Maria ‘Toofly’ Castillo
Growing up in Sydney’s Inner West during the early 2000’s, an explosion of colour existed on walls, billboards, trains and sometimes the odd bus. Graffiti was an act of expression, mass produced by the “lads and lasses” of Sydney. On any given weekend, you could catch a group of underage teens outside 567 King, waiting to approach someone who looked over 18, in the hopes they would buy them spray paint. Paint covered Nike TN’s, a baggy polo shirt and a Nautica hat was their uniform. graffiti was a religion to these kids and crews like KOC were their messiahs.
I was completely drawn to the world of graffiti. Not only did I study the origins of graffiti which derived itself as an element from Hip Hop, I also followed certain writers, watched countless YouTube videos and visited graffiti forum sites frequently. I knew female graffiti artists existed in Australia but it was mostly an expression dominated by males. It wasn’t until I was gifted the book Graffiti Woman: Graffiti and Street Art from Five Continents by Nicholas Ganz that the world of female street art truly opened for me. This book unearthed a universe of graffiti that existed outside of the Sydney scene of graffiti, where female artists thrived and were in the same league as their male counterparts. The artists that I really resonated with were always Latinx artists such as Lady Pink and Toofly. It was Toofly that exposed me to a world of graffiti I wasn’t aware existed. For the first time, I was seeing Latinx themes in the realm of graffiti, created by a female.
Maria ‘Toofly’ Castillo is an Ecuadorian born, New York raised, Latinx artist, designer, community organiser and entrepreneur. She gained a passion for graffiti during her teen years and is now an internationally recognised and respected artist. Toofly’s murals possess a magical Latinx, feminine energy that I have always deeply connected with. I was blessed with the opportunity to ask Toofly some questions about her Latinx roots and her art.
How do you think your Latinx roots have influenced your artistic expression?
I feel my Latin roots are able to express a part of my cultural heritage. This gives me a point of reference. I know where I come from, and the traditions/struggles of my people. All that they have had to endure in order for me to be, and have everything I do today. A freedom to a certain point to be the artist I want to be in the face adversity. To share love and beauty instead of hardship and pain.
Where is home to you? Ecuador or NYC?
My home is NY and Ecuador. I work and live in both places now.
Latin America is home to many amazing Latinx graffiti artists. Do you have any favourite Latinx artists in particular?
My favourite Latin artist is Guayasamin here in Ecuador, Frida Khalo, Gorge Gonzalez from Mexico, and a few contemporary artists like Decertor from Peru, and Jade Rivera.
What or who inspires you?
Many things inspire me. At the moment architecture because I am building my house and art studio. I am addicted to the use of wall space and light space, corners, where light fixtures go etc; All in all, I love illustration and design. The pencil on paper, and fantasy art. I like to dream up of things and make them happen. That is what motivates me and inspires me. It can be anything. I think it, I write it, draw it, then I create it.
If you could paint a wall with any artist (living or dead), who would it be with
Unsure. At this time, I think maybe Cekis and I would make a great mural collaboration. He uses two elements that give the impression of coming from two worlds. The city life, and nature. His fences and leaves are a great contrast to represent where we come from and how we grew up.
Growing up I experimented with graffiti however suffered at the hands of criticism by mostly males and stopped. How did you manage to survive and thrive in such a male-dominated field of art?
When you grow up in NY you develop a thick skin. Especially a shy and soft person that I was living here gives you attitude. You don’t let anyone mess with you and you stand up for yourself. I believed in my talent and I had self-respect. Nobody or anything was going to get in my way of making my mark and if they did I found another way to do it. It’s determination and belief in yourself. Everyone around is a hater when you have God given talent and you have to guard that with your life. As for all the graffiti haters, out there who tried to get in my way, they ate my dust.
How have you seen the graffiti world evolve in the years you’ve been involved in it?Yes. Tremendously. When I was coming up there was no “street art” or art world for “urban art” We created it as a collective of artists independently who pushed the envelope on what we can do and what it can be. We are part of the pioneers of what we have today. Just look at graffiti from the 70’s until today. We all did that so YES it has evolved.
You are the founder of Ladies Love Project, Younity and Warmi Paint Festival; all projects that focus on empowering and celebrating women in the arts. If you could give any young female artist a piece of advice, what would it be?
Do what you love. Without love in yourself, or love for others and from others you can’t-do shit that is meaningful. It will all blend into the crap that exists today that is just a copy of a copy that cuts, pastes, scribbles. There’s no soul there. It’s empty. It’s not original. Don’t be that!