REAL NAME: George ‘Lee’ Quinones
D.O.B: 1960 Ponce, Puerto Rico
As part of the legendary crew ‘The Fab 5ive’, Lee came to eminence in 1976 with a socially daunting piece called ‘Doomsday’ that covered two full cars. Incorporated images of tenements, flames, and a horned monster, this became almost signature of Lee. Many of his pieces or work had a social commentary with powerful activist abilities and established him as an elegiac graffiti artist. Some of the most memorable of Lee’s work were political in nature, calling for an end to the arms race. Lee became famous for being one of a few graffiti artists to successfully bomb an entire subway train. That was ten cars in all, from top to bottom and end to end.
Lee abandoned working on subway cars, needing a much larger canvas for his work. Lee was better known for his mural pieces, rather than tagging. He began working on handball court walls in high schools. First started by TRACY 168 this was to be the perfect environment for Lee’s talents. These famous murals combined cartoon imagery with strong political messages. In 1978 he introduced a piece with a ten foot ‘Howard the Duck’ emerging from a trash can with the inscription, ‘If art like this is a crime, let God forgive me.’ on to the handball court wall of Corlears Junior High School 56 on Henry Street on the Lower East Side. This was commissioned by the principal of the school who appreciated it immensely. Lee was offered to display his talents on other school courts. These were only ever painted for pleasure, without regard for any monetary gain. Fellow artist, Fred Brathwaite approached Lee with the opportunity of earning money for his efforts. Together with Brathwaite, now better known as ‘Fab Five Freddy’ they formed a mural group known as ‘The Fab 5’ with other members, DOC and SLAVE.
In 1979 Freddy has advertised in The Village Voice in an article written by Howard Smith offering the services of his artists to paint murals for $5 per square foot. Despite the flippant attitude of this as an antisocial element destructive to society, the article caught the attention of an Italian art dealer, Claudio Bruni who saw the potential and overseas interest in this new contemporary art. Bruni contacted Freddy and invited the Fab Five to submit five canvases for an art studio in Rome. All five pieces were sold at $1000 each. Lee never scurried back into the shadows of the subway train yards again, pursuing further into the legitimate art world, he continues to have very successful galleries shown internationally. Collaborating with Fred and the Fab Five, Lee took first footsteps in transforming a sub-cultural art form into the genre of public art galleries.
Lee had become one of the biggest names in the hip-hop culture, with the opportunity to represent this in the 1982 film “Wild Style” that is today the most recognizable movie depicting the four elements of hip-hop. He received the lead role as Raymond “Zoro” playing a very familiar role as graffiti artist from the Boogie-Down. As explained in his character in the film, he was very afraid of publicizing himself and his illegal work to the nation. Fearing for the spotlight, he would turn up to the set heavily caked in pancake make-up to disguise himself from police. He refused to turn up to the train yard even though they had paid for the privilege of him being there legally. These shots were filled in by legendary artist, DONDI who laid claim to some of the paintwork provided on the film. (He himself opted out of the lead role for the same reasons.)
Charlie Ahearn, the director of Wild Style, had this to say about Lee: “Lee crystallized all of the conflicts there were within graffiti at the time. He was definitely ahead of the pack as the most famous underground legend on the subways, who had already – for six months to a year before we started shooting – been showing paintings in galleries. So, more so than anyone at the time, he was living the contradictions.”
“I'm against social, economic, and political oppression. I'm against war. I'm always here, standing on the side of the little man.” - Lee Quinones
Lee Quinones is considered as one of the Fathers of the Graffiti Movement in contemporary art and remains politically and socially on point. Lee has never lost his activist edge with his work still running primary with colours of devout statements reflecting his political views. His pieces are shown internationally and command upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. Lee’s original bombings paint a strong image over the boroughs of New York and illustrate promise for aspiring young artists.
- 2003 God Has a Rap Sheet
- 2001 Acts of Worship
- 1981 New York Beat Movie
- 1981 Downtown 81
- 1982 Wild Style
- 2005 Blondie: Video Hits/li>
- 2004 Hip-Hop Honors
- 2002 Bomb the System
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