May 18, 2020

New EL MAC murals in Miami: 'A Love Supreme (Wynwood Saints)'

These are my first murals in Miami since 2009, and some of the largest and most visible in Wynwood. They're a permanent public art work commissioned by the Related Group through Primary Projects for the Wynwood 25 building (next to Wynwood Walls and the Museum of Graffiti). They were created with thousands of spray cans, no painting assistance, and months of long, hot, often rainy or windy nights from dusk until dawn, high up on a swing stage. Every line and pattern that these figures are composed of was spraypainted with the hope that together they might transmit to the viewer some of the love and soul that went into them.

Returning to Miami for this project was a pretty big deal after having last painted murals in Wynwood with Retna during Art Basel in 2007, 2008, and 2009 as part of Primary Flight. I was very proud of those murals but, after seeing how saturated the area was becoming with what was starting to be labeled "street art", it seemed time for a break. Ten years passed and then this opportunity came along to paint some of the best and most visible walls of my career in this place that had, for better or worse, become a world famous epicenter for public art. I was a little hesitant to take on such a massive task around the same time I was becoming a father, but I couldn't say no to such an epic platform. Although there were already a number of art spaces in the Wynwood area when I first painted there in 2007, it was still mostly a blue collar, working class area so I was blown away to see how much had changed. I take my responsibility to the communities I make art for seriously and approach every project with conscientiousness, especially so with this project considering the scale, location and context. I wanted to paint something representative of this place, its history, and its people, while conveying strength, dignity, balance, solidarity, and love. To begin, through the assistance of some local friends and contacts including YoungArts, I met and photographed a number of awesome local young folks for references. I eventually ended up painting three: the figure to the left was modeled by a young woman named Mandolina who helps run a nearby community garden, the figure in the middle was modeled by a young ballet dancer named Jamaii, while the figure on the right was modeled by a local Seminole boy named Kyle. While the paintings do carry the likenesses of those three, they've also been generalized in such a way as to resemble many other young people as well. These figures might be seen as either imploring or offering, funereal or uplifting, mournful or hopeful. If nothing else, they portray monumental, everyday saints—prayerful, resilient, and representative of upliftment, beauty, and loving kindness.

I faced a great deal of stress and difficulties working on this project, including delays that sometimes lasted for weeks due to lift equipment problems, unexpected expenses, persistent rain, heat, and wind, and worst of all long periods of separation from my infant son during his first year of life. There were many challenges, but for the most part I was able to maintain my patience, focus, and joy in my work. I’m thankful for the opportunity, and extremely proud of this project and the tremendous amount of energy, persistence, and sacrifice that went into it.
I strongly feel that the creation of art can be, at its best, a spiritual vocation, a means of responding to the world in service of truth, beauty, and goodness. The artist can be, in the words of John Coltrane, a force which is truly for good. Another great jazz musician, Mary Lou Williams, famously said that she was praying with her fingers when she played, and I approach the act of painting in a similar way—I hope the prayerfulness that went into the creation of these murals shows through in the results.

Many thanks to the teams at Related Group + Primary Projects for helping make this possible. Thanks to mis amores Kim + Máximo, and my right hand man Eric Heights, for hanging in there... Further thanks + shouts to el mero mero JP Pérez, Patti, J. Yormak, East End Capital, Cristina, Books, Sheila, Tamz, Hoxxoh, Veny Zorrilla, Jessica Goldman, Troy Kelley + Wynwood Walls, Mandolina, Jamaii, Kyle, Evan + Chadoe Grant, Breeze, Louis Coupal, Dejha Carrington + YoungArts, Reggie O'Neal, Axel Void, Alexis Diaz, Reinier Gamboa + Linda, Alan Ket + the Museum of Graffiti, Carlos Mare, Rage Johnson, Atomik, Komik, Typoe, MSG, TCP, InkHeads, Dos Alas, Futura, Muta, Odobo, Michael Vasquez, Jason Joshua + Mango Hill Records, the buena gente at La Fama Cafeteria, Los Bobos, and Zak the Baker, Squirrely Fleetwood, Joseph Treaster, Rose Cromwell, and any others I'm forgetting here.. Much love to all the artists and supporters of art in the great city of Miami. Respectful remembrance of Ray Brown, RIP

"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory... Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape."
-Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1965)