Quiñones’ style is rooted in popular culture, often with political messages
He started with subway graffiti in 1974. By 1976, Lee was leaving huge pieces of graffiti art across the subway system. As a subway graffitist, Lee almost exclusively painted whole cars, all together about 125 cars. He was a major contributor to one of the first-ever whole-trains, along with DOC, MONO and SLAVE. It was the first ever whole-train to run in traffic.
In November 1976, ten subway cars were painted with a range of colorful murals and set a new benchmark for the scale of graffiti works. This is documented in an interview with Quiñones in the book Getting up by Craig Castleman, MIT Press (MA) (October 1982). “The Hell Express”, “Earth is Hell, Heaven is Life”, “Stop the Bomb” are some of Quiñones paintings that ran for months. Quiñones pieces were left untouched by other writers and some of them ran for years even though thousands of writers were painting on subway cars at that time.
Quiñones often added poetic messages in his pieces, such as “Graffiti is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me”. Lee also painted huge handball court murals in his neighbourhood, for instance “Howard the Duck,” the first whole handball court mural, in the spring of 1978 outside of his old high school, Corlears Junior High School #56.
In 1985, Quiñones was described as a legend among other graffitists.
At an exhibition, all his paintings were sold to guitarist Eric Clapton. Quiñones raised money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina by a bicycling tour from New York City to Florida. He has also lectured at universities in Europe as well as in the USA.
Quiñones’ paintings are housed in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of the City New York, the Groninger Museum (Groningen, Netherlands) and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, Netherlands), and have been exhibited at the New Museum Of Contemporary Art (New York City), the Museum of National Monuments (Paris, France) and the Staatliche Museum (Germany). Pictures of his years as graffiti writer are featured in the books Subway Art, Spraycan Art., “The Birth of Graffiti”, “Getting up” and “Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s”.
He appeared as Raymond Zoro in Charlie Ahearn‘s film Wild Style (1983) and appears in Blondie‘s promo video of the song “Rapture.” He played Sammy in Rosemary Rodriguez‘s Acts of Worship (2001). He plays himself in Adam Bhala Lough‘s Bomb the System (2002). He also appears in Videograf 10.
In 2013, he appeared on BET’s series The Artist’s Way to discuss his evolving style.