Lee Quinones - Artist in his Studio, 2015 - Photo Credits Nicole Klagsbrun

Lee Quinones /   George Lee Quiñones

Puerto Rico 1960

Street Art, Graffiti


Lee Quinones
George Lee Quiñones
Puerto Rico
October 13, 2014
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreja-velimirovi%C4%87-74068a68/

During the explosive 1970s, urban artists discovered a new way of displaying their works to as many people as possible – they started using subway cars as canvases. Out of all the graffiti painters that chose this method of creating, George Lee Quinones is considered by many to be the single most influential artist that ever emerged from the NYC metro train art movement. During his career that has entered the fifth decade now, LEE has been working on subway cars, huge wall murals, films and countless commissions. When asked to explain why he choose street art of all the possibilities, Quinones game perhaps the best definition of the medium so far: Street art revitalizes what the city has and probably will always have: the urgency to speak out.

Lee Quinones - Year of the Dragon, 1979 - contact the gallery or the blog for his history, school and video movement york
Lee Quinones – Year of the Dragon, 1979

Growing Up In New York City

Lee Quinones was born in 1960, in the town of Ponce, Puerto Rico, but was raised in New York’s Lower East Side. He was a member of a family that held their Puerto Rican heritage in high regard and the culture of their ancestors was a huge part of Lee’s early life. They were proud Nuyoricans – a portmanteau that refers to the members or culture of the Puerto Rican diaspora located in or around NYC. At the age of five, Lee Quinones started showing signs of his still undeveloped artistic personality. He had a great affection towards drawing and loved doodling colorful characters of his neighborhood. This was mostly instinctive and as a matter of fact, it is possible to make conceptional parallels between his young doodles and mature work. The boy was also inspired by the fictional world of Japanese post-war science fiction monster films, especially the legendary Godzilla. Lee also liked the animated series such as Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion. However, the Vietnam war also had a strong, much darker impact on Quinones that developed into a deeply rooted resentment towards any type of warfare. Soon, he started finding inspiration in the street art, mostly inside works of Cliff 159 of the 3-Yard Boys and Blade One of the Crazy 5 Crew.

Lee Quinones - Silent Thunder, 1981 - contact the gallery or the blog for his history, school and video movement york
Lee Quinones – Silent Thunder, 1981

Introduction To The World Of Street Art

All of the aforementioned cues would undoubtedly have a massive influence on Lee’s future art pieces and his style. Quinones was introduced to the potentials and possibilities of the street scene during the explosive 1970s, years that will later prove to be New york’s defining in terms of the graffiti arts. Drawn towards this unrestricted form of expression, the artist painted his first subway piece in 1974 when he was about to turn fourteen years of age! The idea of painting upon the subway train was a young one for New York at the time, but it soon became a popular concept due to the fact that your graffiti was not stationed and was constantly on the move, available for people all around the city to see. However, with the metro graffiti booming, this also meant that tough security measures will be taken in order to protect the trains from these artistic vandals. This never stopped Quinones who managed to develop his skills drastically to a point when he started making incredible 40-foot subway car murals in 1975. Later that year, the artist was approached by the members of the Fabulous Five crew, an elite quintet of seemingly mythic graffiti writers. The group’s greatest feat was in 1976 when they painted an entire train car from top to bottom. Due to his young age and talent, Lee soon became a legend of the subway tagging scene. Over the next decade, he would paint an estimated 115 whole metro cars throughout the MTA system! Quinones was and still is regarded as an important figure in both the contemporary art world and in popular culture circles far away from galleries.

The highlights of Quinones’s career are without a doubt his subway pieces of the late 1970s

Lee Quinones - Untitled, 1979 - contact the gallery or the blog for his history, school and video movement york
Lee Quinones – Untitled, 1979

Later Life And Mature Work

The nature of the early urban art was troublesome at best, so Lee is already well used to the constant attacks at the seriousness and worthiness of his art. On such claims, he said: There are people who see the graffiti experience as a vocation of adolescence, the rites of passage without a sense of direction. I’m not surviving by offending it or defending it, but I saw it early on as a catalyst to develop as a painter and explore the other horizons outside of a forty foot subway car. As he was getting older, Quinones naturally dropped the ball a bit when it came to the street art scene. He continued to work on graffiti pieces but never as dramatically and fanatically as was the case with the metro graffiti of the late 70s. Ultimately, Lee broadened his horizons by starting to work in the film industry, music videos and elaborate commissions – usually huge murals. A big change when you remember that he started as an illegal bomber of train cars. Quinones’s pieces are considered to be extremely valuable and era-defining, so it is only natural that they are parts of some of the most precious art collections out there. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of the City New York, the Groninger Museum, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam – plus they’ve been exhibited at the New Museum Of Contemporary Art, the Museum of National Monuments in Paris and the Staatliche Museum in Germany. Such high accreditations are remarkable on their own but are even more impressive when you remember that Lee is a street artist and not an oil painter or a sculptor of some sort. Interesting fact: Lee starred in director Charlie Ahearn’s film titled Wild Style, a movie whose screenplay was loosely based on Lee’s personal and professional life!

When Lee Quinones got a bit older, he decided it was time to cut the ties with subway car bombing and turned to legal murals and commissions

Lee Quinones - The Golden Child, 1986 - contact the gallery or the blog for his history, school and video movement
Lee Quinones – The Golden Child, 1986

A True Street Artist

There aren’t many as sounding names as Quinones’s when it comes to the urban art scene. Now a laid back embodiment of a true graffiti legend, Lee Quinones holds lectures at universities and cultural institutions, talking about the development of the world of street art he witnessed first hand. Since he has been recognized at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors awards two times and was a recipient of the Jam Master Jay Award for the Arts in 2007, Lee is one of the most accredited urban artists of our time. The nature and style of his work may have evolved over the years, but his artistic identity remained as true and unique as humanly possible.

Lee Quinones lives and works in New York, US.

Featured Image: Lee Quinones – Artist in his Studio, 2015 – Photo Credits Nicole Klagsbrun
All Images Photo Credits Lee Quinones

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2011Taking the FifthSalon Bob, NY, NYSolo
2011Art in The StreetsGeffen Center at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2011El Museo’s Bienial: The S FilesEl Museo del Barrio, NY, NYGroup
2011Looking at Music 3.0Museum of Mordern Art, New York, NYGroup
2011Hyperreal: Art In America Around 1970Ludwig Forum for International Art, Aachen, GermanyGroup
2011Nose JobnEric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, NYGroup
2011Next Wave Art Brooklyn Academy of Music, NY, NYGroup
2011Eric Three KingsSubliminal Gallery, Los Angeles, CAnGroup
2010Sisley Art ProjectAndy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PAGroup
2009Whole In the WallGalerie Helenbeck, NY, NYGroup
2009Martin Wong’s Downtown CrossingsAsian Pacific American Institute, New York University, NYGroup
2008Truth and ConsequencesIl Trifoglio Nero, NY, NYSolo
2007Lee QuinonesMoMA PS1, New York City, NYSolo
2005East Village USA  New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York CityGroup
2003Bumper StudiesRome Arts, New York CitySolo
2001Ghetto SamuraiSalon Bob, New York CitySolo
2001DrawingsThen And Than Rome Arts Gallery, New York CitySolo
2001Casual GetoverLot 61, New York CitySolo
2001Yellow’s Spring PartyHotel Astor, Miami, FloridaGroup
2000Securing the RequiemPrivate Residence, New York CitySolo
2000Hip-Hop: Roots, Rhymes & RageBrooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY Group
2000Summer Show  DFN Gallery, New York City Group
2000Neo Graffiti Project  Agnes B., New York CityGroup
2000Five From The UndergroundSteven Vail Galleries, Des Moines, IowaGroup
2000OctagonRecon Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2000Small Stuff AZ/NY Galleries, Scottsdale, AriizonaGroup
2000Xhibition TransitionQuantum Leap, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
1999Nuevo Espace Romero, Paris, FranceSolo
1999Deus ex MachinaHazmat Gallery, Tucson, ArizonaGroup
1999NY2K  El Bohio Cultural Community Center, New York CityGroup
1998Foto Graf The Web Gallery, New York CityGroup
1997Contents Under PressureTramshed, LondonGroup
1997Celebrating Warhol Gallery Stendhal, New York CityGroup
1996Windows Livestock Gallery, New York CitySolo
199515 Years Aboveground  C World Gallery, New York CityGroup
1994Straight Forward Urban Classics L.T.D, New York CitySolo
1994AerosoulThe Paterson Museum, Paterson, New JerseyGroup
1993In TransitThe New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York CityGroup
1992GraffitiKlarefeld Perry Gallery, New York CityGroup
1992Graffiti Art: American and FrenchMuseum of National Monuments, Paris, FranceGroup
1991Hip-Hop NationReal Art Ways, Hartford, ConnecticutGroup
1991Post GraffitiFederal Reserve Board Building, Washington, D.C.Group
1990High-Low ArtMuseum of Modern Art, New York CityGroup
1990Your House Is MineBullet Space, New YorkGroup
1989La Libertad LogicoBlack and White in Color Gallery, Bronx, New YorkGroup
1989Boogie Down: Miracle on the Duece  Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, New York CityGroup
1988Contemporary Art Auction  #2El Bohio Community and Cultural Center, New York CityGroup
1988El BohioBlack and White in Color Gallery, Bronx, New YorkGroup
1987Melee ArchivesFranklin Furnace, New YorkGroup
1986New York UndergroundInstitute for North American Studies, Barcelona, SpainGroup
1985New HorizonsRiverside Studios, LondonSolo
1985Group Material, Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York CityGroup
1985Rain DanceBenefit for the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, New York CityGroup
1984Rapid EnamellistBarbara Gladstone Gallery, New York CitySolo
1984Rapid EnamellistRudolf Zwirner Gallery, Cologne, GermanySolo
1984Rapid EnamelRenaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
1984Chill Out New YorkKenkeleba Gallery, New York CityGroup
1983Off The StreetsContemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OhioSolo
1983Off The StreetsBarbara Farber Gallery, Amsterdam, NetherlandsSolo
1983Post GraffitiSidney Janis Gallery, New York CityGroup
1983Style Wars film premier Museum of Modern Art, New York CityGroup
1982Rusto-LEE-umFun Gallery, New York CitySolo
1982Rusto-LEE-umBarbara Gladstone Gallery, New York City;Solo
1982Rusto-LEE-umBarbara Farber Gallery, Amsterdam, NetherlandsSolo
1980The Third PhaseWhite Columns Gallery, New York CitySolo
1980The Third PhaseGalleria Paolo Seno, Milano, ItalySolo
1980Graffiti Art Success for AmericaFashion Moda, Bronx, New YorkGroup
1980Times Square ShowNew York CityGroup
1980Artist Invite ArtistFashion Moda, Bronx, New YorkGroup
1979The Fabulous Five  Galleria La Medusa, Rome, ItalyGroup
1979The Fab 5iveUnique Clothing Warehouse, New York CityGroup