Karen Farmer Paints Portraits of the Least Likely Subjects Ever: Graffiti Writers

March 3, 2015 | Bucky Turco

Although she’s over 9,000 miles away, Sydney-based artist Karen Farmer has a close connection to New York. For the past few months, she has been getting requests by some of the city’s most notable graffiti writers to paint portraits of them painting graffiti. Farmer’s Instagram is peppered with her photorealistic renderings of EASY, DUEL, SEV and SEBO among many others. She not only paints the artists, but also recreates their tags with great detail.

“Writers are artists and I am just translating their work into a different format and distinguishing what they have done,” says Farmer to ANIMAL by email. “So, from what I can tell so far, they are pretty happy.”

All the graffiti portraits are commissioned and she gives fellow artists a good deal. “I charge them $150 and that includes all costs as well as sending from Australia,” she explains.

It all starts with the writers sending her a photo. It then takes her about 7-10 days to paint. “I usually have to custom-make a canvas and the oil paint has to dry between applications.” says Farmer. “Then, when it is ready to send, I ask for payment — but only when they have seen what they are getting!”

And they appear to be pleased. “Love it Karen,” wrote SEV on her Instagram. “Sick.”


While Farmer recently outlined her photgraph-to-canvas process for us, we wanted to learn more about what the New York graffiti scene looks like from the outside in, and what place social media can have in that scene.

How old are you?
Old enough to remember Grandmaster Flash being played on Australian radio for the first time.

When did you first start taking notice of graffiti?
As a kid I remember seeing a tag on a fence and really liking it — and then it was gone. They buffed it straight away. I remember that made me sad and I wondered why it was gone. Ever since, I have valued graffiti.

When did you choose to start painting graffiti writers?
I started to paint graffiti writers organically due to requests on Instagram.

Why do you choose graffiti writers who are mostly from New York?
I have been working for requests for the past few months and it’s writers from New York who have been approaching me. I have other commissions in Sydney coming up soon, and if the image is right I will consider it from other countries. But since I began making these paintings it has been New York or people from L.A. who have asked, and I happily agree as I think that the images I am sent are awesome.


Why did you choose graffiti writers as your subjects?
I paint what I like to look at, and I think graffiti is beautiful so I wanted to capture it, commemorate it. Show the regard in which it should be seen, and give it to the art world as the most current form of cultural identity in art today.

Do you ever do paintings of street artists?
The first painting I made was of a street artists work, CAMO, as a photo I took of his work in a building that was like an underground graffiti museum. It was due to be demolished and all that was going to remain of the scene was my photo. It was the fresh image amongst the history on the walls that struck me. But I love the honesty and freshness of tags and throw-ups, and have been asked to make paintings of complicated pieces that I didn’t think I could do. So it’s just a matter of doing what’s next on the list at the moment, and I’m happy with the direction things are taking.

Is Instagram a valuable social media platform for your work?
If it wasn’t for Instagram, none of this would have been possible — so yes, [it’s] incredibly valuable in my process. Instagram has allowed me to grow creatively in conjunction with my audience, who are now sometimes working with me in collaboration on the paintings. I suppose it is on Instagram that I exhibit, and through the posting of the paintings I get more requests.

Did you ever write graffiti?
I am no writer, but…


What’s the biggest difference between graffiti writers in Australia and graffiti writers in NY?
The biggest difference between the New York graff scene and Sydney is that New York graffiti has a deep history and a legacy and Sydney does not. Sydney is just starting to have an identity. But other than that, not much.

What’s the graffiti scene like in Sydney?
Sydney’s graffiti has had a long-term influence from New York that shows with is similar gritty industrial, look and a big tag and throw-up scene. The graffiti scene is as big as the street art scene, and they usually harmonize — but like everywhere, not always. Crews still get up on trains and it’s getting hard to spot a clean box truck. There are a few superstars like Lister, but mainly it’s just people getting up.

What’s the art scene like in general?
The art scene in Sydney is still divided regarding graffiti. There is a strong fine art world creating intellectual ambiguous art and a few happening shows focusing on graffiti and street art. One of the most prestigious art awards in Australia awarded second prize to a stencil artist, E.L.K recently, so things are slowly turning.

(Images: Karen Farmer)