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Interview with TooFly at Inside

Interview with TooFly

toofly.png Where did you grow up?
Toofly: I was born in Ecuador, and I came to the United States on Christmas 1985. I was 7 years old. That’s when I moved to Corona, Queens where my grandparents had a house. It was just like a little one family house with a basement that my grandfather built and fixed up. Everything was there to make us all comfortable. I grew up with my family, like with everybody there and you know your cheesy little pool that they would buy at Woolworth or something. Just growing up, little Queens girl in the neighborhood.

Q: Where did you go to school?
TooFly: I went to IS 61 junior high in Queens like right near my neighborhood, then I went to fashion Industries high school in the city. I thought I wanted to do fashion because I used to play with this little girl across the street, with Barbies and shit. She wanted to go to fashion school so I decided to follow her. When I got to fashion I learned that all I really wanted to do was draw and paint, not design clothes. So I switched to be an art major. I remember going into the classrooms and seeing a whole bunch of graffiti on the tables. They had these wooden tables for the fashion kids who would do patterns and clothes. Almost every class had these huge tables with illustrations of characters and graffiti tags and it would follow on to the walls and hallways. It wasn’t like, dirty dirty, but every now and then you would see it, when someone went crazy tagging and drawing. It would be cleaned up the next day of course.

Q: Did graffiti come easy to you?
TooFly: Well, a lot of my work revolves around this female image that I feel should look really strong and fierce and beautiful but like, edgy. I really want to put that energy in my work. And then I start layering it up with all kinds of marks that i like. I think back sometimes how it all came together. I used to draw mermaids, and characters from comic books. My uncle had a stash of X-Men, when I was growing up. Then I got into Wildcats and Gen 13 on my own. I enjoyed re-drawing the illustrations of the women in these comics. Graffiti wasn’t even in my life then, it was just comic books. When I went to high school I would take the 7 train and always look out the window and I would see graffiti everywhere, all over the rooftops, on my way home, walking, everything was just covered with graffiti and there were certain graffiti writers in the neighborhood whose styles I felt were really inspiring me. But I wasn’t doing anything about it. When I got to high school I started seeing it everywhere too. It wasn’t just on the walls, it was on the tables, hallways, lockers, books. Then I met this graffiti writer artist and his graffiti style blew my mind. It was then that it all came clear to me I knew what I wanted to be.

Q: Did something just click one day or was it over a course of time?
TooFly: I think now it’s clicking but before I think I was just going through self-discovery, you know like young people and their different phases and I think by having a name and by claiming that I was a female and then getting involved in graffiti where you start by just tagging your name up in a neighborhood or you start drawing in these black books that passes around different high schools and it goes from borough to borough and it comes back to you and it comes back with all these famous writers that, you know they’re like twice your age but they’ve seen your work and then they write you comments. Some of it will be mean, like ‘who’s this little girl trying to be like a graffiti writer’, but they just couldn’t deny that my illustrations were like - ‘yo, who is this?’ And I feel like that just made me kind of more excited, cause I was like, oh they’re taking notice, you know like I admire their stuff and I hear their names and they’re known and I’m like, damn but I just don’t have the balls to go and paint on the walls!

But also the greatest story that I tell is that my mom supported my art so much that she would drive me in the neighborhood to just go and do graffiti. She would literally wake up at 4 in the morning cause I would beg her, cause I was like such a teenager like, c’mon ma, I really want to be paint, these people see my work but they’re not going to respect what I do cause I just do it on paper and I want to start doing this on the walls, I know I can do it. Of course, you know, cops and everything, she didn’t want me to hang out with the guys like really late so she was like, I’ll just take you out. She would go with me to rooftops where I would get to paint, she would be my lookout is what we would call it, my mom was the lookout. And she’d be like opening the door and she’s like alright, hurry up - you know, like all nervous.

Those memories mean so much because I’m not your typical graffiti person that’s like you know, maybe has bad relationship with their parents and they’re sneaking out at night and they’re getting in trouble with the cops. I just don’t fit some of that criteria and that’s why some people are like, iffy about what I do but man if they only knew the pleasure of doing what I do, shit I’m a good ass role model to young women that’s more than all the tags combined out there. Their kids are looking up to my work. Young girls these days just can’t be hanging out so late at night bullshitting our life away. They need better examples, like how do I flip it!. So you show them. These guys are underneath trains and subways, scary situations. Many of them have died doing graff. I just feel like in time I’ve shown people that I grew up with a this culture, hip-hop, everything that makes me, and breaks me, with that I was able to transform it into something positiive that I can share with everyone because at the end of the day it’s about your story, your style, your flow, it’s about showing the experience we have lived through. Good or bad, and also there wasn’t many women that represented back then. Just a very few. There was always all these guys, all this graffiti everywhere, everything was just guys. Along comes around something different, a woman doing it differently.

Q: How much of a problem is the illegal aspect in the city?
TooFly: I think graffiti writers are the only ones that could understand that. I know we destroy property and we deface things and it’s not okay to do stuff on churches but there’s such an art form with calligraphy and the way we do tags and the way we communicate just through our writings, that’s just an underground thing, like it’s only among us. But for me, like I can’t write my name anymore on the walls. Like as a teenager, yeah, nobody knew who the hell I was, but as soon as I started putting myself out there, doing more public works or working with young people, I just kind of had to switch it a little bit and just kind of not do that anymore. If I do it it’ll be like some other name that nobody knows about. Because we can’t get away from the art form, the freedom of just writing on a surface is like nothing else. Only we get it. Yea some of us are sorry that we’re messing up your wall but it’s just the way it is in this city so deal with it. That’s what makes New York, at least what’s left of it.

Q: Have you had run-ins with the police?
TooFly: Yeah, I mean, different run-ins then what the writers go through. For public walls, most of the times we have the permit and then sometimes you know, permit’s not enough and we have to stop, we have to put our paint away and they’ll tell us that it’s about the environment like you know the spray is like getting into the air and we’re like destroying the ozone layer and all this stuff. So then we just have to stop and come back another day. But it’s usually somebody in the neighborhood like calling on us. Or just people that know we’re there and they’ll do it on purpose and call the cops.

Q: Are you part of a crew?
TooFly: I never wanted to be down with any crew because I didn’t want to just belong to them and then they had beef with somebody else and then there’d be problems just cause you’re part of their crew, it’s just like nonsense to me. Like a lot of the guy stuff that goes on, the politics, is just retarded. I just I don’t want no part in it. I go, I paint, and I leave. I got my own little circle of friends. I would love to build with writers but they’re just on some other shit. Politics ruin everything I rather not get involved with the bullshit, there’s more important things in life. I just want to paint, build with good people, and get better at my craft.

Q: If you’re not part of a crew, is it hard to keep working?
TooFly: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of exclusivity and then there’s some people that are just cool with everybody and just invite people to walls. So there’s all kinds of stuff. But now it just feels like we gotta create our own because we run into that beef situation, people going over people’s work so most of us just have to try to get our own spaces. The New York mentality, wants to hold down the real graffiti shit and I understand that 100% but there’s like so many levels to the culture now you can’t just keep it to one idea. People want to paint all mixed up, people want to do community, people want to be hardcore and stay real, or people want to have commercial success, then there’s those that want it all, that’s what gives everyone a place to grow and explore shit. A lot of the public doesn’t know that but there’s so much going on, just with graffiti, it has it’s own world. Then women got their own shit too, but that’s why there’s this whole women’s movement now where we have our own book dedicated to our work, called Graffiti Women and it’s just like all these women from all over the world who are getting highlighted for their graffiti works. And I know we all want to be artists and just not be just considered women but there’s a strength to that. At least in my community there is. It is more necessary to my people than maybe to others who grew up differently.

Q: Do you have a day job?
TooFly: I freelance at a licensing company 3 days a week and that allows me to just live comfortable enough, pay my rent, hang out, and eat here and there. But then the rest of the days I do my paintings, I sell things on my own shop, I make my own shirts, I design, I do graffiti events where I paint live and I’ll get to paint my own art, not doing some like commercial crap. I’ve done a tiny bit of that but I’m trying to stay away from that cause I feel like I’m just selling out the art instead of just keeping it true to like the people and the neighborhood. They pay good money but now I’m just like being cautious about those type of projects cause I still want to keep the integrity of my art and what it means to do what I do. So yeah, I mean, I’ll have to continue to figure that out, it’s complicated. People will offer me mad money but I’m just like, no, I can’t. I could buy a house with that but I’m like, something’s wrong with the end picture. I guess that’s why they consider us all starving artists, but we’re really not, we got gigs coming from all kinds of places. We work with independent labels that we believe in or we do our own projects where people support us or we do our own events, like we just do our own stuff. It’s so much more rewarding because your learning how to run your business without someone else running it for you, or doing it for you. You have total creative control of your work and the message behind it.

Q: How about community service?
TooFly: I’ve done a lot of community work, I get so much of it because being a female in the graffiti hip hop culture is scarce still. There’s all these hip-hop events, and there’s not a lot of people stepping in to share their stories. A lot of graffiti artists don’t, and I understand why. Many have not had the experiences I’ve had, or have understood why this is necessary. I’ve chosen to share and do workshops with kids, I speak to them about the history, the motivation it takes to stand up for something. A lot of people feel like I could inspire young people in the inner city because they can relate to me. People say graffiti is negative but I’m like ‘look what we’ve done with it so far’. We’ve been able to, sustain ourselves, get projects here and there, go and present graffiti as an art form to different countries, at different hip hop events, be like someone visible that’s doing graffiti but that’s not getting in trouble. Now I’m workin on this project called Younity that’s gonna work to put together dope ass art events where we’ll paint live or do art exhibits creative collaborations, and we’ll involve young people to help assist us and then we’ll nurture them and teach them the process so they can in turn run their own shit too in the future.

- Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by B.A. Van Sise for

See Toofly’s profile and favorite NY places at

3 Responses to “Interview with TooFly”

  1. 1 Toofly's Mom

    Mis hijas son lo mejor que me ha dado la vida cada una es mas especial que la otra , todas diferentes e iguales al mismo tiempo,mi toofly estoy tan orgullosa porque a parte de ser una gran artista es una mujer integra y real, mi preciosa hija.

  2. 2 Alex

    Toofly is an inspiration to all. She has given us the gift of her art. I’ve had moments that I’ve seen her work just walking down the street and thinking to myself….WOOOWWW!!!! That’s sooo cool!!!! In a place like New york city that everything is fast pace and people are just trying to get where they’re going. It’s nice to just stop and take a look at some dope art!!!!

    Thank you Toofly for making this city a beautiful place.


  3. 3 perrita anal

    I liked the post and your writing style. I’m adding you to my RSS reader.

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