Asheville painter Dustin Spagnola and a carload of local colleagues descended upon Miami, Fla. on Nov. 27 to join the visual carnival that is Art Basel. As Xpress reported in the Nov. 17 story, Basel Bound, “Spagnola wants to go to Miami ‘to paint a giant image.’ Specifically, he wants to paint a mural.”
So how is the giant image progressing? Doubly well. “We just painted two murals!” Spagnola said in a telephone interview. “The ‘official’ one is in the Wynwood Arts District. It’s the back entrance to Cafeina, a restaurant and gallery; there is a big art show happening inside this weekend. The Trusto Corp., an art group, is doing a giant installation about capitalism and commerce.” The installation is hosted by Primary Flight, which bills itself as “an open air museum” and the “world’s largest street level art show.” Primary Flight takes place annually in the Wynwood Arts District.
In advance of the Miami trip, Spagnola described his plans for the mural with the following criteria: “Number one, [it will depict] someone who is a person — someone who is revolutionary or progressive in their ideals, beliefs or actions. What I really want, ideally, is [to paint] someone who’s directly connected to Miami, since we’re going there. I thought about doing images of Native American tribes from there.”
The group has so far painted two murals depicting Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist known for her carnal self-portraiture as well as her fierce, Communism-based political attitudes.
Spagnola listed off (literally) the reasons for the choice. “Number one, she’s a woman — a strong woman; number two, she’s Latina — we thought that was relevant to Miami; number three, she’s an artist; and number four, obviously she was part of a progressive social movement.”
The Asheville to Miami entourage had some last-minute personnel changes. The street artist, Geyser, opted out, as did Ian Wilkinson, the director of the Asheville Mural Project. In their stead, Asheville residents Avery Duncan, Scott Myers, Court McCracken, Luke Broussard and Molly Rose Freeman joined street artist Ishmael and Spagnola, the two remaining original participants.
Wilkinson explained his defection delicately, admitting that there was some “unresolved confusion” incidental to the preparation and fund-raising for the trip.“I just decided not to go along because I don’t really have the time for a vacation right now,” he said, with a laugh, in a phone interview. “I needed to stay in town to work on the murals here — to help make Asheville a beautiful city.” Wilkinson remains expressly supportive of public arts, and especially the possibility of an Asheville-Miami relationship that would benefit both cities and promote “beautification.”
His approach insists upon the egalitarian in all respects, from the number and diversity of artists involved, to the subject matter itself. The Asheville Mural Project mural on the abutments of the 240 overpass on S. Lexington Avenue in Asheville provides an example. The mural shows an array of different “common” people of varied age, race and gender performing regionally familiar activities: an old man sitting against a tree trunk plucking a banjo; a woman at a loom; another woman on a bicycle. When compared to the Asheville to Miami project’s goal of lime-lighting the individual — often an “extraordinary” or otherwise mythical personage — the divergence between the two groups explains itself.
“It’s our goal to use the mural arts to transform our city. We’re not just out to get people to know who we are as individuals,” Wilkinson said.
Motives and broader goals aside, the Miami group reports success and warm reception — and warmer weather. While Spagnola said that the group has been too busy to take to the waves (“We haven’t spent any time at the beach. We’ve been painting every day until 2 a.m. since we got here”), the mural itself, and the group’s presence, has been making some waves. “Last night I met Harry Gottlieb [director of film and cultural affairs for the city of Miami], Spagnola said. “He stopped and complimented the mural. I asked him if he would be interested in becoming a liaison for doing similar exchange events in Asheville — which is the whole purpose of this project: bringing Asheville to Miami, to promote Asheville.” According to Spagnola, Gottlieb was “enthusiastic” about the idea. While Gottlieb did admit in a phone interview that he had “seen a lot of murals” in the last week (and in general), Gottlieb was enthusiastic about the Asheville project after a few reminders as to what it was, exactly. “What they’re doing is phenomenal,” he said, before extending his enthusiasm to Miami itself. “Come to Miami. The weather is lovely, there are great restaurants, great hotels. We are surrounded by art. “
Spagnola and company have also earned the affection of some Miami artists. According to Spagnola, “We’ve been hanging out and painting next to MSG, a local Miami graffiti crew. They’ve completely embraced us and helped us out; they’re awesome guys and girls. When we arrived [at the site of the first mural], a bunch of the MSG crew yelled, ‘Hey N.C. – welcome to Miami.’”
Asheville may have the chance to reciprocate such hospitality in the future. We may not have a beach, but it sounds like muralists are too busy to swim anyway.
For more information and, Spagnola promises, frequent updates, visit dustinspagnola.blogspot.com/