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When most people see a brick wall they see an ugly obstruction Kathleena (Lady K Fever) Howie-Garcia sees a world of artistic possibilities.

Masterworks' latest artist-in-residence was born in Canada but is currently living in New York City, where she is well known for her graffiti art and murals.

She caught the graffiti bug in her late teens while living in Vancouver. She was so impressed by the work of other artists such as one called 'Virus' that she started tagging, calling herself 'Fever'.

Graffiti artists describe tagging as putting your name or street identity on walls and other public venues using spray paint. In recent years graffiti has grown into an accepted art form when done legally.

“I was overtaken,” Ms Howie-Garcia said. “I was so into it. I started tagging on the streets and [the name] Fever just stuck. I was also skateboarding at the time and I was exposed to a lot of graffiti.

“I was about 17 or 18 and I didn't know there were ways to do it legally. I kind of caught a fever. In Canada, the hip-hop movement was really becoming prominent or going through what we called the 'Golden Age'. There were dancers and graffiti artists everywhere.”

Around this time she worked as a dancer in nightclubs with drag queens. Disc jockeys would hire her to hype up the crowd.

“It was during the 1990s when there were lots of parties and there was that whole rave and hip-hop culture going on,” she said. “I called myself 'Lady K', short for Lady Kathleena.”

She later learned that creating murals and graffiti art, legally, can be as simple as going to a government department and asking for a permission slip, depending on where you live. It helps to have a sketch of your planned design. When she decided to spray “on the straight and narrow”, she became known as 'Lady K Fever'.

In 2003, she became the first Canadian female invited to paint at the legendary Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem, New York. Her artworks have been featured in books such as 'Graffiti Women' and 'Burning New York'. Her work has been on exhibit in the United States and Canada for more than 15 years.

At Masterworks she has been using murals and graffiti artwork to inspire campers in the museum's summer art programme.

When

The Royal Gazette visited Masterworks, she had campers painting a floral mural at the back of the building around the words 'Open Your Hearts'. The children were given acrylic paint to create the mural. She reserved actual spray paint for older teenagers.

Ms Howie-Garcia said many of the basic principles of art, such as colour, shading and perspective, all apply to graffiti art. She said one of the tricks to it is finding a good lettering style that you are comfortable with.

“A lot of people like to do straight letters which are more complicated then they look,” she said. “Bubble letters are also popular, but they can also be harder than they look. You need to have a good concept. It could be a colour concept. Composition is a big area. You have to have a really nice sketch ahead of time. Planning is absolutely important. Many times when a wall hasn't worked out for me it is because I haven't done the planning. You can waste a lot of time making mistakes, but sometimes they work out to something else. You can paint over mistakes or you can figure out how to go forward with them.”

She described her work as “a creative balance exploring her own feminine style documenting life experiences through the combination of mediums”. She is also an accomplished photographer and writer. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers and websites globally from the New York Post to Germany's Backspin magazine.

She has also taken on the role as a curator to create exhibitions for the Bronx Museum's Project Space and The Aurora Gallery. In 2010, she cofounded the 'Same. (,) Difference' artist collective. Ms Howie-Garcia was interested in art in high school, but in university took a detour and decided to study theatre and film at Gastown Actor's Studio/University of British Columbia.

“While I was in theatre classes it became therapeutic to paint on the street or paint in my house,” she said. “That was where I touched again with visual arts. When I graduated I was getting more jobs to paint murals than to act, so that was the direction my life went in.”

But she still uses her theatre training to teach visual arts at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio, New York's only Latin American and Caribbean museum. She incorporates theatre into her classes.

“Some children are more visual learners and others need more movement,” she said.

She has had an arts education grant with the Bronx Council of the Arts for three years in a row. She uses it to design art curriculums and programmes for children in the Bronx. Ms Howie-Garcia is currently planning a graffiti workshop at Masterworks for September 17.

“We will be doing T-shirts or another mural or some aspect of graffiti world,” she said. Ms Howie-Garcia brought along her two young daughters Aisha and Aida for her stay this summer.

Although it is her first trip here, she has several family ties. Her parents were married in Bermuda in the 1960s and also had their second honeymoon here. Her brother was married in Bermuda; her cousin Lisa Howie is the executive director of Bermuda National Gallery and her aunt Margaret Burgess Howie also lives here.

“So I have this whole romantic history of Bermuda,” she said. “I grew up looking at scrapbooks that my parents made in the 1960s of their trips to Bermuda.”

Ms Howie-Garcia said doing art like this in Bermuda has brought with it some challenges.

“The spray here is very high pressure, so I have to accept that the work is going to be a little drippy,” she said. “I just go with the flow. In New York we have designer spray paint meant for murals. There are 20 different nozzles you can use with the can. The cans are also low pressure. I am happy to find Rowe Spurling Paint have a line of Rustoleum that is really great, nice colours. It has been working out great on walls. Once you get halfway down the can it is not so high pressure.”

One of the advantages to being in Bermuda was the actual walls, she said.

“A lot of times in New York we are painting on brick,” she said. “Brick or unsealed concrete can really soak up the paint. I am really inspired by the textures of Bermuda, like the palms. I have a series of three paintings I have done dedicated to the palms. I like the way they hang and the way the sunlight comes through them. They are just beautiful. The flowers are beautiful here.”

But she said as much as she enjoyed looking at the beautiful turquoise water and Bermuda's flora, she experienced a sense of frustration trying to dig more below the surface of life in Bermuda.

“Inside it was bothering me that I wanted to connect with the people,” she said. “People kept telling me things, that I wanted to tag up. I have asked for permission to paint the bus stops but I haven't heard anything back. People have a lot of things to say.”

Her solution was to take a large rolled up canvas to Victoria Park and the Bermuda National. There she asked the people she met to write on the canvas the answer to a question, 'What do you love about Bermuda and what would you change?' The answers that came back were simple and profound.

“I love Bermuda because of all the animals, the plants and the people,” said one person. A child wrote: “I think Bermuda should have Chuck E Cheese's [An American restaurant popular with small children].”

Another child wrote: “I love Bermuda but I hate the violence.”

Ms Howie-Garcia will be having a show of her work on September 16 at the Masterworks Gallery at the Botanical Gardens in Paget.

Useful websites: www.bermudamasterworks.com; www.ladykfever.com.

Kathleena Howie Garcia known as Lady K Fever, Masterworks Artist in Residence, is a Canadian graffiti artist and muralist, working with campers at Masterworks.(Photo by Mark Tatem)
Kathleena Howie Garcia, Masterworks Artist in Residence, is a graffiti artist.painting a mural at Masterworks with children from the Masterworks summer camp.(Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published August 24, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 24, 2011 at 8:46 am)

Tagging as art

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