An abundance of positive energy floats in the air when speaking to noted graffiti artist Toofly. Words like, "support," "inspire" and "empower" circle around as frequently as one might use "and," "but" or "because." This optimistic outlook stems from her upbringing, and the reality that Toofly is one of the lucky among us who is making a successful career by pursuing what she really loves: making art.
Born in Ecuador as Maria Castillo, Toofly and her family came to call Corona home when she was just 7. This talented artist said her Queens upbringing consistently influences her work.
"There are a lot of people from South America here that I can relate to," she said, "and growing up I always wanted to do something that would make my people stand out. That [desire] comes from Queens; if I grew up anywhere else, my work would probably by different."
Though many may not naturally see graffiti as art, the reality is that many who do graffiti are classically trained artists, or are people who have an interest in art — just not the kind of art learned about in textbooks. That kind of art doesn't speak to them. And although, yes, some graffiti artists may not care about the "art" of graffiti as much as the "tagging up" aspect of it, for Toofly things were always different.
"I knew that doing graffiti illegally was not going to get me far growing up," she said, "because nobody at the time looked at it as an art form. They just saw it as vandalism. I tried to find ways to justify it, but in the end I had to put all the love of tagging, marks, and characters and letters into things that would help people see and appreciate it in other ways."
Toofly, who is mainly self-taught but also went to the School of Visual Arts, is currently one of graffiti's leading ladies and has been entered into the coveted Graffiti Hall of Fame and spotlighted in various publications, and has created countless amounts of art, toys and clothing, all while "keeping honest and [hopefully] inspiring people to do things like this for themselves," she said.
Toofly's first exposure to graffiti came during her commute to high school in Manhattan on the No. 7 train. "I started to see graffiti on my way to school, but it wasn't until I saw someone draw an actual illustration on this huge fashion table in school that I was inspired to get my name up and my art recognized," she said.
Over time, putting up her artwork was more than just about recognition and shining a positive light on graffiti. It developed into motivating others. "Young people were coming up to me telling me how they were inspired by my work, and that changed everything," she said. "I realized I could use my art to inspire and to make people happy. I found myself sharing everything, my art and my ideas."
This desire to share has played a major role in how this talented woman lives her life. Toofly spends a lot of her time being active with organizations and like-minded individuals who give back to the people, her people. Some of the groups Toofly has worked with to promote the importance of art in schools, education, and youth empowerment are Directions For Our Youth, an organization that asks black and Hispanic professionals to give presentations to inspire students to pursue a higher education; ArtsConnection, a nonprofit that promotes art in schools; Sista 2 Sista, a Muslim support organization; and The Hip-Hop Association, a community group that focuses on media, technology, resources, social entrepreneurship and leadership development.
When asked how she inspires, her answer is, simply "by just being." It's rare to come across people who pursue what they love, and Toofly is atypical to the majority and a breath of fresh air to anyone who wants to follow his or her dream. "This is what I try to convey at panels, and workshops with young people," she said, "just stick to what you like to do and don't think about it too much. If you just do it, you will find ways to live through it and it will help you stay connected to who you are and what you want to do."
There is an endless array of shows, events, creations and gallery exhibitions that Toofly is not only featured in but most times helps to start up. This month, she and three other well-known artists will unveil the images they were asked to create for a popular American brand. "[This opportunity is] broadening my audience, which is great, because more people will be exposed to the work that I do," she said. While she was not allowed to disclose the full details of the project, once it launches, she assured that we "won't miss it!"
In addition, Toofly was asked to design for a collectable line of toy robots called Dunny, from a company called Kidrobot, along with other merchandise set to release this fall.
Graffiti has become recognized and respected as an art movement, a long way from its beginnings. Equivalently, Toofly has progressed greatly from a young high-school student being introduced to graffiti to a noted and leading graffiti artist. When asked about her natural evolution alongside graffiti's, Toofly said, "I branched out from graffiti into other areas like graphic design and product design because I had endless possibilities of what the art form can truly do for people. Now graffiti is a worldwide phenomenon. We have branched out into everything that has a creative visual element and I am proud to have a small tiny part in the evolution of what it has turned into."
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©2008 Community News Group
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