For the spray-paint set, the unmarked concrete alleys in Miami's Wynwood District are as alluring as the empty Sistine Chapel ceiling must have been to Michelangelo. The whole neighborhood is a blank canvas, begging to get tagged. And during Art Basel week, vanloads of graffiti vets and muralists did just that, slathering one of the world's biggest public art districts with dozens of new pieces.
Tony Goldman, who died this past September, was a Miami real estate developer and preservationist who spearheaded the transformation of South Beach and later, the warehouse-filled Wynwood District, from decaying neighborhoods into hipster hangouts. In 2009, Goldman encouraged artists to write graffiti on bare walls in the neighborhood, around NW Second Avenue and 25th Street. As more high-profile artists came to paint these walls over the years, the original area, now called Wynwood Walls, got gated off and reserved for marquee painters. (Shepard Fairey illustrated a tribute to Goldman there this winter.) But plenty of untouched surface area remained in the surrounding 'hood — from dingy highway overpasses to upscale gallery façades. When the yearly Art Basel art fair approached in December, graffiti artists came out in droves to throw up some of their own work.
Many received permission from building owners. "I saw the building, loved the location, and walked into a couple of offices looking for the owner," says 26-year-old artist Dave Lavernia. "I just asked him if I could paint his wall. I'd scoped it out the night before, so I showed him some sketches, and he said, 'How much do you want?' He paid for the supplies, and I started that night."
Others, of course, hit the alleys under the cover of darkness, with one eye out for the fuzz. "They made us have permission slips 'cause I guess [police] were out there just trying to catch people doing tags," says artist Scott Debus. "But that's just part of the street culture."
Here are our favorites around Wynwood. Check 'em out now — the next time you roll in, they just might be gone.
Cartoon violence, by Craola, Dabs, Myla, and Witness: Bold colors, bursting pixels, coyote brains, and hammers. What more could you ask for? (Corner of NW Third Avenue and NW 25th Street; dabsmyla.com)
Dolphin and marlin, by Dave Lavernia: Lavernia is no pro fisherman, but that doesn't mean he wasn't obsessed with getting the details right. "I enjoy freediving, fishing, and surfing and painting the colorful bright things I'm used to seeing. It's tough to convey nature into a painting," he says. "But a lot of people into sportfishing pulled over while I was painting and were like, 'That's the coolest mahi I've ever seen.' " (220 NW 27th St.; daveldesigns.com)
Bruce Lee character, by Secret: Miami graff veteran Secret has been holding hordes of out-of-town painters off this wall for years now and keeping his themes fresh for the hundreds of thousands who pass by on I-95. (The 95 Wall, AKA the Wall of Fame, NW Sixth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, adjacent to I-95 north; miamigraffiti.com)
Losing Touch, by Stefan Ways: In the year of the "Miami Zombie," post-Apocalyptic, biomechanical corpse hands seem so appropriate. (The Art Place, 2722 NW Second Ave.; stefanways.com)
Celestine, by Rone: This warehouse's walls have eyes. Watch where you piss. (Back wall of Brisky Gallery, 23rd Street between NW First Court and First Avenue, r-o-n-e.com)
Ballerinas, by Anthony Lister: The artist described this work as "strip-club ballerinas on drugs." Sounds about right. (Back parking lot wall of 2300 NW Second Ave.; anthonylister.com)
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Snake, by Rone, Phibs, and Meggs, AKA the Everfresh Crew: This is the best kind of nightmare: the kind where a giant snake and bird fly across a wall and collide head-on with a burning tribal skull. (169 NW 25th St.; everfreshstudio.com)
Native lady with corn, by DJ Agana, AKA Vanessa Espinoza: A woman with cool hair chills with her corn. We're just assuming she likes acid and anthropology. (The 95 Wall, AKA the Wall of Fame, NW Sixth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, adjacent to I-95 north; facebook.com/djagana)
Eye and fly, by Scott Debus: That might look like a fly on the woman's face, but Debus wants you to think deeper. "What you called a fly on my mural is actually a mosquito filled with blood," he says. "I like exploring the inner and outer world. When you go into a person on a micro level and see the body through electron microscopes, it looks like desert landscapes, nebulous clouds, and universes." (Corner of NW Third Avenue and NW 26th Street; scottdebus.com)
Wireman, by Dal East: This guy made of wires who's jumping off a building looks so real that passing cars and bikes stop and wait for him to hit the ground. (Paul's Carpet Company building, 31 NW 23rd St.; daleast.com)