Hit The Streets:

A Miami Primer On The City’s Finest Walls

by Margery Gordon

ark-making on walls is the oldest known art form, with indelible cave paintings and hand stencils in Europe and Asia dated back at least 40,000 years. The human impulse to inscribe one’s name on a permanent surface has been traced to Pompeii, where volcanic ash preserved graffiti, Italian for “little scratches.” Graffiti was also an early artistic presence in Wynwood, in the ‘90s when daredevils could get away with “tagging” abandoned buildings in the gritty Puerto Rican enclave.

Some of those young vandals have since graduated to full-time professions as fine artists and graphic designers. Brandon Opalka exhibits his canvases with Emerson Dorsch (151 NW 24th St.), where his tree mural distinguishes the neighborhood’s first gallery, opened in 2000 by co-owner Brook Dorsch.

The Wynwood Arts District now counts more than 70 galleries. Restaurants and bars catering to the influx of hipsters have commissioned homegrown talents like Danny “Krave” Fila, whose floral initials line the new lounge Brick House (187 NW 28th St.) and trompe l’oeil café scene brightens the parking lot of Wynwood Brewing Company (565 NW 24th St.).

Camera crews shoot in front of the artists’ work, usually in exchange for a credit and licensing fee. But American Eagle Outfitters plastered the sea of eyeballs at 2701 NW 2nd Ave. on its spring 2014 billboards and store displays without approaching Ahol Sniffs Glue. David Anasagasti – a local fixture whose hardworking neighbors inspire his trademark drowsy peepers – sued the retail giant in the U.S. District Court of New York for intellectual property infringement in what could be a landmark case.

Camera-toting tourists and graffiti fans flock daily to one of the world’s largest outdoor installations of “urban art.” Eight years ago BooksIIII Bischof and Typoe launched Primary Flight to elevate this concrete canvas. They invited 35 artists to walls throughout Wynwood and the Design District, then circulated maps during Miami Art Week that facilitated navigation of an underground art world. Word quickly spread through the global graffiti circuit, attracting 150 renowned and rising stars until Primary Flight stopped spearheading the annual pilgrimage in 2012.

Among Primary Flight’s most iconic commissions are repeat performances by Los Angeles-based artists El Mac and RETNA. Their 2008 pairing on NW 24th St. between NW 2nd Ave. and N. Miami Ave. produced the unforgettable black-and-white image of a crouching boy surrounded by cryptic calligraphy. RETNA returned for Primary’s fifth anniversary with a towering tribute to Miami’s artists on the Wynwood Arts Complex (250 NW 23rd St.).

The endurance of such works is a sign of respect in the precarious terrain of street art. Yet growing sponsors of murals up the ante with fresh paint each December to impress professionals who cross the water from Art Basel Miami Beach.

“Every year we look to push the boundaries of imagination and creativity,” says Jessica Goldman-Srebnick, chief curator of Wynwood Walls. This open-air museum on NW 2nd Ave. between 25th and 26th Streets has become an epicenter for street art since 2009, when Tony Goldman set out to refine this industrial grid while retaining its edgy aesthetic. After revitalizing South Beach and New York’s SoHo through historic preservation and cultural development, Goldman recognized Wynwood’s potential in 2004 and bought many warehouses. He and art impresario Jeffrey Deitch co-curated the initial year of murals, importing renowned street artists from Central and South America, Europe and Asia to create original works alongside top national and local talents.

One of the first works they commissioned is an unusual fusion by three New York-based artists. David Ellis’s psychedelic patchwork laps the sidewalks of NW 22nd St. and NW 1st Place, cresting at the corner where Ben Wolf’s construction detritus surges like flotsam from the unmoored palaces printmaker Swoon adhered with wheat-paste.

“The growth of Wynwood into an international mecca for the arts is very much the result of great collaborations,” says Goldman-Srebnick, promoted to CEO of Goldman Properties in September 2012 when her father died. “The Art of Collaboration,” this season’s thematic program, honors those combined efforts and showcases artists working together.

She is bringing POSE & Revok inside the Walls after entrusting them with SoHo’s treasured Houston/Bowery Wall last summer. Netherlands collective Haas & Hahn, who have been painting entire favelas in Brazil, is enhancing 295 NW 26th St.

Cleon Peterson is creating his first Miami mural with fellow Los Angeles-based graphic designer Shepard Fairey, infamous for his 25-year stealth campaign “OBEY.” Fairey’s collage of cult figures (including Goldman) faces Wynwood Walls’ entrance.

Kenny Scharf’s memorial garden, “Tony’s Oasis” at 2229 NW 2nd Ave., is adding a fountain by the artist from developer Craig Robins’ collection. In a more traditional public tribute, Wynwood’s main drag of NW 2nd Ave. is being renamed Tony Goldman Way in a ceremony at NW 29th St. on Tues., Dec. 2 at 5 pm.

Goldman didn’t just open doors for street artists; he erected 15 roll-down gates for them to “bomb” with smaller compositions, expanding the Walls’ range in 2010. Some artists entering through the Wynwood Doors go on to more elaborate projects.

Enigmatic Capetown artists DALeast and Faith47 individually adorned doors with animals in November 2012, as well as nearby murals sponsored by the independent organization WorldOpenWalls. The China-born DALeast wound a skydiver suspended on 23rd St. at N. Miami Court in his signature metallic ribbons that appear three-dimensional.

Faith47’s golden Multum in Parvo (Latin for “Much in Little”), part of Goldman-Srebnick’s 2013 “Women on the Walls” program, illuminates a woman offering up a rosary on NW 2nd Ave. at 22nd St. This season at the Walls, Faith47 joins forces with Puerto Rican Alexis Diaz, and DALeast with Angeleno Cryptik.

The Kiev-based collective Interesni Kazki (meaning interesting stories or colors) started on a strip of three doors before AEC (Aleksei Bordusov) and WAONE (Vladimir Manzhos) wrapped Goldman Properties’ new Wynwood House (331 NW 26th St.) in animated greenery.

Another Ukrainian artist influenced by Russian folklore, Aleksey Kanunnikov a.k.a. Kislow (“sour” in Slavic), planted “Sleeping Forest” this spring on Miami Ad School’s new campus at 571 NW 28th St., where his human-bird hybrids have migrated across a pink wall since last fall. He returns from Crimea for the grand opening Dec. 5 that also unveils work by Dome, Morik & Aber, NYCHOS, Omen, Seth GlobePainter, Sheryo & The Yok, Alex Senna and Louis Masai.

The school’s first pieces by Kislow, Senna and Masai were among 20 murals Chiara Poderi curated for the 2013 premiere of her organization Wynwood Embassy  (W.E) with a pop-up gallery of 45 artists at Mana Production Village. W.E’s sophomore outing, staged independently Dec. 4-6 in a tent at 318 NW 2nd Ave., focuses on Herakut, whose massive murals meld expressionistic strokes by Hera (Jasmin Siddiqui) with photorealistic details by Akut (Falk Lehmann).

Poderi selected examples in diverse media, including the German couple’s recent collaborations with Syrian refugee children in Jordan and recovering teen addicts in Miami. “VOICE” also unites “The Giant Storybook Project,” serialized in distant cities with chapters like the wide-eyed waif and monkey huddling against the Downtown Miami skyline since 2012 above NE 14th St. at N. Miami Ave. Stay tuned to see if W.E’s 2014 commissions on Mana’s exteriors advance Herakut’s unfolding narrative.


Aleksey Kanunnikov, a.k.a. Kislow, Sleeping Forest, 2014, at Miami Ad School
Aleksey Kanunnikov, a.k.a. Kislow, Sleeping Forest, 2014, at Miami Ad School
The Wynwood Brewing Company commissioned Danny Fila, a.k.a. Krave, to paint its parking lot last November. © Danny Fila, a.k.a. Krave Art, Courtesy of Fila Associates, LLC.
The Wynwood Brewing Company commissioned Danny Fila, a.k.a. Krave, to paint its parking lot last November. © Danny Fila, a.k.a. Krave Art, Courtesy of Fila Associates, LLC.
Ahol Sniffs Glue’s mural commissioned in 2012 by Ocean Grown Glass Gallery at 2701 NW 2nd Ave. Photo by Margery Gordon, Courtesy of Gregg Shienbaum Gallery
Ahol Sniffs Glue’s mural commissioned in 2012 by Ocean Grown Glass Gallery at 2701 NW 2nd Ave. Photo by Margery Gordon, Courtesy of Gregg Shienbaum Gallery