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  • Words by Joanna Pan

Five Facts for Friday With Maria 'Toofly' Castillo

[Painting at Welling Court, 2016]

[Finished wall at Welling Court, 2019]

Artist Maria "Toofly" Castillo caught her first tag over 25 years ago on her way to school in Corona, Queens. She's since graced walls all over NYC -- including those at 5Pointz, the Welling Court Mural Project, MoSA Bowery, and Uptown GrandScale in Harlem.

She's been prolific around the globe as well -- as a featured artist at Ruda Fest in Colombia, the LatidoAmericano Festival in Peru, and the Panama Mural Arts Festival. She's even painted the tallest mural to date in Quito, Ecuador -- her country of origin!

[above: TOOFLY painting Quito, Ecuador's tallest mural for the Warmi Paint Festival, 2015]

When Castillo is not getting up in spray-paint or showing her work, she provides services like art direction and graphic design for an impressive roster of clients including Adidas(R), ABC, KidRobot, and Ray-Ban(R) via Stay Tru(TM), her independent company/studio.

Last week, Castillo granted SOLD an interview. We learned a ton and compiled it here, in:

Five Facts For Friday With Maria "Toofly" Castillo:

[Painting at Welling Court, 2018]

1) TOOFLY just released a set of digital animations honoring Mary J. Blige!

Castillo custom created fun-size, digital animations to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Mary J. Blige's album "My Life"! Each EmoJam emoji features a 10-second track clip from Blige's breakthrough 1994 LP. The emojis may be put into users' personal messages or videos, and are available for download via iPhone app EmoJam.

"I worked on about 16 illustrations for EmoJam," Castillo told SOLD. "The app allows people to download and use animated musical imagery of Mary J. Blige dancing or crying or being angry because it's all about the celebration of her "My Life" album and its 25 years [in release]. This is one of the artists I grew up with when I was coming up as a young teenager. The '90s were a huge golden era for many of us, and Mary J. Blige was like the backdrop of my entire lovelife in that age frame, and so to get this project and to work on it and to listen to her entire album and go back in time -- it was really fun."

2) She's featured in "Of Women By Women" -- a group show that opened last night at The Storefront.

TOOFLY joins an impressive roster of prominent creators -- among them Shiro, Surface of Beauty, Dee Dee, Jilly Ballistic, and more -- in a show that shines a spotlight on compelling female artists.

Inviting TOOFLY to participate in "Of Women By Women" was a no-brainer for show curator Wendy Horwitz, a longtime fan of Castillo's work.

"I became familiar with TOOFLY's art at Welling Court Mural Project, " Horwitz told SOLD. "I was smitten with her bold, colorful, ethnic women who are strikingly beautiful and undeniably TOOFLY. Her recognizable style makes her artwork stand out amongst the crowd."

The show is "at the end of the year, so it's a nice time to see people enjoy artwork and see what the women [artists] are doing as we approach 2020," said Castillo. "It's a huge year for women in the arts; especially the urban arts!"

"Of Women By Women" runs through Sunday, 12/22 at The Storefront Project, 70 Orchard Street.

3) Both TOOFLY and her character creation, "The Love Warrior," are a fusion of cultures.

Castillo and her family emigrated from Ecuador to Corona, Queens in 1985. Her signature character began as a "New York graffiti hip-hop girl" with gold hoop earrings. Over time -- and inspired in large part by Castillo's move back to Ecuador in 2012 -- the character morphed into the "Love Warrior."

"Instead of gold hoop earrings, [the character developed] feather earrings to represent freedom, and she started to have native marks on her face to kind of represent the indigenous cultures that protect the environment," Castillo told SOLD. "Little by little, she started to change ... to an image that's more connected to native and indigenous culture; to nature and the freedom of just being a spirit out there doing the good work."

4) TOOFLY was one of the artists cited in the landmark legal case Cohen et al v. G&M Realty -- aka The 5Pointz Trial.

On February 12th 2018, Judge Frederic Block ordered 5Pointz building owner Gerald Wolkoff to pay a corpus of 5Pointz graffiti artists over six and a half million dollars compensation for aerosol art Wolkoff destroyed in a blitz-like, overnight whitewash in 2013. Wolkoff contested that outcome in late August via the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals; a ruling is pending.

The proceedings and the attention they garnered were impactful to Castillo, who painted at the 5Pointz site from 1993 (when it was known as the Phun Factory) to 2013.

"I got to learn a lot about the value of our work, the value of 5Pointz, what [the case] meant to New York City, what it meant to graffiti culture, the big role that MERES [Jonathan "MERES" Cohen] played as a pioneer, and what was happening when nobody cared about neighborhoods that were abandoned," Castillo told SOLD.

During the trial, Castillo drew inspiration from the activism of 5Pointz artists spokesperson Marie Cecile Flageul: "We need more Marie's in the world," she told SOLD. "She's definitely a leader in our collective as artists because she cares and loves what we do, and she believes in it."

5) She believes it's imperative to support female perspectives in the visual arts.

Castillo came up in Corona, Queens.

"That was the neighborhood where inspiration came," she explains. "From taking the train to the city to go to school, hanging out with graffiti writers and artists, passing by 5Pointz on the 7-train, getting the opportunity to paint at 5Pointz and meeting artists from all over the world and having a step into the culture. But I really felt there needed to be more women in graffiti culture to represent that we also had skills, and we also had our own ideas of what we wanted to paint on the wall. Because when we saw the guys painting, they would paint women that were very -- just sexy, and kind of like a little bit raunchy so I felt -- you know -- there were other women [they could be painting] who are powerful and strong. And we have skills, and we're really dope, and I love to draw women just to have another example on these walls. In time, young girls were coming around the graffiti events and they needed to see a representation of a strong woman or just someone that wasn't half-naked on the wall. And even though Lady Pink was around and active, she was obviously at another level than we were at when we were coming up. But little by little, more women started to come together to paint and so we changed pretty much the idea of what graffiti women can do on walls."

Follow TOOFLY: check out her website or her Instagram!

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