Street Art’s Gritty, Sexual, Honest and Very Very Queer Side

Like most evenings, I was drinking.  In fact, I was on my second cocktail as I borrowed my girlfriend’s laptop to pull up the New York Times website.  I have an unfortunate desire to know what’s going on in the world, and when this collides with my other charming yet unfortunate need for bourbon, well, I—on the occasion—can go ballistic.  Hence the street name, Jilly Ballistic.

Girls with Rifle, circa 1944. I makes the street art. Sometimes on the NYC Subway.

Three sips in, the homepage loads and as I thank the Internet gods for a properly working connection, there it was: the Wall Street Bull wrapped tail to snout in cheerful pink, purple and blue wool.  The photograph linked to the ARTS section featured article: Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side . I wanted to vomit.

Girl with Shotgun. Isn't she cute?

Neither my girlfriend nor I have a subscription to the Times, so each click is like a condensed version of Sophie’s ChoiceDo I dare sacrifice one of my 20 allotted viewings on this particular topic? In this case, there was no questioning.  I dove in knowing very well that the shallow bottom of the pool would leave me with grievous injuries, hopefully none to the face.

The Fabulous Bennett Sisters Boxing on the M Train.

The ladies in the article knit.  The ladies “yarn bomb,” though Olek, a NYC-based knitter and artist, doesn’t really like the phrase, as she finds it too aggressive.  They find objects, like a mailbox or the statue of Rocky next to Philly’s Museum of Art, and cover it with some hot needle action. Don’t get me wrong, these ladies are talented.  Extremely talented.  This is a legitimate trend in street art, and it certainly helps people enjoy mailboxes more than they usually do.  So why did I feel such a sting of anger?  Why was I being a cynical jerk, thinking cynical jerk thoughts?  I did some soul-searching, and it wasn’t the gang of rogue knitters and their art.  My issue was with the NYTimes.

Bio-Hazard Bridesmaids, G Train Advertisement in Greenpoint, BKLYN.

I’m a born and raised New Yorker, that’s 28 years here.  I read this paper nearly every day and this just may be the first time I’ve ever seen exclusively women street artists featured.  And I have a sneaking suspicion this sudden attempt at diversity may be only because the subject matter involved knitting.  No words to incite emotion.  No visual image to stir up the blood.  Some good ol’ fashioned, self-described “grandma” knitting.  Innovative, yes.  Witty, check.  Cuddly, too.  I mean, go and look at that bull.  Makes you actually hate Merrill Lynch a little less.  Just a little.

Sometimes I’m about love too. G Train Delivery.

The NYTimes featured street art, featured women—but fell mightily short.  I needed a call to action.  I wanted a counter-article that cried out, Not all of us knit, goddamn it! “Us” in this instance being graffiti artists, street artists, vandals, thought provokers— who are women, and also queer.  I realized, hell, I wanted an article on what LGBT graff means. I wanted you to want to know.

Things you want. Lady Footballers Kissing / Grab Some Buds. M Train.

Let’s head to San Francisco, shall we?  Sound good?  Good.  I recently contacted Jeremy Novy, stencil artist by way of Wisconsin, who also goes by CAB — Cock and Balls.

We Made Out There

Jeremy’s style is gritty, overtly sexual and honest.  For a decade, his street art has confronted homophobia and anti-gay politics head-on with images of drag queens and male wrestlers.  He’s not big on donating time and money to activist organizations to wipe out hate; the way he sees it, the way to equality is simple economics and your time is money well spent.  “Your $500 donation turns into something like this,” he says.  “$250 for rent on their building, $100 for stationary and postal stamps, $100 for payroll on the people who just entered your donation into the computer files and then $50 may actually do something activist or for the cause. For $50 bucks I can get a can of spray paint, 250 sheets of 11×17 paper and a box of wallpaper paste. That can educate the city on anything I feel is important.” The boy is an old fashioned guerrilla at heart.

Lady Bear

Listen close now.  Here’s where you can get your queer street art fill.  In fact, your cup will overflow with all the queeryness.  A History of Queer Street Art went up this Saturday, June 4th in San Francisco, and the pieces are all still on display! Put this in your iPhone, or tablet or just get some paper and a magnet for your fridge: A History of Queer Street Art, curated by Jeremy.   The space is be covered with graffiti donated by LGBT and LGBT friendly street artists (like Space Invader and FAILE) from ALL OVER THE WORLD.  The work exhibited includes a multitude of mediums like classic spray painted murals, to paste-ups, stickers and stencils—the theme?   Confronting hate, the best way you can: you doing you.  The artists were asked to submit their fiercest pieces.  Want a preview? Check it out here. Here’s a really gay list of some participating gays you can follow and support with all your gay love:

Adrian + Shane

New Punk

Felix Gonzales-Torres

Wall Kandi


Paul Le Chein (NSFW)

Daryl Vocats

Aluminum Shoe

Elizabeth “Oscar” Maynard

Homo Riot

Hugh Lee Man

Eddie Colla

Opus Gay

Blanche + Rico

And then there’s me!

Jilly Ballistic (follow me on the Twitter machine: @BKLYNgraffiti and send me beautiful messages via Facebook.)

Yes, I donated.  Three pieces.  How could I not?  This is a one of a kind event, a collection of street art featuring the LGBT community.  Nice, right?  And if you can’t be there, be sure to check out A History of Queer Street Art anyways.

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Jilly Ballistic

Jilly has written 1 article for us.


  1. i want to like this, but i also hate the fact everyone feels its their right to graffiti up the subways and buses. if everyone vandalized everything they wanted to, our cities would look like shit.

      • well its just that we pay transit fares for something hopefully resembling appealing transit. id like to have new buses that dont end up with 23423 marker signatures on it a week later. it just looks cleaner.

        id also like less of that money to go toward someone to come and clean off someones “art” on subway cars and bus stops..

      • I agree. I find the number of ads on “public” transportation disconcerting at times. It feels like a very commercial space. Why do we think it’s okay for companies to just put their shit anywhere?

        Street art is transgressive and I don’t think it’s the same at all as putting your name/tag in marker on the back of the seat in front of you, unless beer ads also count as visual pollution in this manner.

        • Agreed, I don’t consider stencils, paste ups, and other more artistic pieces on the same level as straight-up vandalism or gang tags. And I’d much rather look at something aesthetic or transgressive than inane, sterotype-based advertising.

        • well companies do -pay- to put an advertisement somewhere, and that space has to be available by the owner to allow a company to put up an ad…

          i hate advertising as much as the next person but you can imagine people getting out of hand. i appreciate artistic type graffiti when you can tell the owners of the building/site have given permission to do so.

        • Honestly? The trains and buses here in Sydney don’t have ads (well, the buses do on the outside but not in the inside like the ones in my corner of the US did), but if they did and it brought down fares and/or improved their service, I would be ALL FOR IT.

      • THIS. some ads are just incredibly aggravating too, in ways that make me want to write angry resisting slogans all over them. on my subway ride home today, i saw yet another of the mcdonald’s coffee ads that says “chocolate drizzle is a right, not a topping.” this pissed me off enough that i grabbed a piece of paper, wrote THIS MOCKS HUMAN STRUGGLES FOR BASIC RIGHTS, and stuck it in the frame holding the ad…right in front of two transit police officers who neither stopped me nor took it down. hell yes.

  2. Omg.

    A) Thank you, thank you, thank you for the links and, you know, just for being a street artist!

    B) Effing New York Times. They probably thought they were being way progressive putting Lady Artists in the “Arts” section instead of the usual “Fashion & Style.” They do things to my blood pressure. Not in a good way.

    • I’ll have a piece up soon; still mulling over which image to put up.

      And thanks for everyone’s thoughts and comments :)

      • Your work is astronomically awesome. If I lived near you/was your friend/had enough money to move, I would sign up to help.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been a street art fan for years but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about queer graffiti-makers/street artists. Definitely wanna check these folks out.

  4. This is so, so awesome. Thank you. People anywhere near SF, please go. I’d love to attend vicariously through you.

  5. i could look at these all day. thanks. and this is the article that should run in the new york times.

  6. The comments and discussions here are MASSIVE. Thank you for reading. Thank you for taking the time. It really means a lot.


    Just when I think that you can’t get any closer to my heart, you do.

    It just so happens that I’m ridiculously excited about my impending uni break unfolding shortly, MOSTLY because it means that I get to spend time with an incredibly warm and intelligent and positive group of grrrls whom I have a fun fortnightly feminist pub bash with

    FEMINIST. (including queer, for sure)

    We have been planning this for weeks.
    This post, as per usual, came at precisely the right time.. this time to give me links to other artists who can inspire us all to make the most amusing, challenging and otherwise engaging public art to bring some feminist and queer concepts to the forefront of the daily thoughtstreams of this here city’s Adelaideans (and other South Australians!).

    So fricking convenient. Autostraddle is obviously probably my Fairy Godmother.

    But really though- superb.

    • You and your awesome group have my blessing. Go forth. Godspeed (and document)!

  8. re: having to make the decision as to whether reading an article on the NYT is worth using up 1 of your allotted 20 per month; you can cheat! I have discovered that (on IE at least) if the “you’re reached your limit” thing pops up and you hit refresh, it often goes away and leaves you with full and free access! if this doesn’t work, try hitting the “page 2” button (if it’s a multi-page article) and then clicking back to page 1; that often works too. if both tricks fail and you can’t get that pesky floating popup screen of rejection to go away, you can always start highlighting the text at the top of the article, continue to scroll all the way down until the whole thing is highlighted, then copy and paste into a document file.

    tell your friends!

    • …unless your friends work for the NYT and might be able to close these loopholes, in which case shhhhhhh.

  9. huh, I didn’t realise NYT had limits.

    As for guerilla knitting: I saw the headline recently and was all “are you new? the damn thing’s been around for yonks now!” At least, it’s already gone past subversive in Australia to the point that the Brisbane City Council commissioned some pieces last year – resulting in some very cozy round sculptures and metal kangaroos being kept warm.

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