Virtual Graffiti

Virtual Graffiti

The only way I know that the illustrator, designer and street artist Toofly's real name is Maria Castillo is because that's the name displayed with her e-mail address. I suppose I should be more cautious and say that I assume that it's her real name. Frankly, I didn't think it was important enough to ask her about.

The lady is getting a lot of ink these days. Maybe we need a new term for that; let's say she's propagating billions of editorial pixels. That would be in addition to the untold gazillions of pixels that her art generates on computer screens around the world, those well-lit but low-resolution 2D images that, try as they might, just can't quite do justice to the lady's work as seen in Real Life.

Started with comics Let's back up a bit as long as we're talking Real Life, and hip you to Toofly growing up in Corona, Queens (New York) "around some Italians and a lot of South American and Dominican families, in a small little one-family house" with her grandparents, mom, uncle, aunts and younger cousin. Toofly liked drawing as far back as she could remember, and confesses that she would "sneak into my uncle's room and grab his X-Men comics and try to draw some of the female characters, especially Jean Grey."

Those were the early days, the artist recalls, of "discovering what a strong female looked like." Soon enough, when Toofly started at New York's High School of Fashion Industries in 1991, she would discover what a strong female acted like, too. "I was taking fashion design classes but realized that I would much rather draw and paint than sew clothes. When I walked into a classroom with walls full of graffiti tags and character illustrations, that did it for me. I had discovered what I was meant to do."

Street walls to Wall Street Toofly has since taken her street-wall sensibility into areas that Wall Street can relate to, like commerce. "I do a lot of everything these days," she says, "and there's always something new I'm doing. My freelance pretty much supports me, and everything else is extra fun stuff." Even with her illustrations licensed for all manner of t-shirts, bags, totes and prints, she doesn"t claim to have "made it big," and admits, "I just recently arrived to the gallery scene, and little by little I'm starting to send my press kit and proposals around to various corporations for those big commission deals. It's got to be right though," Toofly asserts, "because I'm not just going to do anything for money."

Still, the fact she can make money today -- with an art style born of equal parts bravado, talent and, quite often, misdemeanor trespass -- testifies to her persistence as well as savvy marketing skills. It is also good timing for artists of her ilk to go legit, as the march of progress has made itself known in many urban areas by the presence of video surveillance cameras and other anti-graffiti measures. Whether it's on canvas, a brick wall or a greeting card, Toofly says, art is still art. "I still have a purpose, and the freedom to dream up my own reality, and no one can take that away from me."

Toofly has plenty of tools -- spray cans, brushes, pens, crayons, chalk, mop heads, whatever works -- and plenty of influences too, "from all over the place," she says, "like fashion photography, graphic design and various contemporary and historic artists." Comic (excuse me, graphic novel) illustrators like Jim Lee and Scott Campbell are faves, as she "grew up drawing their female characters." Boris Vallejo's fantasy painting was a strong influence, but perhaps the greatest influence was graffiti writer Sabe -- "because," Toofly admits, "if it weren't for his drawings and tags in those classrooms I may have ended up somewhere else."

The Muses knock on a lot of doors at Toofly's house. "I'm moved by emotional music," Toofly says, "whether it's Led Zeppelin, Muse or Mary J. Blige love songs. I also listen to freestyle and 90s hip-hop classics to get me back to my roots." The lady is a virtual melting pot herself, and the rhythms of her life and times are easily discerned in the characters she draws, taut as coiled springs, energy ready to blow up into something new and unexpected.

Enjoying "every good moment" Besides all her work that people can find on the web (just the term "artist Toofly" will get you well over a thousand hits), she has some group gallery shows coming up, graffiti productions throughout New York's five boroughs and various events where the artist will paint live or speak. Toofly is also starting to sell her line of products and art prints on her own site as well as different boutiques and lifestyle shops in the U.S., Europe and, soon, Japan.

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