Visual Arts

Hollywood revitalizes downtown with mural art

If you haven’t noticed, Wynwood’s walls are crowded these days, crowded with colorful murals and graph markings that have become a signature look for the neighborhood, drawing the attention of national and international eyes.

The explosion of public art that popped up on the facades of the urban enclave over the past decade was both an indigenous, street-level process that involved taggers taking their paint cans out in the middle of the night, and a sanctioned invitation from property owners and city officials to give character to a monotonous warehouse district. The aesthetic result is crystal clear to any visitor — the walls burst with an almost-unparalleled energy, creativity and spirit.

So it’s no surprise that the spunky city just above the Miami-Dade border, Hollywood, decided in 2012 to add some expressive imagery to its own walls, as part of the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project (DHMP). In just one year, the outdoor surfaces have been painted over with a wide array of street-inspired art, from an impressive roster of local artists.

But it would be wrong to try to compare what is happening in southern Broward to what has taken place in Miami — for real and good reasons, each will have a unique look. First off, the beachside town of Hollywood didn’t wake up one day and find uncommissioned, spray-painted works decorating — some would say defiling — their public walls. Unlike in Wynwood, where graph works were long a part of the landscape, Hollywood’s 1950s architecture, framed often by palm trees, has a softer look.

Lately, that look has included some fading urban edges, which is why the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) decided mural art might be a good way to liven up the city in a quirky, edgy way.

“A group of merchants and property owners knew that murals could be a really interesting component in revitalizing downtown,” says CRA director Jorge Camejo. Jill Weisberg, a Hollywood native, artist and graphic designer with experience in a number of Wynwood projects, was brought in as curator, and DHMP was launched.

The process was a little rocky at first, Camejo recalls. The application process for artists was long and cumbersome, the budget was minimal. And, “the biggest challenge in public art always is, what is tasteful and appropriate and good.”

But with guidance from a new mural committee and some loosening up on the process of approving commissions, “we got a marriage of all parties” including developers and owners, officials and artists, Camejo says. Although the budget was still “shoestring,” some companies said they would pitch in for the cost of the public ventures, and the mural project kicked off last summer.

DHMP decided to concentrate at first on the area around the Arts Park at Young Circle, at Hollywood Boulevard and Harrison Street. As part of the already up-and-running monthly art walk — held every third Saturday and featuring live music — an artist would be seen putting up work. Most likely, due to the intense composition of many of the works, they really would just be adding final touches, but the presence of the artists and their paint would make the whole process interactive.

Whom to bring in to create the inaugural commission on the Great Southern Building was a fairly easy choice. That was homeboy and well-known muralist David LeBatard, who, like many graffiti-inspired artist, goes by a moniker, Lebo. He put up his jazzy Bee-Bop Into Outer Space in September, and more fell into place in quick succession. Also riffing on a musical theme, Ruben Ubiera depicted an improv scene on the side of the Ramada Hotel, with figures leap-frogging over one another while another plays a guitar — a lively ditty called 83 and Sunny.

Then it was Jessy Nite’s turn. She’s an up-and-comer, one of the still-too-rare female artists to crack the mural graph world, who has had a solo show at Primary Projects. Nite took over the corner space at the intersection of two walls, detailing it with kaleidoscopic, diamond-like brightly colored geometric forms, scaffolded by a black and white grid. She owned the corner; it’s a real highlight so far in the Hollywood walls transformation.

Luis Pinto followed with what appears to be an architectural intervention, a 3D scape on a long horizontal wall, with angular doors and entryways loosely based on ancient Egyptian design. This “sun-god temple” faces directly east, waiting for the sun’s rise to give more depth to the mural.

Around the several square blocks that are the epicenter so far of the murals project, it’s clear that while the paintings are commissioned and authorized, there is no particular perimeter in terms of the imagery. There are figurative, geometric and abstract works, all developed according to a wall’s dimensions, physical surface quality and the artist’s imagination.

Eduardo Mendieta, who is also an illustrator, painted two cartoon-like, large-scale faces of children — that of his daughter and her cousin — in February. He was followed by a more political commentator, Evoca1, who created Posers and Dream Crushers, a more somber take on the world. He finished off his piece on an April Saturday just as 2alas, comprised of the Miami duo of Andrew Antonaccio and Orlando Galvaz, started on their painting Untitled (Mona Lisa). It juxtaposes a black-and-white digital-looking image of the famous da Vinci visage with colorful geometric triangles.

Last month, Michelle Weinberg completed her ornamentation of another part of the Great Southern Hotel wall. She is well-known in both counties for her public works, often patterned, slightly off-kilter shapes and forms that cover walls, floors and are incorporated into painting and even rugs.

Weinberg decided on some bold colors to create individual, sculpture-like images, in blues and fuchsia, rather than blanketing the entire wall. There is again a 3-D quality to this work, plastered on the uneven, bare wall.

The 10th mural will be finished on Aug. 17, from Miami native and New York-based artist Tatiana Suarez, whose Brazilian roots often influence her particular, street-based art.

As seamless as some of these final products are, there have been bumps in the road. The inaugural Lebo mural has come under scrutiny, with some city officials claiming that the end imagery was not what was proposed, and seemed too “ghetto.” Aside from the unfortunate choice of such a highly charged word, there was likely to be inevitable tension over what is appropriate or not for city-sponsored art, especially when it is focused on a form that was once called graffiti. It seems likely that Lebo’s mural will be modified.

That’s not an optimal outcome. Lebo, like the other artists, worked for little money on these projects, and unless his imagery was extremely violent or sexual, it should well be left alone. But public projects like this can be tricky, something with which CRA director Camejo agrees. “Lebo is a magnificent artist and the right choice for the first mural,” he says. “His piece was beautifully executed but it wasn’t what he proposed. It’s always a wild card,” he says about how works are approved, and the expectation of how they will turn out. However, he concludes, “we don’t want art that you drive by and don’t react [to]. We want memorable work.”