The Los Sueños residential tower at 500 NW 36th Street (near the Bakehouse Art Complex) was already noted for its signature 3-story-tall sculpture by Romero Britto that overlooks I-95, but thanks to the efforts of a team of artists who converged on the property in December, it now sports a dynamic street level 287-foot-long mural along its east-facing wall.
More a gallery of individual visions and styles than a unified composition, the wall, which features a variety of figurative, color field and cartoon-like elements, offers a welcoming engagement to community residents and visitors.
In a recent interview, artist Kyle Holbrook summarized his own career, while providing notes on the mural’s history. Born in Pittsburgh, he began working in Miami last year on the well-documented José Diego school mural project, where he painted right next to Louis Jensen from the London-based Spraying Bricks collective. A sojourn in London also led Holbrook to Christian Douglas, aka Captain Kris, a prolific talent and veteran of Secret Walls, the competitive live art platform with a ten-year international event history. “Paint will spill!” is their motto. Thus inspired, Holbrook and Jensen sought out a venue and sponsor for a big wall project here in Miami.
North side of the mural by Himbad and Kyle Holbrook.
They satisfied both needs with Pinnacle Housing Group, a Miami-based developer and regular sponsor for artwork in the public sphere. Pinnacle builds affordable housing for working families and seniors – primarily in the Southeast U.S., with approximately 20 properties in Miami. Painting, sculpture and dynamic lighting displays are key features of their buildings, supporting the idea that the visual arts aren’t just for wealthy enclaves.
The Los Sueños mural was curated by MLK (Moving the Lives of Kids) Community Mural Project, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit that Holbrook founded in 2002. "Who would be cool to work with, they asked each other." For Basel, among the other talents in their roster, they picked 23-year-old Jarus, from Toronto, who masterfully portrayed the red-capped boy. Holbrook had also met Chris Jordan through the José Diego project, where they had walls across from each other.
Artist Chris Jordan in front of his piece in progress.
"I liked his style; I liked his art,” said Holbrook. “I liked his subject matter; it was kids; it was black kids." Moreover, Jordan was the only other African-American at the Smashed Canvas event.
On Instagram, Jordan wrote about the Miami experience, “I just finished Eyes On the Ecliptic, an acrylic/aerosol mural, based on a photo I took of my niece observing the sky. She’s going to see and do amazing things! [I’m] so amped that I got to come paint during Basel this year. This trip challenged me to a new level and I’m glad we pushed through the storms.”
Those torrential rains were a challenge to all the muralists in town for Art Week.
"Everybody's timeline got messed up,” recalled Holbrook, but he gave props to Angelina Christina (aka Starfightera), who said “’I’m gonna do it,’ and she came and just super knocked it out.
“I like how she works; like a machine; She doesn't sleep,” said Holbrook, admiringly. It’s no wonder, though, Christina is a veteran spinning instructor and marathon runner!
Artists Kyle Holbrook, Chris Jordan, Jarus and Himbad getting some photos before the rain starts.
Her softly modeled young woman in sunglasses cozies up to Miss Zukie’s trademark cartoon character. “A lot of artists don't like their piece touching someone else's piece, which I understand but still I think it’s more of a challenge when you can collaborate. So, she made it work." Look for Holbrook’s contribution to the mural at the north end.
Standing tall, Jarus' work next to Christina Angelina and Zukie's collaboration.
Naturally, Holbrook and his cadre are eager to return for Basel next year. Meanwhile, MLK has completed 15 murals at eight Miami-Dade schools during the 2015-16 school year. Teachers apply for a grant to secure the materials. “These murals were unique, in that the teachers designed them with student participation as an after school and classroom lesson. MLK Murals’ role was to facilitate the murals through the process, guiding and providing the feedback and artistic assistance,” said Holbrook.
Kyle Holbrook admiring the collective mural.
"I go to each school at least once,” he continued. “Especially with the high school kids I'll just inspire them… Super talented, some of them. They're all excited. It’s that age where they've got their dreams… "
The project also benefits the teachers, who are often self-conscious about painting in public. “Some of them will be so stressed.” Jensen's advice: "Just chill and paint a little and go back to having fun!"
Holbrook is eager for a June trip to Costa Rica for a street mural project at a town where most of the residents live by recycling trash. And in Little Haiti, a new mural is in the offing at Churchill’s Pub – again with kids. Other projects are commercially focused – “Do the mural and get paid. Those are needed as well."
He concluded the interview philosophically, "I'm just trying to keep growing and learning and vibing – meeting new people…"