For decades, Miami art has lingered in the shadows of the work from more established cities like New York and Los Angeles. A group of local artists is changing this dynamic with a new aesthetic that stands on its own. Among them is Miami-born and raised Typoe.
After a Fountainhead residency and participation in shows by Locust Projects and Primary Projects, among others, this week Typoe, 30, opens a solo show at Spinello Projects in Wynwood. The exhibit explores his broad range of street art to fine art, fashion to curation. At its core is the dichotomy of his hometown: the darkness of the urban underground and the shimmering veneers of celebrity.
“Typoe embodies what’s coming out of Miami right now. It’s kitschy, glamorous and all about found objects from the streets,” says Brandi Reddick, curator for Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, who has had Typoe on her “artists to watch” list for several years.
Son of a Cuban immigrant father and a Jewish mother from Brooklyn, the artist has gone by Typoe since his teenage years, when he began covering public walls with the tag “Typoe.” Though his artistic style has broadened, the name stuck, and this year the artist started the process of registering a trademark.
Graffiti started his career — and almost ended it as well after a 2005 arrest for graffiti-related vandalism; his attempt to dodge police resulted in a car chase and additional charges that eventually were dropped. “Graffiti is a self-absorbed thing. You’re writing your name ad nauseam,” he says as he describes the period when he dropped out of high school and struggled with addiction. “I’ve gone to jail. I’ve been beaten by cops. I’ve been in car chases. That was a crazy point in my life.”
Years later, after getting sober, he applied himself to learning from the past, poring over books filled with Renaissance classics and Dutch still lifes. In 2004, Wynwood gallerist Anthony Spinello schooled him on the business of contemporary art.
Today, Typoe works in a 3,000-square-foot studio hidden in a sleepy section of downtown Miami dubbed “Miami World Center.” The space is just several blocks away from the highly anticipated Museum Park and the 5,000-square-foot warehouse-turned-gallery he owns with partners Booksllll “Books” Bischof and Christina Gonzalez of Primary Projects, an artists’ collaborative focusing on curatorial efforts and public artworks. Among them is the landmark Primary Flight wall, a revolving mural installation in Wynwood.
“Books,” who founded Primary Projects in 2005, praises Typoe for his collaborative spirit. “It’s not just about him. If there’s a better artist for a project, he’ll make an effort to put that artist in the right place.”
Typoe and the Primary team recently unveiled their first curatorial project for a high-profile public art collective called The Arts Initiative. Typoe played a key role in project development and worked directly with the 11 acclaimed artists who all have strong ties to Miami — including Jennifer Stark, Bhakti Baxter and Andrew Nigon — for interactive installations at the new Fashion Outlets of Chicago, a $250 million multilevel shopping mall.
Says Arts Initiative founder Arthur Weiner: “There’s no typecast for Typoe. He’s had so many iterations of himself, and he seems to fluidly flow through them.” That admiration led to the Chicago project; Weiner is chairman of Miami-based AWE Talisman, which developed the mall. “As an artist, he’s about to flourish and explode to a degree he hasn’t.”
It’s also not the first time Typoe has fused art and fashion. Ultra-hip local footwear line Del Toro tapped him this year for his casual coolness to create vibrant multicolored leather wingtips that sell for $350 and are so cool that the Miami Heat’s sartorial icon, Dwyane Wade, wears a pair. (Wade even purchased Typoe’s floral painting that inspired the collection.)
There are more artistic collaborations on the books with the likes of electronic dance music DJs Skrillex and Boys Noize, as well as rapper Snoop Dogg.
When Game Over opens Thursday at Spinello Projects, it will Typoe’s first solo show since 2011. It features a suite of works on paper, a neon light sculpture and several arrangements of found objects. The exhibit is designed to take guests on an emotional rollercoaster ride as they move through the expansive gallery.
Typoe distills complex existentialist themes into scenarios like a sardonic tête-à-tête with a priest and a clown. Next, a unification of nine Twister boards functions as a nod to Damien Hirst and the innocence of childhood, before the influence of drugs wreaks havoc on life.
As they move through the exhibit, guests walk through a dark hallway in which Typoe positions the viewer in between a skull of an elderly Caucasian woman with two gold teeth (sourced from the Internet), and a classic yellow smiley face, which poignantly doubles as a “piggy bank.” Typoe says the found objects, one on each side of the hallway, are debating the meaning of life and the certainty of death, with the viewer standing directly in between the conversation.
The exhibit grows even darker, into a pitch black room where the only visible objects are neon letters. “To all that come to this happy place, welcome,” it reads.
“After that, boom, you go into heaven,” he says.
The final room may be the most profound, with larger-than-life gunpowder pieces decorating stark white walls under bright lights. Typoe was inspired by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who’s considered the founder of this precarious medium. While Cai is a performance artist known for web broadcasts of his work prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Typoe blows things up behind the scenes. He creates his explosions in secret at a private location, leaving showgoers to see only charred strokes burned into paper in scenes evoking archetypal Dutch and Renaissance still lifes.
The gunpowder works are mostly florals with the goal of triggering a range of reactions.
“When you lose a loved one, you get flowers, right?” asks Typoe. “I usually end up talking about death. I’m kind of obsessed,” he says.
Collectors of his work argue that while Game Over may be provocative, it’s the polar opposite of Typoe’s own future.
“He’s definitely an artist that should be on everyone’s radar,” Kathryn Mikesell says. She and her husband Dan, founders of the Miami-based Fountainhead Residency and Studios Program, have been collecting Typoe’s art for several years. “It’s his thoughtful investigation and his practice that has led to his success and will continue his trajectory for years to come.”