NYC graffiti artist Indie 184’s creations make the world a brighter place. Her art promotes, encourages and celebrates having the courage to be yourself! Since the first moment I saw her colourful, unique, bold pieces my heart sang and has been armoured and my mind enchanted with them. I recently interviewed her for No Cure magazine (get it here or in Australian newsagents). I remember when I first told my editor about her work and suggested we should feature her in the mag and he told me the issue was unfortunately already full; a few days later he messaged me again saying, he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about how amazing her work is and let’s make room for a feature. I was overjoyed! The result is a 7-page celebration of Indie’s amazingness. Not only is she a brilliant and important artist, she’s a savvy business woman, mother, feminist, world traveller and so much more. Regular readers of conversationswithbianca.com will know I never do interviews half-assed so being me, I did a super in-depth interview with Indie, here’s the extra chat that isn’t featured in the mag.
BIANCA: What were you like growing up?
INDIE: That hard atmosphere [growing up in NYC] made me always want to escape into imaginary places filled with dolls, cartoons and dreams. I was always the black sheep of the family. Didn’t ever felt like I belonged to any cliques even in my own family. At school I liked to hang out with the nerdy outcast kids. I always had an affirmation for the strange, so it reflected in my social circle, a constant colorful palette in my life. I was definitely a dreamer but an action oriented being. As a little girl I loved to draw my family and pets doing random things. I was really into fashion, drawing my desired back to school outfits and styling myself. I spent most of my time in front of the TV watching cartoons like Rainbow Bright, Jem, Muppets and My Little Pony. I was a major bookworm and an honor student. I also loved to dance on tables.
B: You’re self-taught in sewing, painting and graphic design; what do you feel are the pros and cons of being a self-taught creative?
I: Teaching myself graphic design and sewing came naturally. I’m a quick learner but the only set back to being self-taught is a lot of trial and error and that takes up plenty of time. But it pushed me to work hard in various industries and to keep figuring out which one of my dreams was going it. It filtered out what I enjoying doing and what I dispensed. My first internship was at Interview magazine, I was so psyched surrounded by Andy Warhol’s legacy and his original works. One of my first assignments was looking up Warhol quotes in the vintage magazine archives. I also interned at Diesel, giving me a behind the scenes perspective on fashion. I thought that’s what I wanted to do, so my first art show was fashion show at feminist art space A.I.R. Gallery. I sewed all the clothing and that’s when I started to play with stencils and put them on the collection. At first I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer, but then started getting into street art and graffiti. I worked other odd jobs too like fast food, retail, random office jobs for real estate and lawyers. When I landed a graphic design gig for a children’s accessories company that’s when I felt I really found a field that peaked my interest. Come to think of it all the variety of jobs I have had worked to my advantage in the long run, it all makes sense now that I borrow from all my experiences.
B: You are a business woman as well as an artist; how have you reconciled the two worlds? Tell us a bit about your inspirations as both an artist and a business woman.
I: Since I was kid, I always had an entrepreneurial spirit so I knew I eventually wanted to work for myself. I would sell Hello Kitty merch in elementary school. My grandfather and uncle had their own construction companies, my step father owned a bodega in the Bronx, so that provided a model for me. I would buy all these home based business books, I had no idea exactly how to make the money but it was fun learning. Experience has taught me that in order to be successful even as an artist, you must have your business organized. Art and business are essential together, balancing them out where the creative doesn’t get lost and vice versa. And they both are full time jobs, I have realized that we can’t do everything, because then the work will suffer, so its OK to get help. Now I understand why all these big artists like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Shepard Fairey, Yayoi Kusama and others run their studios like a company, because it really takes a team.
B: When I first found your work I was completely mesmerised by it—the bright bold colours; how happy and playful it is; the feminine feel it has and not to mention the fact that it’s sexy. You really have your own style. How important is the use of colour in your work? Do you have favourite colours you work with that are kind of like your go to? Do they have a special significance to you?
I: Thank you. I love bright colors. Color is absolutely a language and I like to express strength, happiness and positivity. Colors are energies like auras. I try to keep away from mundane colors like browns, greys and dark color palettes in general especially altogether. It’s good to add them in there because it can balance the brightness, but my paintings saturated in sad colors. Even in my graffiti I use bright colors, stars and hearts, just fun stuff that I like nothing too serious. My favorite color schemes are pink and mint green.
B: Your work contains strong female imagery (women like Debra Paget, Frida Kahlo and Rita Hayworth have been featured in your art) and convey a feminist twist. Do you identify as a feminist? What does that mean to you?
I: I do identify with being a feminist, I am about self-empowerment especially in women’s rights. As Judy Chicago once said “The personal becomes political”. I have experienced sexism on numerous occasions society and culture have set certain standards, even the smallest thing we are accustomed too, that degrade women. I’m not going to be marching around with signs and try to change the world by protesting, the most effective is to lead by example and live to defy those sexist traditions in the artworld especially and to rock as a strong artist in my own right. The ladies in my paintings I not only love their attitude in the photograph but their spirit of how they lived their lives professionally and personally. They create the mood for what I am conveying in my paintings.
B: What do you feel are the reoccurring themes and messages in your work? How much of yourself and your personality shines through in your art?
I: I love to paint what I’m feeling and experience at the moment in my life. At times I delve into romanticism and fantasy or personal political themes. I get inspiration from many things like flowers, melancholia, animals and especially astrology. Whatever I’m in the mood for. My paintings are magnified excerpts of my life, pages of my dairy. I’m painting poetry here!
B: Being an artist myself, I know that you can work on a piece pretty much forever. For you, when do you know it’s time to stop and let go of it?
I: You said it, I can totally work on a painting for as long as I can. I like to take my time but then there is the reality of the deadline and finishing it for a show. Thank goodness because it pushes me to not to dwell so much on one thing
B: You have a streetwear brand, Kweenz Destroy; how did you get involved in fashion/having a clothing line? Tell us about it. I adore the “One Woman Army” Kweenz Destroy design. What’s the story behind that design?
I: I started the brand in 2006, it’s a labor of love. In the beginning, I was doing it full time designing acquiring designs from a collective of artist friends and family. I thought of “One Woman Army” slogan, because I’m constantly operating on my own, independence is an occurring theme in my life. It’s really important to me stand out on my own artistically and personally. I am not really into girl cliques or crews. Individuality is freedom. But for the past couple of years I have been focused more on my paintings, art is more interesting then fashion. I’d rather sell paintings then tshirts. I still do it for fun to keep it going the direction will now be focused on implementing more of my art on the product.
B: You’ve curated many exhibitions, what’s been your favourite so far and why?
I: My favorite show I have curated was the “Queenz Arrive” all female group art exhibition at McCaig-Welles Gallery in Brooklyn back in 2009. I had a lot of fun organizing the different talented international roster of artists from photography, street art and graffiti. It’s important to curate female art shows because it’s still a male dominated artworld. Mostly the males are celebrated and acknowledged. That’s been the flaw of art history. Doing those all-female shows can be a double edged sword, as I don’t want to be recognized just because of my gender or ethnicity. It was fun in the beginning but I no longer curate art shows, as they are a lot of work and would much rather invest my time and energy into my paintings.
B: You’re a mother to three beautiful children. Has being a mother changed anything in relation to your art or your practice of art?
I: Thank you. Having children has definitely given me a reality check that time is of the essence. Balancing out motherhood and work can be challenging. Things can be difficult at times but nothing is impossible. There are a billion interruptions like even trying to finish this interview! Time management is the key. I can preach this over and over. Actually, I am much more active in my career after having children. Before I had children, I played too much with time and didn’t really focus on one thing, its like I thought I had all the time in the world! It’s made me to live in the moment and pay attention to the smallest details in life. I love the purity of my children’s imagination, they give my so much insight and inspiration. At times they help me paint some of my work.
B: What impact do you hope your art has on people?
I: The courage to just be yourself. You don’t have to be the greatest illustrator, graffiti artist or visual artist out there. It’s not a competition. Dare to be different. Find your style and what makes you happy. Expressing yourself the way you like and the rest will fall into place. Find an icon that has paved the way, but be the best version of yourself.
B: What’s one of the biggest compliments you’ve ever had in regards to your work?
I: When someone truly understands the intention of my work. Like they totally get it, understanding the message. Even if they make their own interpretation, as long as it’s a good one. I put a lot of energy and time into my paintings. At the end of the day we all look for acceptance one way or the other.