For more than 20 years, Japanese street artist Lady Aiko has been living boldly, sharing her iconic graffiti on streets around the world. After moving to New York City in the 90’s, the young painter found a home in the downtown street art scene, using her iconic stencil style as a universal language. Lady Aiko has collaborated with artists like Bansky, traveled around the world painting murals, and made a name for herself, but it was New York that gave her the creative outlet she needed to start a career. As an ode to the city, Aiko is bringing her art indoors to a mural inside the all new curated clothing and object store Style Lab at W New York – Times Square.
Inspired by the gritty yet beautiful New York streets, the artist brings imagery from neighborhoods like Chinatown and Times Square, recreating characters seen on old signs, billboards and neon signs. Lady Aiko’s mural spans the entire store, transforming the space with art that is both a nod to graffiti’s past and a representation of it’s future, living as a permenant background to Style Lab’s line up of emerging designers and artists. See Lady Aiko’s behind the scenes process while making the mural and read how the artist made a name for herself on the streets.
What goes into painting a mural like this? What is the process?
Lady Aiko: People don’t know a lot about stenciling. This process uses hundreds of stencils all cut by hand. There is a lot that goes into making a painting and there really aren’t a lot of stencil artists out there anymore. Nowadays they do a lot of machine cuts, but I do it all by hand. This project took a month to think out, to draw it out, enlarge it to scale, then plan where each stencil will go. The painting part has taken a week pretty much non-stop, because it’s just me in here. It’s like a triathlon!
How did you become a street artist?
LA: I’ve been painting since I was two but when I graduated from college I decided I needed more culture than Tokyo, and I needed to travel to get inspiration. I didn’t know anyone when I moved to New York, I didn’t even speak English, so street art became my language. I met a lot of artists through painting on the street, and we taught each other and grew together. When I started, painting on the street was illegal. I didn’t want to show who I was, at the risk of being arrested, so no one knew I was a woman. No one knew I was Japanese. They only knew me through my painting. I wanted to be a mysterious monster and let the work speak for itself.
What were the inspirations behind the mural?
AK: I’ve been working with W since 2014. Each city’s mural tells a story, so this one tells New York’s story. I took pictures from old Chinatown and old Times Square. I love looking at old pictures and tracing the images and being inspired by the people.
There’s an old school sticker from Japan, and it says Lady Aiko. It’s all the neighborhoods coming inside. It’s not really street, but it is art. I think street art is art for everyone. It’s not for the fancy people, it’s for everyone and everyone can see it.
What city are you most inspired by?
AK: I love traveling to big cities – I’m from Tokyo so I’m used to it – but also I love isolated places, like Africa or Tibet. I moved to New York in 1997. 20 years Japanese, 20 years American. I like the mixture of different cultures in New York.
Were there any hardships you encountered in your career?
AK: This line of work is illegal, so I have been arrested in the past. When I applied for my Green Card the government knew I had been arrested and I thought it was impossible. But then they said, “You took a risk, that means you are a good artist.” They gave me a stamp! You know, I was working with Michelle Obama a few years ago and I thought, man, they used to want to put me in jail for this! I think I am very lucky!