Jane Bauman: “I never wanted to be a part of that macho street cred thing where you had to prove yourself, stencils and paste-ups were for wimps…”

End of the 70s the female artist had experimented with stencils which could be associated with Do it Yourself-culture, Punk, Xerox Art and squats.

KP Flügel in conversation with Jane Bauman.

What inspired you to become a graffiti artist and did you have connections to the DIY and Punk scene?

I was going to graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 70’s/early 80’s, living in a communal loft in an industrial part of town appropriately called Dogpatch when I first started doing street art. Taking things into the streets seemed a completely natural extension to the social commentary studio art we were making. Across the street was the now legendary Club Foot recording studios where Lydia Lunch, Flipper, The Offs and many other punk bands practiced. The punk music and art scene were very blended together – musicians were making visual art and artists were making music – it was very collaborative! The current events at the time were tumultuous and were fertile ground for the initial SF punk scene: gasoline shortages, the Iranian hostage crisis, People’s Temple mass suicide, assassination of the SF mayor and gay supervisor and subsequent riots (the list goes on and on – just like now!)  I think it was the murder of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk that really lit things up. One of my loft roommates was Jack Johnston artist/writer, punk DJ and performance artist – we were muses for each other and Jack inspired so much of the performances and street art. I also did a lot of collaborative art with my then boyfriend, Mark C (he was in a SF punk band CROP – when we moved to NYC he started LIVE SKULL) we graffitied records and album covers we found sexist and money-grubbing and left them sitting around street corners – we called them ‘Delete Discs.’ I went on and painted about 200 discarded vinyl records that I showed at Civilian Warfare Gallery in NYC in the early 80’s.


Collaborative project with Mark C. 1979/80
Spray paint on 12” vinyl and cover

Collaborative project with Mark C, ‘Delete Disc”   1979/80
Spray paint on vinyl record and cover

Why did you come from California to NYC, what was the creative atmosphere in the NYC 1980’s?

It was almost like a mass artistic migration from San Francisco to NYC in 1980. I got my MFA degree then and literally dozens of people from the SF punk/art scene moved. We wanted a bigger place, a new adventure and for many of us it was really the idea of leaving home to see what the rest of the world was like – I think a lot of young Americans were feeling that then, perhaps a distorted manifest destiny type of thing. And NYC has always had an almost mystic cache about it.

Moving to NYC was one of the best things I did for myself. The creative atmosphere was so big and intense, lots of pop-up galleries, bars, clubs in the East Village along with cheap rent. Cheap rent was key – I paid $137.00 in rent, storefronts were available for a few hundred dollars a month –  it seemed like anything was possible. In 1980 I met David Wojnarowicz, he introduced me to Alan Barrows and Dean Savard who directed Civilian Warfare Gallery – I was in my first show there in 1982. Probably the most extensive street art project I worked on was Pier 34. David W. had been painting on the abandoned westside piers and in 1983 he and many of our friends effectively took over a huge shipping terminal at the foot of Canal Street.  It was so astounding – an enormous, totally decrepit place, a queer punk palace with dangerous holes in the floor and beautiful views of the Hudson river.

ICI New York Magazine, 1983
photos by Marion Scemama

Which were the reasons you left NYC?

Leaving NYC in 1989 was not nearly as joyful as my arrival! The AIDs crisis was one of the most disruptive, tragic things that gripped the NYC creative community in the mid 1980’s. In 1987 my art dealer Dean Savard contracted AIDs and he died in 1990. He was one of many; so many of my collaborators, friends and fellow artists were dead or dying.  AIDs ripped the guts out of the East Vllage art scene. The whole creative scene was such a shining bright moment where punk idealism and values of DIY, find a way to make things work, question authority, express yourself…these things never seem to last! We were naïve – AIDs bitch-slapped the art scene, but other factors were at play; increasing property values driving rents up and the monetization of the EV art scene also contributed to its collapse.

I was really lost after moving back to California in the 1990s, so many of my friends were dead, my mother was seriously ill, but I had been offered a tenured professor teaching position at Coastline College, which I accepted and put my life back together. It’s felt good to be teaching art, I recently retired after almost 25 years. It’s so important that the youth of our world know to speak up and to do it effectively.

Today in the art scene there are discussions about the fact that only a few women were active in the graffiti-movement/scene. From your point of view which were/are the reasons? 

There were very few women out there on the street art/graffiti scene and I don’t blame them! Besides the extensive misogyny that permeated just about everything, it was quite dangerous, regardless of gender. Constantly on the lookout for not only police, but rival taggers and assorted criminal types looking to harass, rape and rob. I got held up once in SF with a gun, (they took my spray paint), twice in NYC (where I lost an expensive camera I had borrowed) and had many ‘close-calls’ where we were chased. The close-calls were bad because you usually end up dumping all your expensive paint and stencils so you can run faster.  It could be really stressful, and I was often scared. At Pier 34 someone dumped a dead body! With my stencils and spray cans I needed help to carry it all and somebody had to be the lookout! Seriously bad shit can happen to you at 2 in the morning in an abandoned warehouse!

The reasons for the position and status of women street artists are many besides the increased danger and fear of rape that females are subjected to. Something that so many women artists rail against is the constant comparison to men: “oh look, the little lady can spray paint just as good as the guys!” I always got the feeling that since I was female any art I did had to be twice as good as the men and I had to produce it with very little of the physical and psychological support that males more easily obtained. I never wanted to be a part of that macho street cred thing where you had to prove yourself, stencils and paste-ups were for wimps…I often picked places to paint that no one else wanted, boarded up or broken windows, pavement sidewalks.

Do graffiti have changed cities and society?  What meaning has the graffiti scene for you today?

Street art/graffiti has changed the way cities look and how people interact culturally. Fewer people are looking at graffiti as urban blight. There is a whole lot more of it and unless it’s covering up some vital traffic signs it’s being painted over less quickly. In downtown Los Angeles two abandoned skyscraper condo building were tagged this year from top to bottom, they were right next to the new Crypto basketball stadium and one of the many high end art fairs, LA Art Show. They looked great and hundreds of people were coming just to see the graffiti. Graffiti was a way for the disenfranchised to express themselves, right now I see more of the ‘not so disenfranchised’, but it’s still a powerful agent of voice, and still a dangerous pursuit.  Graffiti and street art have always been with us, examples can be found in ancient Rome, it’s just a part of how humans live in cities, in community with each other.