Quik NYC aka Lin Felton
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“ART YOU EXPERIENCED?” The souls of Quik   

At first sight, the faces that Quik sprays on to paper, magazines, maps, and other backgrounds appear to be simple exercises that are consistently repeated. The faces are cartoon-like shapes in bright colours, with an expressive look communicated via the eyes or mouth. Sometimes they appear alone, sometimes in swarms, a mixture of large and small. Closer inspection, however, shows countless different expressions: pained or critical as well as exuberantly cheerful and sweet. It is not unrealistic to think that these faces depict the moods of the artist, perhaps in combination with other people and events. The artist himself refers to these faces as ‘souls’. These powerful faces, which are applied with relentless energy to the accompaniment of sixties music - especially by Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young -, summarize much of Quik’s oeuvre. In addition to the characteristic graffiti technique, the most powerful ingredients of his work are the expressive force of the cartoon-like grimaces that directly confront the viewer, and the underlying message of the artist about his own feelings in present-day society. To Quik, present-day society means New York City, his hometown. Even if he signs his work in Groningen, he still writes ‘NYC’. What primarily elevates Quik above many other writers is the consistency that has characterized his imagery and his message over a period of more than 25 years.

To graffiti writers, the dissemination of their imago (name, meaning) is of the utmost importance. Right from the outset, Quik played a leading role in the generation of train graffiti. Just as in any other new art movement, graffiti evolved due to the fact that a few individuals began to change their style, form, composition, and their use of colour and materials. During this kind of process, the leading lights come into contact with other forms of artistic expression, and individual artists subsequently separate from the mainstream. The great upsurge of graffiti was primarily based on rivalry between the writers, eloquently articulated as ‘style wars’: leaving one’s logo at public locations, spreading a name, getting known, becoming the best. Compact names and recognizable (cartoon) figures are logical applications that could impress other train writers as well as the general public. The writers began to manifest themselves as true marketing specialists. Like children of the sixties, they possess an attitude nurtured by Pop Art, kicking against the traces and all forms of authority, seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Their train graffiti pieces are inspired by advertisements on billboards, transferred and multiplied across various wagons, set in motion by the train, presented to a million-strong public every day. After their ‘rebel’ period, many graffiti artists switch to company-commissioned advertising for clothes, bags, and the design of toys.

Two aspects played a role in the acceptation of graffiti as a new art movement in the eighties: first of all, the interest of the art world itself in commercial art-oriented trends: the inspiration from children’s imagery, resistance to tedious and intellectual concepts, entertainment. In addition, the art world also began to develop an interest in fashion and advertising photography, in video clips with youth idols, a kind of regeneration of Pop Art by Warhol and his colleagues. Graffiti first gained renown via photographs by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, which were soon collected by museums as a distinctive form of artistic photography, and subsequently published in books. Warhol and Cooper were intermediaries, like art critics and gallery owners, who furnished the public with large editions of quality items in the ‘super & popular’ spirit of the times (as Frans Haks, one of the first Dutch museum directors to take an interest in graffiti, referred to this style). These intermediaries form the second reason why graffiti became so popular among museums and private collectors. Early paintings such as I Am the Smoke King, I Am Black (1982), Lin! (1982), and Thanx Toddo (1982) were acquired for the collection of the Groninger Museum via these channels. In stylistic terms, these early works are quite simple in their structure: large letters with silhouettes, occasionally evolving into facial forms as in Thanx Toddo, and a cloudy background, because graffiti writers are not fond of empty surfaces.
Thanx Toddo!, 1982, acryl spray on canvas, 128 x 298 cm, Groninger Museum
Lin!, 1982, 143 x 280 cm Groninger Museum

Devo, for my loving mom, 1983, 121 x 91,5 cm Groninger Museum

One of the greatest private intermediaries in the Netherlands undoubtedly is Henk Pijnenburg, living in Deurne. His large collection comprises all the stages of Quik’s oeuvre. Several fine examples in this collection show how Quik transforms the short messages with a cartoon into an image. Orange Pink Stripes II (1983) merely shows the name QUIK in orange and pink stripes, highlighted with stars and spirals. Next, a cartoon face, a heart, a small devil or a doll-like figure (I’ll never grow old from 1987) start to become an integral part of the name Quik. The characteristic faces (souls) pop up in these works as graphic worm-like creatures, emerging to the foreground in drawings like Dead Souls (1986), and later becoming the Q of Quik.

Milan Kunc, Mein Haus, 1984, 209 x 240 cm, Groninger Museum

Apart from Pop Art, Quik also became influenced by his meeting with the Czech /German painter Milan Kunc in the early 1980’s. Kunc’s work was also acquired and exhibited in the Groninger Museum in the mid eighties. Kunc’s imagery is multilayered, stylistically related to Salvador Dali, whose pictures he often quotes in his so-called Neo-Surrealistic paintings. He depicts stereotyped worlds, for example the western world as a blue marsh (the end of the civilization) opposed to the red Eastern world as the land of the rising sun, with his own studio in a large skull in the middle. This work from 1984 is entitled My House. The giant skull resembles Dali with his characteristic moustache. Almost every small

image and creature in this painting is funny and satirical at the same time. Kunc is very concerned about the decline of the western culture and the violation of nature. The skullface and the artists palette in the shape of a face from a 1982- drawing recur in Quik’s souls.

Milan Kunc, 1982, drawing on paper, 22,8 x 30,4 cm Groninger Museum
Quik’s work from the beginning of the nineties displays a baroque, more complicated style. The letters have become complex compositions in themselves. The many details in the colours and shapes and the fragmented surfaces that engender a spatial effect mean that direct legibility has been sacrificed in favour of a wide range of impressions. The more abstract a work is, the more it is based on internal restlessness. An example of this is Wheels of Confusion, which dates from 1991 (Groninger Museum).

These baroque works are a strong outcry of personal emotions. I wish I was blond haired and blue eyed (1989) in the Pijnenburg collection shows a satirical self portrait with fragmented hair, eyes, nose and mouth. The backgrounds, too, are dynamic with many colourful
expressions and points. Quik’s development can be clarified by comparing it to that of his friends Seen (Richard Mirando) and Blade (Steven Ogburn). Seen and Blade strongly adhere to the name and the lettering of their original train paintings.

Seen, 1983, 187 x 304 cm, Groninger Museum
Blade, Come on in, 1983, 179 x 228 cm, Groninger Museum

The letters are occasionally fragmented or dynamic, like arrowheads against a simple universe-like background, but they are always robust and recognizable. Seen is currently oriented toward tattoos – he owns three tattoo shops in the Bronx and Queens – and also creates reliefs, three-dimensional graffiti, in which the letter continues to be the starting point of the image. Although the lettering also remains an important point of departure for Quik, his imagery gradually shifted in the course of the nineties toward a cartoon-like human figure by means of which he attempts to tell a story. In addition to the faces, this was also the time in which he began to produce the paintings on the Playboy centrefolds.

Graffiti never dies!, 1999, 59,7 x 27,8 cm, Groninger Museum

The naked girls often are covered with letters that are mobile and difficult to decipher, with butterflies and faces. In this way, Quik improves the ideals of beauty of the middle-class man. The woman plays a major role in his themes. Where she has not been painted over or processed, she appears as a lady with long hair or a beauty queen with hair stuck up and witprominent breasts, surrounded by glittering dots.

Occasionally Quik will add a personal remark suggesting that he not only questions the general American Dream but also his own experience or inner life. It’s such a shame from 1998 shows how emotional these remarks can be.










It’s such a shame, 1998, 398,5 x 200 cm, Groninger Museum

Another theme reinforces this approach: the emaciated Negro. This figure appears from 1990 onwards. In his studies and drawings, Quik adds more texts and ideas, thus creating small stories. A party in Pennsylvania from 1991 (Pijnenburg collection) shows a lynch party. The negro is hanging from a bare tree, the American flag next to him. After his divorce, the artist lived in Pennsylvania for some time and here he discovered to his disgust, strong Ku Klux Klan-like tendencies among the population. This negro figure is easily recognized in the poignant painting Killing Yourself to Live (1993), donated by Quik to the Groninger Museum at the farewell reception for Frans Haks. The figure attempts to hang himself, but the quality of the rope is so poor that the attempt is unsuccessful. The bitter humour is enhanced by the cheerful background full of joie de vivre.

Killing Yourself to Live, 1993, acryl spray on canvas, 185 x 156 cm, Groninger Museum, gift from the artist

However distinctive it may be, Quik’s cartoon figure reaches back to the tradition of Sambo, the prototype of the stupid, inarticulate and lazy ‘nigger boy’, known in the Netherlands as Sjimmie (in Sjors and Sjimmie) or Zwarte Piet (Black Pete, St Nicholas’ helper). Although these figures are often adult, they are treated as children and also have childish qualities: they are obedient but not suitable for carrying out difficult jobs. This Sambo stereotype is used by Afro-American artists such as Michael Ray Charles from Texas, for example, as a protest against a humiliating view of the black American. This artist applies the original Sambo effigy on the billboards in order to convey an extremely critical message about the ongoing oppression of black people in the conservative south of the USA – Bush country, where white people arm themselves to the teeth in fear of the blacks, encouraged to do so by the weapons industry and the government. Charles’ paintings are deliberately primitive and copy the Sambo figure from circus posters, the game Bamboozled (dealing with double-crossing), and the tradition of ‘blackface’ (the grease-painted white actor in films, theatre, and television shows), making no secret of his unequivocal condemnation. In American society, the discrimination of the fifties and sixties – the riots in Montgomery, Alabama (1955, the bus incident with Rosa Parks), the high school of Little Rock (1957), and eventually the murder of Martin Luther King (1963) – are still tangible even today.

Michael Ray Charles, (Forever Free) IF I CAN’T YOU CAN’T, mixed media’ on wood, 114,9 x 92,7 cm. Henk and Leonie Pijnenburg collection.
On the surface, Quik’s Negro figure does not resemble Sambo, but it does in terms of content or intention. Quik’s critical attitude and imagery can be compared to the work of the New York / Haitian superstar Jean-Michel Basquiat and to his fellow writer and co-resident of New York City: Lee Quinones, who has also been active right from the start. Lee does not portray the position of the black man but rather that of another oppressed group, the Latinos, in this case the Puerto Ricans in New York. They constitute a large community but are underprivileged, as strikingly depicted by Lee in his masterpiece Society’s Child, dating from 1982.

Lee Quinones, Society’s Child, 1983, acryl spray on canvas, 360 x 301 cm, Groninger Museum

The victim is a Puerto Rican junkie with his left arm tied off, giving himself a shot. The clenched fist protrudes forward in an eye-catching manner. In the background is the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, as if it were his own shadow. To him – just like Quik – this is not the American Dream but rather the sinister shadow side of society. The figure is a loser, a symbolic yet simultaneously personal individual to whom the background gives a universal significance. Lee’s imagery has developed into dramatic pictures of crime, war scenes, slums, prostitutes, and junkies, from which the original name and letters have completely disappeared to be replaced by figurative, strongly realistic representations. Only the spray technique still enables his canvases to be classified as graffiti. Quik, in contrast, adheres more firmly to the origins of graffiti: the word. He sprays short texts as a direct emotional comment on the depiction of cartoon-like shapes: real cartoon figures such as Felix the Cat (in: Graffiti Never Dies!, 1999) (Groninger Museum, gift of Henk and Leonie Pijnenburg), or his own creations such as the Beauty Queen and the faces of the black man. His Negro is not fat or silly and does not display a big captivating white smile like Sambo does. Quik’s figure is ground down by American society, which has disappointed him (only taking instead of giving) and within which he does not wish to live. Nevertheless, this society has shaped him and will always remain a part of him. It is a very personal figure that occasionally reacts in a very direct way to events in the everyday life of the artist. It is an alter ego that can be coarse and grotesque, can attempt to commit suicide, or can teach the viewer something, in much the same way as the artist himself attempts to teach something positive to children at black schools in New York, regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be. From 2000 onwards, the Sambo-type has been transformed into a tortured black man. Sometimes his eyes and lips are bleeding, and his ribs, legs and arms look like they have been burned or starved to death. I don’t live today from 2000 in the Pijnenburg collection has been painted onto an American flag, literally emphasizing his background. In recent works from 2004 and 2005, the tormented creature is even stronger and more desperate, painted in a powerful expressionist style. It seems that Quik prefers to devote his attention to the position of the underprivileged rather than to the dissemination of his own fame (he is sometimes surprised that so many art connoisseurs value his work so highly). This has also had a positive influence on his imagery, elevating it far above the advertising message on the trains. The many faces that he displays are literally his own faces, and the souls of all of us.


Steven Kolsteren
Groninger Museum


Cooper Photo (1982) Moonpie (198x) She won’t love me (198x) Crimes of the heart (1989) untitled (with heart) (1990) Birth of a nation (1991) What if Jasper Johns had been a black man (1990) Upside down (1990) I don’t live today (2000) Colour wheels of love (2001) untitled (2004) He’s the best blues painter ever (2004)


more paintings


more drawings

interview (friendsofsound.com):  part 1  part 2