Artist to Know: Lady Pink

Liz Catalano
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Shapiro Auctions Offers ‘Queen Matilda’ Graffiti Painting in Upcoming Sale

When Sandra Fabara joined the underground graffiti scene of 1980s New York, she never set out to be an inspirational figure. She took to the streets while in high school and processed her tumultuous adolescence using cans of spray paint. Fabara soon adopted the name ‘Lady Pink.’ She scratched out a space for women artists in the male-dominated graffiti subculture and eventually became known as the ‘First Lady of Graffiti.’ 

Shapiro Auctions’ upcoming International Fine and Decorative Art sale will feature one of Lady Pink’s more recent graffiti paintings. The event will start on July 31st, 2021 at 10:00 AM EDT. Before placing a bid, learn more about Lady Pink’s career on and off the streets.

Lady Pink with her graffiti paintings. Image courtesy of the artist.

Born in Ambato, Ecuador, Lady Pink moved to Queens, New York, with her family when she was seven years old. Graffiti culture caught her eye as a teenager. In the late 1970s and early 80s, graffiti writers were warming up in New York’s subway system. The graffiti movement ran parallel to the rise of hip-hop and embraced the danger of evading law enforcement. At first, Lady Pink wrote graffiti only to express her personal thoughts. It didn’t take long before other crews took notice. 

Lady Pink faced antagonism from fellow graffiti artists in her early career. Many male-dominated crews harassed women, claiming they were not physically capable of mounting walls and were too feminine for the art form. Those views did not stop Lady Pink from establishing herself as a leading graffiti artist. She kept up with popular crews as they headed into rail yards and dangerous neighborhoods. In an interview with Artnet News, Lady Pink now recalls lingering on subway platforms and cleaning her fingernails with a knife to discourage harassment. 

Lady Pink started to mingle with the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She attended wild parties and immersed herself in the graffiti subculture. At the time, taggers often aged out of the scene within a few years. They sought socially-sanctioned professions that promised more safety and security. Some, like Basquiat, went on to enjoy aboveground careers in art. For a time, Lady Pink straddled these legal and illegal art worlds. She participated in formal gallery shows during the day and went tagging at night.

Lady Pink, Queen Matilda, 2008. Image from Shapiro Auctions.
Lady Pink, Queen Matilda, 2008. Image from Shapiro Auctions.

Lady Pink drifted away from graffiti as her career progressed. Today, she mostly completes funded murals and private paintings. Lady Pink also spends time training the next generation of young artists, though the veteran graffiti writer is careful about what she teaches. Successful graffiti artists must also practice illegal activities, which Lady Pink doesn’t encourage. “I teach [students] murals and that’s hard enough- how to get your little design on a wall, it’s a challenge,” she told filmmaker Nijla Mu’min in a 2013 interview. 

The upcoming Shapiro Auctions event will feature a painting that Lady Pink executed in 2008. The piece, titled Queen Matilda, shows a faceless pink woman resting on her side. A brick pattern covers her skin. Other signature Lady Pink motifs appear in the four-panel painting, including neon plants, commercial lettering, and a hot pink train heading over a curved piece of track. The painting has a presale estimate of USD 15,000 to $20,000. 

Few of Lady Pink’s original artworks are available for private ownership. Law enforcement and landlords destroyed much of her early graffiti work. While her commissioned murals still decorate the streets of New York, institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum hold most of her canvases. One of Lady Pink’s double-sided paintings did make its way to Keith Haring’s private collection. Sotheby’s auctioned the piece in October of 2020. Lady Pink’s 1969 Super Sport Camero [sic] sold for $163,800, more than ten times the high estimate of $15,000. 

Lady Pink, 1969 Super Sport Camero [sic], 1984. Image from Sotheby’s.
Lady Pink, 1969 Super Sport Camero [sic], 1984. Image from Sotheby’s.

Now in her 50s, Lady Pink continues to support young artists. She is also looking back on her own career. Lady Pink’s recent work celebrates the history of graffiti in New York through portraits of her fellow taggers. The series links graffiti’s past to its evolving future. “Young kids who paint on the walls are screaming to be heard and, yes, we all started that way,” Lady Pink wrote for The New York Times. “A bit of rebellion is something we should champion as a society. Somebody has to question the status quo – or we’ll grow stagnant.” 

Lady Pink’s Queen Matilda graffiti painting will be available in Shapiro Auctions’ upcoming International Fine and Decorative Art sale. The auction will start at 10:00 AM EDT on July 31st, 2021. Visit Bidsquare for the complete catalog and to register to bid. 

Interested in learning more about modern and contemporary artists? Read Auction Daily’s profile of artist, collector, and patron Alfonso Ossorio

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Liz Catalano
Liz Catalano
Senior Writer and Editor

Liz Catalano is a writer and editor for Auction Daily. She covers fine art sales, market analysis, and social issues within the auction industry. Based in Chicago, she regularly collaborates with auction houses and other clients.

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