The vague term ‘art’ evokes distinct characteristics—abstraction’s chaotic elegance, collage’s creative composition, textiles’ tangibility, or graffiti’s raw intensity. MRS alchemizes all these styles like a mad scientist, alternating between aerosol, silk screens, and needles for her designs.
Her versatility exhibits an expertise which surpasses some of her male counterparts’. For many women, success as an artist is indeterminate; in the graffiti scene, it’s nearly nonexistent.
Graffiti’s inaccessibility as a field for women can be chalked to a number of causes, the high risks associated with “bombing” being a predominant one. Writers often work in/around dangerous landscapes including but not limited to: trucks, subways, railroads, shelters, and high-rise buildings. For many women, finding a location to bomb can be a process in itself, though not impossible.
Despite safety and accessibility concerns, female writers do possess the unique advantage of being less suspected for committing vandalism. This works in their favor when it comes to bombing, but not so much for murals and other commissioned work. As a result of graffiti’s grittiness, women are often discriminated against due to the persistent belief that they’re not equipped with the necessary skills to be writers.
Enter MRS—a Bronx born, abstract-influenced, multi-disciplinary artist. She unapologetically demands space in the graffiti scene. Her tag is the focal point of her artwork, emphasized in all caps, outlined, and often filled in with designs such as flora, symbols, or line patterns. The title “MRS” is usually delineated for marriage, yet this bomber has declared it as her moniker in Feminist fashion.
MRS’ tag is influenced by one of her biggest graffiti idols—Miss 17. During the early 2000’s, Miss 17 reigned supreme on NYC’s streets. She achieved the status of “all city”, her signature “17” fill-ins everywhere to be found, sometimes followed by an exclamation mark with a heart, other times with periods. Alternative spellings “Ms.17” and “Miss 17” were implemented for more detailed blocks. MRS cites the writer Claw as another huge source of inspiration. Claw, or Claw Money, is presently a fashion designer, with her own line titled Claw & Company featuring her iconic claw. She began writing in 1989 and paused from the graffiti scene in the late 90’s before quickly returning in 2000, when she began bombing with Miss 17. They collaborated on a variety of creative endeavors over the years, their bold talent paving a path for many female writers today. MRS discovered Miss 17 and Claw when she initially began bombing, excited by the concept of female graffiti role models.
When I first came across MRS artwork, I was fascinated by the way she embraces her gender and draws upon it as inspiration for her creative projects. One of her most recent Halloween murals features Hello Kitty wearing a pumpkin top on her head and a smiley orange shirt. She is standing next to the tag “MRS” in shiny, bubble word art. The top is lime green, and the bottom is shaded a light yellow. On the left of the tag is an adorable, angry looking Hello Kitty ghost. Candy Corn illustrations decorate the image, which is surrounded in a deep plum bubble outlined in violet. Other walls of hers include Sailor Moon, Kirby, and Power Puff Girls characters. To see a female artist boldly declare her feminity and imprint it upon public property is refreshing. MRS’ art makes me proud to be a woman and inspires me to not shy away from inserting my identity into my creative projects.
Beyond walls and buildings, pillows and quilts are frequent canvases for MRS and exemplify her passion for creating “soft art you can touch”, as stated in her IG bio. During our conversation, MRS relayed to me that crafts—specifically, needlework like embroidery, patchwork, and quilting—have feminine connotations and are therefore labelled hobbies, rather than art forms.
MRS aims to deconstruct the notion of crafts as hobbies through her intricately designed textiles. Some of her pieces feature complementary colors and text which bleed together to form the illusion of a single shape, while others consist of distinctly textured fabrics cut up and interwoven. Of this quality in her artwork, MRS stated: “[My] work is inspired by graffiti art’s relationship to temporality—an element not always obvious, visible, or identifiable to the spectator. Each layer signifies part of a story about the battle for space, and for ownership of a wall.”
“[My] work is inspired by graffiti art’s relationship to temporality—an element not always obvious, visible, or identifiable to the spectator. Each layer signifies part of a story about the battle for space, and for ownership of a wall.”
I inquired of MRS what inspired her to incorporate textiles into her artwork. She revealed how enrolling in an elective for silk screening in college led her to a love for the process. As an art student, she grew highly invested in patterns, fractals, and breaking things up into geometric shapes. Many of her patterns were composed on paper or collage material. In spite of her evident affection for textiles, she was unsure how to classify herself as an artist, not yet familiar with her skill set. She painted and sculpted, but attempted to keep the two categories—graffiti and art—separate. Her reason? She simply wasn’t sure how to mix them together. One day, a professor of hers suggested that she mash the techniques into one, telling MRS: “You’ll reach more people by being authentic with your art, so take your experiences and put them into your artwork.”
It was her trip to the Women’s Museum in Washington, DC, though, which catalyzed MRS artistic trajectory: “Walking through [the Women’s Museum], I realized that women have been artists throughout the history of the world, but because they’re women and they often made functional pieces, the process was always considered more of a craft, and less of an art. Here are these women who are making all of these beautiful textile works all by hand, without a sewing machine. They’re making these pieces of art that you can use, not just hang up on a wall.” MRS observed a connection between these historical women and her own art, given that her work was already very patterned base at the time. She decided to try the method herself, and has enjoyed creating in this style ever since. She loves bridging graffiti—an overtly masculine art—with more “feminine” forms such as quilting and sewing and playing with the contrast of these fields.
Walking through [the Women’s Museum], I realized that women have been artists throughout the history of the world, but because they’re women and they often made functional pieces, the process was always considered more of a craft, and less of an art.
MRS’ creations defy labels such as “concrete” and “abstract,” or “anarchy” and “unity”. Being a multi-disciplined artist, I was curious as to how MRS identifies herself artistically. She told me that it’s a subjective matter; artists label themselves what they wish to be considered. MRS creates graffiti as well as art, so she identifies as both a “bomber” and “artist.” However, she does not always consider her graffiti to be art. She went further in stating that one can be a bomber and a graffiti artist, and not consider themselves an artist.
Although a vast number of people may consider grafitti to be art, the extensive discrimination graffiti endures in the public eye and within the art world challenges its acceptance. Graffiti artists do not receive nearly as much recognition from galleries, museums, and related art institutions as fine artists do. Similar to the way crafts have come to be considered “Feminine” over time, graffiti grapples to find mainstream acceptance due to its infamous reputation as “criminal activity.”
Although a vast number of people may consider grafitti to be art, the extensive discrimination graffiti endures in the public eye and within the art world challenges its acceptance.
To this day, bombers more often than not exist anonymously to avoid charges or, in worst cases, arrests. Ironically, street art—art created in public spaces with “legal permission”—is welcomed by cities as a part of efforts to “revive” (gentrify) neighborhoods. Despite being severely underappreciated as a legitimate art form, graffiti is an intimate means of self-expression in Urban communities, especially communities of color. Tags are claims to stature, bombing is a way to stake one’s claim in the scene. Not all graffiti artists desire acknowledgement from traditional art institutions, most just want to draw freely without fear of legal action against them.
MRS exists at the intersection of both art and graffiti, her portfolio consisting of a plethora of throw ups and murals alike. She explained: “I think that the joy and pleasure of throw ups is the activity of it—figuring out where you’re going to paint, being careful and sneaky, making the art, and then getting away successfully. The whole process has a lot to do with adrenaline. It’s almost like a sport; you get better the longer you do it, and you have to do it with people who have a similar diligence.” Contrary to throw ups, painting in a legal space is more fun and experimental because the only risks are to consider are creative risks. She expressed to me that in these environments, she can explore different avenues of graffiti and combine the lessons onto her canvas of choice.
“I think that the joy and pleasure of throw ups is the activity of it—figuring out where you’re going to paint, being careful and sneaky, making the art, and then getting away successfully. The whole process has a lot to do with adrenaline. It’s almost like a sport; you get better the longer you do it, and you have to do it with people who have a similar diligence.”
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, MRS has expanded her textile project to include hand marbled and dyed cotton masks. She began designing these masks for her mother, father, and grandmother early on in the pandemic, when there was a shortage. Eventually, someone suggested that she sell the masks. She admitted her happiness over the positive reception and how nice it feels to make something that others can use and enjoy.
From bridges to murals, trucks to restaurant wall art, MRS herself has become widespread in NYC just like her predecessors. MRS started bombing in high school at 17 years old on a purely “I want-to-paint-my-name on things” basis. It was her time in college which influenced her to experiment with different mediums, thus catalyzing her textile work. She was consistent in creating; she always made time to paint and to take creative risks. Her advice for others is a page from her own book: “If you want to be seen and ‘make it,’ then the main thing is that you have to be dedicated and strict with your art making. And that’s hard because life happens; you have a job, a family, and all these other responsibilities, but you have to make being an artist your priority.”
“If you want to be seen and ‘make it,’ then the main thing is that you have to be dedicated and strict with your art making. And that’s hard because life happens; you have a job, a family, and all these other responsibilities, but you have to make being an artist your priority.”
Outside of graffiti and art, I learned that MRS happens to be a nature person, and really enjoys going on walks and hikes. A significant amount of color inspiration stems from her observing the world around. She noted: “Nature inspires me subconsciously. I won’t recognize it in the moment, but sometimes I’ll see a color and I’ll think to myself ‘that looks like a sunset’, or ‘that’s like a bed of flowers.’”
MRS is also something of a history buff, who enjoys Youtube videos about art and art history such as “the Art Assignment” and “Art 21.” Before COVID-19, she would frequently visit the MoMA. MRS spends a lot of time travelling to galleries and museums; any time she visits someplace, she checks it off the major museums on her list. Having read a lot about art from attending school, she loves witnessing the art in person herself given the different experiences of reading versus seeing. MRS strongly believes in the importance of graffiti for this reason. A lot of kids—especially those from cities or in boroughs—don’t often get to go to museums and, therefore, graffiti is the first art they may come into contact with.
For the future, MRS intends to rent a space and incorporate pillows, quilts, and textile arts in an exhibition where, instead of staring at the wall, the audience will be immersed in the artwork itself. Observers can sit, lounge, and engage with the surrounding pieces. Prior to COVID-19, she was in the works of completing this project. Setbacks aisde, she has returned to the project with fervor and is excited about the final product.
Like her predecessors, MRS is demolishing the gender stereotypes which bar women from pursuing and attaining prominence in the graffiti scene. She is not afraid to create work incorporating “feminine” aesthetics such as flowers, stars, bright colors, etc. MRS refuses to hide her identity behind a more gender-neutral tag, embracing her femininity as cause for her inspiration. At the same time, she reconstructs the notion of crafts as hobbies, weaving threads of magic onto pillows and blankets. However, she should not be celebrated solely as a female artist, but as a multi-disciplinary graffiti artist, one who actively seeks to experiment on new surfaces.
MRS refuses to hide her identity behind a more gender-neutral tag, embracing her femininity as cause for her inspiration. At the same time, she reconstructs the notion of crafts as hobbies, weaving threads of magic onto pillows and blankets. However, she should not be celebrated solely as a female artist, but as a multi-disciplinary graffiti artist, one who actively seeks to experiment on new surfaces.
Many of her pieces are touchable, offering her audience the ability to actually engage with her work rather than simply stare from a distance. In this way, she also challenges the stereotype of art as some inaccessible, abstract concept. Art can be found in the very fabric of our lives; all we need to do is reimagine the possibilities of our surroundings. MRS is one of the many contemporary female graffiti artists proving that the form isn’t and shouldn’t only be practiced by men. The unique perspectives and life experiences of women can shape art into a whole new style.
Whitney Graham is a recovering Floridian and New York adoptee, who graduated from NYU with a BA in English and American Literature. She first moved to New York City in 2014 so she could study poetry in the same location many of her favorite writers started. Her favorite elements of NYC are its cultural diversity and creative heartbeat. She does, however, dream of a day when gentrification will cease, transportation will become more efficient and clean, and recycling and composting are normalized. Whitney is twice published thus far and is an intern for Bowery Poetry Club. In addition to being a poet, Whitney is also an essayist who aspires to become a public school teacher and creative writing professor. She spends most of her time teaching English Language Arts to NYC students, cooking vegan food, practicing yoga, exploring neighborhoods, reading, and drawing.