Once upon a time, street artists were widely regarded as mere vandals — as scourges to polite society. But graffiti has a long and honorable history, both as an artform and an expression of sociopolitical protest. Beginning in the late 1970s, top graffiti artists have been taken seriously even within the realm of “high culture,” their works acquired by museums and private art collectors alike.
Two pioneers of that movement, Lady Pink and Roger Smith, are now Gardiner residents. Roger was the Smith half of SaneSmith, the tagger duo notorious for having been sued by the City of New York for $3 million in 1990 for their paint job on the Brooklyn Bridge. Ecuadorian-born Lady Pink — real name Sandra Fabara — was among the first women to break through as leading lights of the graffiti art revolution, playing a starring role in Charlie Ahearn’s seminal 1983 movie about hip hop culture, Wild Style.
Longtime Gardiner resident, artist and gallerist Annie O’Neill became friends with her new neighbors, and for the past two years has been recruited by Smith and Lady Pink to collaborate with them on wall paintings in the annual Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria, Queens. Begun in 2009 by an organization based in Bushwick in Brooklyn called Ad Hoc Art, the Mural Project started out with 44 artists in 2010 and now involves more than 150 each year, coming from all over the world. Huge, colorful paintings go up over several blocks of walls and fences radiating out from 11-90 Welling Court, enlivening this mixed-use semi-industrial/residential neighborhood. The murals are unveiled in a huge Queens-style “block party” celebration, only to be primed and painted over the following year.
Lady Pink and Roger Smith have participated in the Welling Court Mural Project for eight years now, since its founding. Their 40-by-nine-foot “canvas” shared with O’Neill for 2017 has the letters RESIST painted, with references to the current political confusion, environmental degradation and an hommage to great Mexican culture and revolutionary heroes. It was opened to public view on June 10.