Miami New Times' MasterMind Awards honors the city's most inspiring creatives. This week, we're profiling the 10 finalists, selected by our staff from over 100 submissions, who are in the running to receive one of three 2013 MasterMind awards, each of which comes with a fat $1,000 check. This year's MasterMind Award winners will be announced Thursday, February 28, at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.
By the time he was 15, Michael Gran was surrounded by death and destruction, running with gangs and committing robberies to feed a growing crack habit. Finally, his parents took drastic action and sent him up North to boarding school.
"I probably would have ended up dead or in prison like a lot of my friends [otherwise]," says Gran, better known as Typoe, the graffiti handle he adopted before branching out to become one of Miami-Dade's most talented multidisciplinary artists.
Typoe's work is never far from the chaos of his youth. Though he was raised in a stable family -- his father, Bernard, is a doctor, and his mom, Jacki, an artist -- he was always rebellious. By the time he finished middle school, he was already tagging his moniker around Coral Gables and Kendall.
"After four days of nonstop abuse, I was coughing up blood and felt like I was dying. That's when I decided to check myself into detox," he says.After one too many brushes with the law, his parents shipped him to the Hyde School in Bath, Maine. The school helped, he says, but when he returned to Miami in 2003, he quickly relapsed into a crack-and-heroin binge.
That decision was a turning point. Typoe has been sober ever since, and his career has exploded from Wynwood walls to fine-art galleries.
He first made a name as a member of international graffiti crew TCP, but he always had an eye on pushing boundaries. So he worked his way into Anthony Spinello's gallery by doing odd jobs: painting walls, sweeping floors, hanging art.
Spinello quickly saw Typoe had more to offer than grunt labor. His sculptures featuring human skeletons and mutlicolored explosions earned him a spot in the gallery. In 2010, one of those pieces, Confetti Death, depicting a skull vomiting rainbow bits of shattered spray-paint caps, went viral online after starring at Scope Art Fair.
He hasn't looked back. Primary Projects, which he cofounded, remains one of the Design District's edgiest spaces. Typoe was recently featured in Skull Style: Skulls in Contemporary Art and Design, a book that places his pieces alongside those by Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen.
Now he has come full circle with his latest project: a series of white drawings about Miami's hedonistic side. "I'm using cocaine to make the drawings," Typoe says. "You can say I've switched my addictions from drugs and chaos to making art."
Words Travel Fast was a text based mural project in Downtown Miami Created by Primary Projects & Miami World Center. I was 1 of 10 artists to participate in this project. Had an awesome time with this one! Other artists are: Autumn Casey, Jim Drain, Five & Kemo, Kenton Parker, Christina Pettersson, PRIMARY & George Sanchez-Calderon. more info at: www.wordstravelfast.com
TYPOE collaboration with Deltoro Shoes. Wingtips hand made in Italy. Brown stacked leather sole. Abstract flower design. Red laces. While thinking about this shoe design i had the vision of a floral arrangement placed on a round wooden table with a red runner down the center. I was very deeply inspired by old flemish still life paintings and that filtered its way into this fun piece. 2013
Dwayne Wade enjoying his TYPOE painting that inspired the Deltoro Shoe collaboration.
Dwayne Wade wearing his fresh new TYPOE x Deltoro Shoes.
This was a collaborative project I did with Books Bischoff for the duo Skrillex & Boys Noize's group called Dog Blood. I created the text and he created the imagery.
Art simply cannot be confined to any one medium, expression, act, or material and the same “no-rules” approach applies whenever Miami-based mastermind Typoe is involved. Partner in the creative powerhouse, Primary Projects, Typoe has crafted his reality to reflect his wildest dreams and reveals his point of view through the use and abuse of the unexpected. Whatever the unexpected may be… I recently had a moment to catch up with Typoe while in Miami to find out what makes this young genius tick.
LF: At what age did you start getting all weird and creative?
TYPOE: I have been doing weird shit since I could move. I feel like I was made to do what I’m doing. I just see the world and react to it. I remember being a little tot, crawling around my parents house writing my name under tables and secret places just to put myself out there. It was always a natural urge for me to respond to spaces and try to understand everything around me. In elementary school I made a drawing of me at the top of the stairs holding someone’s head and their body was falling down the stairs. Needless to say, there was a parent teacher conference that followed directly after. When the teacher held up my work for my parents to see my mom said “Wow, that is great perspective in that drawing.” Luckily, I was brought up to go after my dream and had great support from my family.
LF: Who in your life do you feel inspired you the most?
TYPOE: I have a lot of inspirations in my life, mentors if you will. People I learn from and gain experience with. My biggest inspiration is my pops. He pretty much came to this country with nothing and couldn’t speak english when he was 13. Now, you couldn’t even tell he speaks another language and has far surpassed every dream I’m sure he has imagined. And provides for our family in every way imaginable. My other inspiration are my friends who have left this life early and never got a chance to grow old with the rest of us that they left behind. I wake up every day and work as hard as I can for them. I keep them fresh in my mind as a reminder that this life is very precious and can be ended with the quickness. Rest in peace TOOK and NES. Crunk wake up soon, I love you and we all miss you.
LF: Vice of choice? Then or Now?
TYPOE: I’ve been sober for almost a decade now. I pretty much did every bad deed a person can do. I am thankful that I had enough sense in my peanut-sized brain to stop killing myself and change my life. Now I just work out, do graffiti, run a gallery, have a full-time art career and work as hard as I can. I’m glad I went through what I did because I feel like I learned a lot of serious lessons that most people will never get to experience.
LF: You use various mediums and methods in your work, what triggers you to do so?
TYPOE: A lot of the things I use are supplies that are readily available to me. I try to be very natural with my work and use what makes sense. I don’t use pencils and paint brushes. I don’t even know what to do with those things. I use a lot of found (plastic) spray can-tops, gun powder, brass knuckles, baseball bats, spray paint, gummy bears… whatever I can find in my room really.
LF: Which piece have you found to be the most challenging during its creation and process?
TYPOE: I don’t think I have a most challenging piece. Sometimes things just fit right together and it was meant to be. A lot of the time things don’t work or I make mistakes that lead to even better pieces. That happens a lot. I just really like to fuck around with [different] things.
LF: I love that you’ve utilized everyday materials from a graffiti writer or street artist’s toolbox and present them in a widely relatable and engaging way, what helped or inspired you to develop and present your ideas like this?
TYPOE: Well, I just grew up reading about and looking at old master paintings like Van Eyck and so many others. I was so obsessed with how dope they were. But I feel like they kind of already did the painting thing and pretty much kinged it. It also made so much sense for them, since important people were always commissioning master pieces from them. I guess I just want my work to reflect myself as much as possible so that means I have to use tools and mediums that relate directly to me.
LF: We know you’re born, raised, and based in Miami – but where do you look forward to visit for future work and play?
TYPOE: I love Miami, ride or die. But I love leaving and seeing what else is out there. If I stay here [Miami] for too long at a time I tend to go a little crazy. I want to go explore some sick rain forests around the world and explore places that are unlike what I am used to here.
LF: How did you get involved with the Primary Projects crew and what role do you play in all of the fun?
TYPOE: After the first year of Primary Flight I decided to just start helping Books with all the murals. I just knew what to do and I wanted to see it get done, so I did. After that, I was partnered into the company and the rest is history. Fast forward 5 years and now we have hundreds of murals throughout Wynwood and the Design District. We’re doing amazing projects with some of my favorite artists in different cities and countries now, and we have the gallery which is our play room. I am the director of exhibitions here. I work very closely with our artists and plan our year out for the most part. What I have now is far beyond what I ever dreamed I would have. I’m beyond happy with what we are doing and I get to work with my friends every day.
LF: Which galleries can we check you out at?
TYPOE: If you want to see me working on my dance moves then you can come to Primary Projects. If you want to see my art you can go peep Spinello Projects.
LF: Any upcoming shows?
TYPOE: A group show in Chicago next week for a kids foundation… then I’m not sure. Just making work. If you build it, they will come..
LF: How fast do you live?
TYPOE: Live fast die fresh.
… one last question:
LF: Jelly doughnut or sprinkle?
TYPOE: Shit girl…you know how I roll. All sprinkles everything!
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.
Inhabiting an abandoned branch of a local Christian family and social services center, TYPOE’s new body of work touches on the inherent disparities between a fun-and-friendly operation on the surface, populated by sinister undertones of failure and entrapment. A loose reference to the infamous opening day of Disneyland, California in late July 1955, ‘Black Sunday’ witnessed what was meant to be the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ morph into a surreal nightmare for visitors and executives, alike. Counterfeit tickets, sweltering summer temperatures (with no operational drinking fountains), dozens of rides shut down and shoes literally sinking into the fresh asphalt plagued over 28,000 visitors. TYPOE channels that intensely physical experience of discomfort and disillusionment into this new series, while still maintaining a firm grasp of significant influences in the realm of highbrow modern and contemporary art.
The appearance of a heavy curtain over a stage evokes sensations of grandeur, heroism, rousing beginnings and tragic ends. Finely crafted from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) garbage bags, TYPOE engages a sombre metaphor of life’s stage being laid to waste where nervous, hopeful children once stood and community ministers preached their gospel. A native to the hardened streets of Miami, TYPOE resurrects Marcel Duchamp’s iconic upside-down ‘Bicycle Wheel’ (1951) in the form of a gold-plated and chromed, customized ‘Low Rider’ bicycle. Mounted onto a cinder block (immediately recalling the criminal act of stealing wheels off of cars and bicycles), this tongue-in-cheek tribute to the father of Conceptual Art takes on the bling and swing of the Hip-Hop and Rap sectors.
Locust Projects is pleased to present Purgatory (False Ceiling), a new project by infamous Miami graffiti artist TYPOE. In his most ambitious undertaking to date, TYPOE will present a site-specific installation featuring a dropped ceiling covering Locust Projects' entire 2,700 square foot gallery space on which he will create an adaption of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.
Purgatory (false ceiling) will present street art in a gallery space, and continue the artist’s exploration of religious and popular iconography. Taking the Sistine Chapel as a starting point, TYPOE will adapt aspects of Michelangelo’s masterpiece using paint, text and collage, infusing elements of his own style and experience. Using a street art practice known as “wheat pasting,” the artist will affix images printed on paper to the dropped ceiling. Combined, the architectural installation and imagery will convey parallel cultural and autobiographical narratives.