On an anonymous, lightly traveled corner on the edge of Overtown, celebrity street artist Shepard Fairey has quietly spent most of the past few days high up on a lift with an X-acto knife and a can of spray paint, slowly making ugly beautiful.
As occasional passersby do double takes, Fairey, of Barack Obama “Hope” poster fame, has been laying down his signature lace-like patterns on two walls of a bunker-like warehouse over a rich multi-color wash by Kelly “Risk” Graval, the godfather of L.A. graffiti art. Fairey’s Andre the Giant “Obey” face stares out from the center of a star, and, by Sunday afternoon, the outline of the mural’s centerpiece — big letters spelling out “Peace’’ and “Justice’’ — has become legible.
In dreary Park West, the no-man’s land of vacant lots and featureless warehouses between Overtown and back-from-the-dead Biscayne Boulevard, startling oases of vibrant color are popping up all over, courtesy of Risk and a crew of well-known street and graffiti artists he recruited at the behest of a pair of neighborhood activists.
Park West, of all places, is getting the urban-renewal-through-graffiti-art treatment. Big time.
IN LIVING COLOR
By week’s end, nine buildings and warehouses in Park West, with the consent and financial support of their owners, will sport giant art-graffiti murals over Risk’s trademark “Beautifully Destroyed’’ drip-like color washes, the result of a near spur-of-the moment lunge to draw the Art Basel horde’s attention to the stirrings of a neighborhood revival.
“Everything we’ve done in the past four years is to change the perception of this neighborhood, and this is another way to get us on the radar,” said activist Mark Lesniak, instigator of the murals project with activist/developer Brad Knoefler, who renovated the Park West building housing the Grand Central lofts and music venue. The activist duo also built the temporary Grand Central park on the rubble of the old Miami Arena.
Just don’t call it Wynwood south, Lesniak and Knoefler say, alluding to the warehouse district a few blocks north that went from derelict to happening in a seeming flash, thanks in large part to a rapid proliferation of graffiti murals. Though urban pioneer Tony Goldman’s Wynwood Walls complex — where Fairey just completed a tribute mural to the developer, who died in September — is gallery-quality, it’s attracted too many lesser imitators and an inconsistent hodge-podge to the blocks around it, the activists say.
In Park West, which they prefer be known as simply downtown Miami, the activists say their mural project will be distinguished by the visual consistency provided by Risk’s washes. By working with neighborhood property owners, in particular Miami World Center, the development entity that controls a large chunk of the district, they hope to keep some control over quality.
World Center, which recently purchased Knoefler’s Grand Central building and the temporary park property from another owner and converted the old Capt. Harry’s building into art studios, seeded the mural project with a $15,000 contribution.
Those neighborhood anchors, along with the Legal Art group, whose renovated building houses artists, lectures and Nemesis Bistor and the Corner bar, have helped spark an incipient transformation in Park West. The Magic City Bicycle Collective, a volunteer group that teaches people how to rebuild old bikes, has established a workshop across the street. The district even boasts a sports bar, the Will Call, a block west of the AmericanAirlines Arena. With the Camillus House homeless shelter’s recent move out of Park West, Knoefler said, the time is ripe to lure in visitors, and the murals seem a sure-fire way to do it.