Puerto Rican-born Lee Quiñones was raised in New York’s Lower East Side and painted his first subway piece in 1974. LEE was instrumental in moving enamel art above ground when he painted “Howard the Duck,” the first entire 25-by-30-foot handball-court mural, in the spring of 1978 outside of his Corlears Junior High School #56. LEE transitioned from trains to canvas with his first international show at Galleria La Medusa in Rome in 1979 — a breakthrough for graffiti, as he was one of the first American writers to exhibit abroad. His work went on to feature in Charlie Ahearn’s influential film, Wild Style, in Henry Chalfant’s Style Wars, in the band Blondie’s “Rapture” video, and in permanent collections around the world.
New York City is the handball capital of the world, and handball courts are found throughout the city parks across the five boroughs. Handball is a free, accessible form of recreation for city dwellers. When I painted the “Howard the Duck” wall in the courtyard of Junior High School 56 in the Lower East Side in 1978 at age 18, it was groundbreaking and the first of its kind. The following year, I created my second wall, “Graffiti 1979.” “The Lion’s Den” was my third handball wall installation. For this mural, I experimented more deeply with concept, color, and spray paint technique. At the time, New York was in chaos, and the lion served as a protective mascot in the midst of the tragedy and suffering tied into urban blight and oppression around me. My intent was to expand the work I made on whole subway cars to freestanding public spaces to engage people on a more intimate level above ground and to infuse a new conversation into the community.
BEYOND THE STREETS Los Angeles, 2018. Photo by Beau Roulette.