Graffiti writers left their mark on the walls of the HistoryMiami museum in downtown Miami, but no one is going to jail.
For some spray paint adrenaline junkies, the cat and mouse game they played with Miami police’s juvenile gang unit is history. Some are now fine artists who once referred to painting murals as "bombing." Others make a living as graphic designers, tattoo artists, teachers and even business owners.
Once known as graffiti writer Quake, Alexander Vahan now runs Cushy Gigs Creative, a visual communications firm in Miami. He perfected his artistic skills in the 1990s, as a member of Miami Style Graffiti – a group of teenage rebels founded in the early 90s.
“We had been painting a lot in the streets for a long time,” said Vahan, 33. “It took a lot of years to get to this point.”
Opening day was an accomplishment for Vahan and the other 20 artists ages 23 to 45. Their collaboration titled “Some Like it Hot” will be on display at the former Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 West Flagler St., until April 27.
The homage to the contemporary art form – brought to Miami in the 1990s after the worldwide influence of New York City’s hip hop culture of the 80s— took the artists out of their comfort zones. The fumes kept them from using spray paint indoors.
“Spray paint is volatile. It’s more temperamental. It’s a slow deliberate exercise. You are dealing with drips and control issues,” Vahan said. “Using other techniques wasn’t easy, but worth it. In the end, our work is a love letter to Miami.”
Fine artist Brandon Opalka, who worked to curate the exhibit, said he is proud of the dozen murals exhibited in the 15-feet-tall walls.
"The voice of the working class has become an art form,” Opalka said.
During the Flagler Street Society opening party March 19, Vahan’s two-year-old daughter ran around. Some Miami natives who had never been to a museum before, mingled with art collectors and historians.
“MSG is very family oriented, as far as everyone being close friends and kids growing up together. It’s like a family business,” Vahan said. “Those who think of MSG as a gang have to see the way we paint together.”
Some younger MSG members are still out there committing art crimes. Authorities are still trying to figure out ways to make it harder for them to climb on traffic and commercial signs. Some police task forces still view their vandals' groups as gangs.
Vahan and Opalka said they don't think this is going to change, but the museum exhibit is a hopeful sign.
“Most taggers are focused on expressing themselves,” Vahan said. “The act is rebellious and if you think about it being an artist is not the average thing to do. But people cannot forget that some of them are the artists of the future.”
At 2 p.m., April 19, Vahan, Opalka and Rosa Lowinger, art conservator and writer, will host a panel discussion at the museum, 101 West Flagler St. Entry is free with museum admission.