Lady Aiko /   Aiko Nakagawa

United States 1975

Street Art, Graffiti, Pop Art

Lady Aiko
Aiko Nakagawa
United States
March 31, 2014
Jean is researcher and author for Widewalls.

For all those seeking freedom, the streets’ call is more than appealing. Between the walls, dark corners and all other places suitable for painting – it’s more than a belonging. It’s a world where artistic urges are mutually understood by those who dwell in it. Lady Aiko, born as Aiko Nakagawa, is a Japanese-born street artist who’s been living in the USA since the 90’s. She’s a female in a world dominated by omnipresent male figures like Banksy or Shepard Fairey, but that doesn’t discourage her in any way. Driven out of the studio by the combination of freedom offered by the streets and the thrill that comes with the uncertainty and uncontrollability of the process itself, she’s been recognized as one of the most influential and popular street artists in the world.

Lady Aiko - Bunny Card 7 (Left) - Bunny Card 10 (Center) - Bunny Card 15 (Right), japan, 2009
Lady Aiko – Bunny Card 7 (Left) / Bunny Card 10 (Center) / Bunny Card 15 (Right)

From Japan to the United States

Born and raised in Shinjuku, Tokyo, she’s been very creative from an early age. Living in a concrete jungle, there wasn’t many places or nature where she could play as a child. So she spent a lot of time at home, just creating something: paintings, drawings, collages and doing paper cuts. In Tokyo, Aiko studied graphic design and filmmaking and was interested in making documentary films. Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam are the places she visited with the intention of documenting the local lifestyles. All of that gave her an idea that she would like to travel even more, step into different scenes, discover new people and face new challenges. Her artistic career took off after one of the travel decisions – she moved to the USA without even speaking English! Takashi Murakami offered her apprenticeship, and she worked for him until the late 1990’s, documenting his 1998’s solo exhibition Superflat along the way. After leaving his studio, she continued to practice her own art, and began her studies at The New School in New York City where she received her MFA in Media Studies. In 1999, Aiko met Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil, and the three of them went on to establish a group known as FAILE. For seven years the group worked locally and internationally, and in 2006, she left them and began a solo career, establishing herself on the street art scene as Lady Aiko. She rarely collaborates, but when she does, it is with a well-known artist, including the famous Lady Pink and Martha Cooper, but also with Banksy for his award-winning documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010.

She’s been creative from an early age

Lady Aiko - Save Our Soul - Green (Left) - Save Our Soul - Orange (Right)
Lady Aiko – Save Our Soul – Green (Left) / Save Our Soul – Orange (Right)

Love as Style

Aiko, which is one of the most common Japanese names, means love. And love’s been in the center of her entire life, from childhood days onwards. As a little girl, just for fun, she would make art for everyone around her, her mother, classmates, family. She enjoyed (and still does) creating something that is beautiful, full of love and can be shared with anyone. Images related to romantic moments, kisses and lover are the dominant theme in her work, with subjects always being about everyday life’s sexy girls, lovers, and romantic stories. One of her most famous pieces, titled Lovers, is the epitome of her entire practice. Being one the images that she cut out in 2007, it has become her signature artwork. Its deep emotional connection with the artist originates from two sources: firstly, the inspiration for it came from the old Japanese magazine from the 60’s, where she discovered a small picture that made her think of her own romantic moments. The style of the images from the 60’s, but also the 70’s and 80’s creates a nice sentiment for her, and the final look of the piece is actually a combination of the found images, stencils, and her street photography; secondly, when she started doing her own projects as Aiko in 2006, one of the first stencils she did was an (above shown) bunny holding a spray can. Having lost some of the motivation working in FAILE, she regained momentum and began enjoying making stencils on the street even more. Seeking a new image that would make her happy to work on the streets one again, she created the Bunny along with some images of sexy girls and some other romantic scenarios. The Lovers was created around that time and it soon became one of the first iconic Aiko stencils, being depicted throughout the world, from Istanbul, Rome, Berlin, Shanghai, and in various places in the United States.

Love is always at the center of her work

Lady Aiko - Lovers (with detail), 2007
Lady Aiko – Lovers (with detail), 2007

The Walls – Breaking the Stereotypes of Contemporary Street Art Culture

Lady Aiko painted the Wynwood Walls in 2009, and it was one of the first big walls that was painted by a woman. Curated by Jeffrey Deitch and Tony Goldman, the piece received good attention, as more and more people became acquainted with her work, realizing that female artists can paint big walls just as successfully as the male ones. Another recognition of her work came in 2012 when she got asked to do a Bowery Street mural. As she admits, since the establishment of the mural in 2008, she always knew she was going to paint it one day. After waiting patiently for four years, the call came, and Aiko joined the prestigious group of artist who had an honor of painting that particular wall in tribute to Keith Haring’s noted 1982 Bowery mural. Os Gêmeos, Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, Crash – are just some of the famous artists who had painted the wall.

In terms of street art, Lady Aiko is a great artist, one of the best

Lady Aiko - Bowery Wall mural, New York, 2012, 2015, 2016, exhibition
Lady Aiko – Bowery Wall mural, New York, 2012

One of the Best Artists

After more than twenty years of living in the United States, Aiko’s training in Japanese traditional aesthetics has been mixed with the essence of the American contemporary art movements such as Abstractionism , POP Art , Graffiti and Street Art, leading to the creation of a hybrid style, widely popular and acclaimed. Often placed among some other great names of the street art scene, such as Faith47 and MadC, Lady Aiko is not just one of the most famous female artists today, she is undoubtedly one of the most popular artists in the contemporary street art scene.

She is represented by Kumi Contemporary.

Lady Aiko lives and works in New York.

Fetured image: Lady Aiko – portrait, photo credits Sal Rodriguez/photo313
All other images courtesy of the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016XX: A Moment in TimeSaatchi Gallery, London, UKGroup
2016Still here: A Decade of LazaridesLazarides, London, UKGroup
2015Cut It OutUrban Nation, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2015The Hampton HoodsDorian Grey Gallery, Westhampton Beach, New York, NYGroup
2015Fermented SoulsWaterfall Mansion, New York, NYGroup
2015Some Place Like HomeRumney Guggenheim, New York, NYGroup
2015Edo City GirlInk_d Gallery, Brighton, UKSolo
2014SweetheartThe Outsiders Gallery, Newcastle, UKSolo
2014AIKO’s Bunny PartyGallery Brooklyn, Brooklyn NYSolo
2014AIKO x ISETAN Window Dispray ProjectTokyo JapanSolo
2013FOULARDS D'ARTISTESLouis Vuitton  2013 Spring Summer CollectionSolo
2013Woman on the WallsWynwood Walls, Miami USAGroup
2013AND I AM THE ARROWReed Project, NorwayGroup
2013sten(t)-səl : Stencil Art Group ShowVertical Gallery, Chicago, USAGroup
2013EDO POPJapan Society, NYGroup
2012The Bowery WallBowery Hotel, New York‎Solo
2012AFTER A LONG TIMEMerry Karnowsky Gallery, LASolo
2012Hello Kitty Hello Art Open House Gallery, NY, USAGroup
2012Argumented RealityWynwood Walls, Miami, USAGroup
2012DétournementJonathan Levine Gallery, NY, USAGroup
2012Girls Going WildePhantom Gallery, St. Louis, USAGroup
2012Tokyo Love ShowOmotesando Hills, Tokyo JapanGroup
2012MBE Group ExhibitionBA-TSU Gallery, Tokyo JapanGroup
2012Vinyl RevisionistWarner Bros. Records,LA, USAGroup
2012Nose BleedFuse Gallery,NY, USAGroup
2012 Wynwood PanelsArt Wynwood, Miami, USAGroup
2012FUCK ARTMuseum of Sex, NY USAGroup
2011UNSTOPPABLE WAVESAndenken Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
2011TOKYO TATTOOUrban Folkart Gallery, NY, USAGroup
2011Underbelly ProjectMiami, USAGroup
2011Pop Up ShopWynwood Walls, Miami, USAGroup
2011SUBWAY MAPSGalerie MathGoth, Paris, FranceGroup
2011EpicDarkside, VT, USAGroup
2011On Every StreetSamuel Owen Gallery, CT, USAGroup
2011Paths of RhythmFuse Gallery, NY, USAGroup
2011NOSE JOBEric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, NY, USAGroup
2011Martha Cooper RemixCarmichael Gallery, LA, USAGroup
2011International Women’s Day Dragon Bar, Hastings UKGroup
2011In The NurseryCorey Helford Gallery, LA USAGroup
2010HERE’S FUN FOR EVERYONEAndrew James Art- Shanghai, ChinaSolo
2010The Standard Stairwell ProjectThe Standard, NY& Hollywood LASolo
2010LA ART URBAIN 2ADDICT Galerie, Paris FranceGroup
2010VIVID FICTIONMerry Karnowsky, LA USAGroup
2010SWEET THINGSCrewest Gallery, LA USAGroup
2010PREVIEW 2010Merry Karnowsky, LA USAGroup
2010DARK POP 2.0Last Rites Gallery, NY USAGroup
2009LOVE MONSTERJoshua Liner Gallery, Chealsea, NYSolo
2009Animamix BiennaleShanghai MoCA and Beijing Today Art Museum, ChinaGroup
2009Graffiti Gone GlobalMiami, USAGroup
2009GO GET YOUR SHINEBOXBrooklynite Gallery, NY USAGroup
2009Apocalypse Wow! MACRO FUTURE, Rome ItalyGroup
2009Tokyo!Tokyo!TokyoVACANT, Tokyo JapanGroup
2009Diesel CultivateDiesel, HongKongGroup
2009The New York ConnectionGallery Target, Tokyo JapanGroup
2009JOY RIDE at Bicycle Film FestivalNY, SF, Denver, Chicago, USAGroup
2009Urban Superstar Show MADRE Museum of Naples, ItalyGroup
2009Work To Do112 Greene Studio, Soho, NYGroup
2009Hard Left 2Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2009GOING POSTAL!Adhoc Art, Brooklyn NYGroup
2009Street CrushAlphabeta, Brooklyn, NYGroup
2009New Image Art 15th Year Anniversary ExhibitionLos Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2008SHUT UP and LOOKBrooklynite Gallery, Brooklyn, NYSolo
2008Piece ProcessAnonymous Gallery, New YorkGroup
2008SCOPE MIAMILiner Gallery, Miami Beach, MiamiGroup
2008TIME CHANGESCalm & Punk Gallery, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2008NEXT: MIKE MING & FRIENDSUplink Gallery, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2008GRAND OPENINGMerry Karnowsky Gallery, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2008Brick Ladies of NYC Ad Hoc Art, Brooklyn, New YorkGroup
2008SCOPE NYCLincoln Center with New Image ArtGroup
2008POP SUBVERSIONAd Hoc Art, Brooklyn, New YorkGroup
2008POSTER RENAISSANCE 2New Image Art, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2008RUN TO THE HILLSAndenken Gallery, Denver, ColoradoGroup
2008BEHIND THE SEENAd Hoc Art, Brooklyn, New YorkGroup
2007FAME COLLECTIVEArt Basel Miami, FloridaGroup
2007INDEPENDENT RESIDENTSLineage Gallery, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2007BESTIALIguapop Gallery, Barcelona SpainGroup
2007DECADE (10th Year Anniversary Exhibition)Merry Karnowsky Gallery, LA, CaliforniaGroup
2007NO SLEEEP TILL BUSHWICKAd Hoc Art, Brooklyn NYGroup
2007ART WALK Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New YorkGroup
2007BEATNIKRevelations, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2007ELEVENLeonard Street Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2007HEART THROBMerry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2007MY 2007Colette, Paris, FranceGroup
2006Hello Kitty Secret HouseHITEC, Kowloon Bay, Hong KongGroup