To get from his house in West Perrine to DASH, the design, art and architecture high school in the Design District, street artist Daniel Fila took a school bus to a Metrobus, a Metrobus to the Metrorail, the Metrorail to another Metrobus.
That trip from South Dade to Miami’s urban core, the morning skies lightening and the landscapes morphing, bombarded Fila with all of the city’s brash colors and intoxicating rhythms. And it cemented his sense of identity, an American kid who could only be from this corner of America.
“I’m definitely 305,” says the softspoken Fila, who goes by Krave and whose audacious, often soulful murals dot Wynwood, the Design District, Little Havana and beyond. The Sunbather, on a wall at the end of a grassy lot on Biscayne Boulevard and 37th Street, which depicts a bronzed woman lying face down in teeny bikini bottoms that show off a notable posterior, is featured in the Miami-set flick Pain & Gain starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Fila, 33, didn’t get just how 305 he was until he graduated from DASH and started attending art school at Columbus College in Ohio.
“I was really depressed that first year,” he says over a Cuban sandwich at Calle Ocho’s El Exquisito, one of his favorite joints in Little Havana, where he keeps his studio.
“There was no sun. I’d go outside in my thin jacket and slip on ice and I was just hating it. I was missing that warmth of Miami. The warmth of the people,” says Fila, born to Anglo parents and brimming with Miami mojo.
“For one thing, I dance. The guys in Ohio didn’t dance. When I was growing up in Miami, I was by no means the hot guy. But in Ohio, it turned out I had flavor. I had edge. Before I moved to Ohio, I didn’t know that I knew how to talk to girls. But it turned out I did.”
However, there was this one girl in art school named Erin Wozniak. Krave had a crush, but he left it alone because he was dating someone else. After graduation and back in Miami, he painted a mural, in the same spot where The Sunbather is now, of a 13-foot-tall nude, her blond hair in a bun, her epic backside to the viewer. Titled Erin, it was his ode to the art school girl who got away.
But almost as soon as it went up, right before Art Basel 2003, a few folks complained that the piece was too risqué. They went to architect Chad Oppenheim, who vowed that the piece, at the back of his property, would stay up. But within months, an anonymous party pooper painted white over the whole thing.
By Art Basel 2005, Fila had returned to the wall, this time painting Erin from the front, as if she had just turned around and noticed she was being watched. He painted the real Erin’s face on the buxom, broad-hipped figure. And the real Erin — well, she wasn’t exactly amused.
In the work, Fila had referenced Wozniak’s own feminist-themed self-portrait. Reached by Miami New Times in 2006, she fired off an email: “What Daniel Fila has done is taken my artwork — not a photo, but my artwork, and directly copied it, publicly presenting it as his own. He has also defamed my work by pasting it onto a grossly over-sexualized naked figure. …”
This wasn’t the first time that Fila had painted a female figure with an ample bottom. In fact, female figures with ample bottoms are something of a signature for the artist, who exalts in Latin Miami’s sense of beauty. Erin wasn’t Latin. “But she had a booty,” Fila says.