Studio visits in Miami are the order of the day. Reflecting Miami’s landscape and easygoing attitude artists conglomerate in diverse groups sharing space large converted warehouses that are built out organically as the need requires.
It’s Saturday evening and open studio night at Fountainhead Studios. Once you find the front door a long passage leads you to indiscriminate studio doorways through which visitors with plastic cups in hand meander. The warehouse is owned by husband and wife team Dan and Kathryn Mikesell who rent cheap workspace to local artists, and, with their two kids Galt and Skye, collect art.
Strangely dedicated to providing infrastructure for artists, this couple has also purchased a new house, which pending renovations and their eventual move-in, serves as a studio space for artists. I’m curious about the kind of dialogue is shared when cohabitating in an organic environment like Miami. I decide to speak with Typoe, an artist who has a studio in his home and has lived and worked in Miami all his life, about his work and practice.
Is That a Typoe?
Typoe is born and bred in Miami. He is also co-founder of Primary Projects a much talked about art space that invites artists from across the globe to create ambitious exhibitions. Their annual project Primary Flight has become a global sensation. The initiative, which takes place annually during Art Basel Miami, invites over 250 artists to create work — mostly outdoors — that transforms the Wynwood neighborhood into an outdoor museum of a sort. He has worked with the likes of Shepard Fairey and Ron English to name a few.
Even though he admits to being a graffiti artist he sees his artwork as very separate to this activity, explaining,
“ … graffiti is simple and its like therapy, it’s just about seeing my name everywhere. My work is about me and the people I care about.”
As we look at his work I decide Typoe is about negation. Despite growing up with a Cuban father he does not speak Spanish and despite describing his mother as a Jewish New Yorker he is not religious. Some may even say he is resistant and as a kid his mom caught him cutting two sports bear memorabilia in half and sewing their faces together. Currently he sources flowers from cemeteries to include in his latest body of work, letting them rot before including them in his collages.
I ask him what his inspirations are and he explains a fascination with death saying, “Ive seen some dark shit and I thought I would die at 18.” He tells me that he has seen many of his friends die at the hands of drugs and guns and this he says that has impacted his work.
Although his work is perverse and dark there is also humor. A bottle of gunpowder rests on a counter. The last thing he exploded, he tells me, was a Mickey Mouse face on a wall of a Family Christian School for his latest exhibition Black Sunday. The work was an ode to the disastrous opening day of Disney World back in 1955. He points to an oversized pink Barbie house and explains that’s the next thing to go, and frankly it does looks like it deserves to be blown up.
What is it like to work in Miami and work with other artists so closely? Typoe professes to actively seeking out artists to work with, to learn new techniques and share ideas. Typoe didn’t attend art school but explains that he bought every art book he could find and also went to work for gallerist Anthony Spinello by assisting at the installation of exhibitions. He is currently represented by Spinello.
At that gallery job he began engaging with more artists, and it was through this experience he began to study art history, which became an integral part of his work that often collides history references with the outrageous “Kitsch-glitz” of the aesthetic that is Miami.
Typoe’s recreation of Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” is a gold plated low rider bicycle wheel that sparkles as it spins. A kaleidoscope of spray paint lids that have been burnt in to contorted shapes of color melding in to a balled construction becomes a reinvented John Chamberlain sculpture.
In 2011, TYPOE was invited by Miami’s most renowned nonprofit Locust Projects to create an installation. In response to the invite, he created a drop ceiling that reimagined Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel.”
Executive Director Chana Budgazad explains,
“Adapting practices primarily used on the street such as ‘wheat pasting,’ the artist affixed images printed on paper to the dropped ceiling.”
The piece responded not only to the space but also to Typoe’s Miami aesthetic through its application and use of materials. Budgazad continues:
“Combined, the architectural installation and imagery conveyed parallel cultural and autobiographical narratives.”
As a quintessentially Miami artist Typoe says that being from Miami is about being fresh. I find him disarmingly honest. He explains that he feels that everything should be Miami-style …a guy has a shit apartment but has an amazing looking girlfriend and a great car — that’s Miami.
His work is always seems interlaced with humor. When I think back on his 2010 mural installation outside Spinello Gallery that proclaimed “I Want Typoe so Effin Bad” I can’t help but smile at his bold self assuredness.