from what’s going on with the tagging and paint. Texture also inspires my work and what I see in the streets so I layer with enamel and acrylic paint, paper and my latest medium, plaster. The complexity of mixed mediums intrigue me.
Creating a painting takes an incredible amount of time and energy. It is like having a baby…and I have 3 children, so I know. First, there is an event or experience that inspires me to start. Then, through the gestation period I pour out my thoughts and emotions through tags, imagery, texture, and color. I could work on a painting forever. But eventually I have to give birth to them, which is always a relief. I let it go and it becomes a fixed part of who I am in the world. Once its out, it feels good to reflect on everything that led to the creation of it.
“With experience I have realized that time is of the essence and you have to cut the all noise and extra things that don’t help achieve the dream.” – Indie
What challenges did you face as a woman in a still male dominated graf scene?
I didn’t pay much attention to how different I was. I just wanted to be a part of the scene. But as I got more into the culture, I learned that NYC in the 80’s produced few active girls in graf. So any new girl in the scene would stand out. But of course, that did not mean free rides. I had to push harder to get down on walls. Most male writers don’t take females writers, especially new ones, seriously.
I did not want to stand out only because I was a female writer. I wanted to make my mark and represent for myself. Even now, on occasions, when I’m painting in the streets, some guy comes along and acts surprised when he sees me working with spray paint. Honestly, you can use it to your advantage sometimes getting away with stuff from authority and getting permission walls. It pays to be charming.
As I got more into painting in the streets, I became a mother for the first time. So it became increasingly challenging to deal with the logistics getting childcare so I can go out and paint. I am lucky to have a supportive mother and partner who help make that happen. Without that unit I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, including travel the world to participate in and curate exhibits.
“Graffiti has taught me so much to not only put myself out there even if what I do is not perfect but most importantly I learned how to be fearless and just go for it.” – Indie
What does your art say about you?
My art says that I have a lot to say! And it’s like hey world I exist and welcome to my world.