You must have seen them around. They're kind of hard to miss. Justin Vallee and Jeremiah Taylor walk around town like thrift shop kings, stuntin' rags with so much style they steal the show, always looking for a good time, a good laugh, and a good smoke.
Or, if you haven't seen them, you've at least seen their mark. Together, they are 2Square, and all over the 305 they've at least 30 murals and pieces in their visceral, linear style, hovering about the skyline to give your day a little beauty.
They look like modern-day gypsies, and that's because they basically are. They live off their art, so they live on the street and take it day-by-day, and that's how they like it.
But it wasn't always this way for the 2Square fellas. Not too long ago, they were rich, successful playboys. They were professionals, business owners, home owners. They drove around town in BMWs and Porsches. Still, something was always missing.
The duo first met in Tennessee, Taylor's home-base, when they were 25. That was seven years ago. Vallee was busy running a landscaping business, and Taylor was a hair director in a nationally ranked salon.
They'd always had a passion for the arts, Taylor even had his paintings exhibited around the time they first met. Yet, it wasn't until they started traveling the world that they began to imagine their lives changing drastically. As they were introduced to the different cultures of Europe, they found something that would change them forever - passion, direction, a reason to be.
When they returned, they began to systematically tear down their old lives, selling off the pieces one by one in exchange for a chance to become their dreams.
"There was something so beautiful about pushing away those last possessions," Taylor said. "Those things we loved and cherished, it was symbolic to give them away for something we ultimately love."
It was a freeing crossroads in their lives. They spent years collecting and hoarding the most wealthy of possessions, artifacts of status and success. Now, they found themselves giving them away to friends and loved ones. They sold Jeremiah's Porsche to fund their first trip overseas, and Justin's BMW allowed them to travel all through winter.
Sure, they have a lot less to their names now, but only in a physical sense.
"Now we have to be creative about everything," Vallee added. "You're forced to become someone you never thought you could be or would be."
"Coincidentally," Taylor said with a coy smile, "we're the happiest we've ever been in our lives."
For these guys, the trade-off is real. Just like the art the duo produces, 2Square lives in the streets. They've gone years without modern conveniences most of us take for granted. Imagine having to rely on a girlfriend just for the chance to take a shower or get a hot meal.
"I'll be honest with you," Vallee said sheepishly, "I'm lucky if I get two showers a week."
Vallee lives in a kitschy camper parked in the lot of a warehouse in Wynwood, neighbored by two of the most vicious dogs in town. Taylor won't even go near the place, because he's afraid of being chased down. They used to take the camper all over the country until it died. It's cluttered with clothes and keepsakes, the IDs of friends they've met on the road. Vallee is self-conscious of it, but this is his space, this is home.
Jeremiah lives in a community living space provided by their friend Spiderman. Sometimes bands practice below them, it can get loud but they can't really complain. There is a bathroom and a kitchen, a couple beds hidden among piles and piles of vintage clothes. They can use whatever pieces they like. It's a friendly, albeit chaotic, atmosphere.
They have a studio, though they don't use it for much other than a storage area anymore. But sometimes, they like to climb out onto the roof and look out over Miami. On top of that two-story building, you can see some of their murals sticking out among the skyline. It's a good feeling to look out and see how you've touched the city that has touched you.
The guys first came to here for Art Basel about three years ago, and pretty much right away, they fell in love. They left for London, but felt a nagging need to come back as soon as possible, so they did, and they've been hanging around for a while.
Miami, and Wynwood specifically, have given 2Square a place to ground themselves, a place to develop their craft, a home to grow into. The city is geared toward what they do, and they have made the most of it.
"Being in Miami was a pilgrimage," Vallee said. "This city made 2Square. Miami gave us the chance to do what we do."
Walk around with these guys for ten minutes, and they're bound to run into someone who'll shake their hand and tell them to "keep up the good work."
"It's not just us that can do it, anybody can do it, but you've got to have the right reasons," Vallee said. "You can't say 'Oh, I'm going to make a statement and that's going to make me famous.' That's fucking retarded."
Vallee and Taylor want to get noticed, sure, but any money they earn or fame they attract just means they are closer to their ultimate goal: to travel the world and cover it in paint. They want to share their vision with as many people as possible. They want to inspire others to seek out their dreams and take control of their destiny.
To date, they've painted in South America, Europe and all across the states. They want to travel to Asia, to Isrea, everywhere. Wherever they go, they produce a fair mix of illegal and legally-commissioned work. If they're commissioned for one piece on the side of a business or store, often nearby business owners will often be attracted and commission them for more. In that way, they've got a good thing going.
When working on commission, there's a customer to make happy, and they have to tailor their design to the needs and wants of the owner. But everything is good practice.
"We're surprising ourselves," Justin said. "Each piece we do, it's something new for us as well."
The gypsy life is the perfect gig for them. They're quiet guys. They like the mental retreat of painting all day, left to themselves. Silent workers, they're happy to live in their own worlds outside the normal range of society. They're happiest when they have nothing but themselves, their thoughts and their paint.
"I don't like to talk a lot, and Justin knows what I'm thinking all the time," Taylor said. "I can't keep up with people who talk all the time."
When it comes to their own art, they've got a lot of running themes. They often paint self-portraits, representing themselves as big cats, cheetahs and lions. When Taylor paints, he paints with a purpose, seeing his images as visual poems telling stories of love, desire, oneness with all things. Vallee finds himself using roses and eyes to create feelings and emotions. He also pushes himself to experiment with his left hand, his "Lefty" images. It's important to him that he keep pushing himself forward and trying new things.
"I want to be known for versatility," he said.
Sometimes people are going to paint over their work, and it's just something they've got to deal with. It's part of the game as a street artist. Sure, your work is free and open to the public. It's for the whole world, and that's beautiful, but it's also vulnerable to other people and the elements. It's transient, just like the guys themselves.
But they make the most of these moments, turning a problem into a solution. Like the time they worked almost two months on a mural, celebrating everything from the music of Kurt Cobain and Lil Wayne to the imagery of David LaChappelle and their fallen friends. They were stoked to show it off in time for Art Basel, but someone came by and ran a single stripe through the whole thing.
"It's like a graveyard coming here," Taylor said, shaking his head at the line on the wall.
Instead of crying about it, they set to work and remixed the entire bottom half of the mural. In the end, it worked out for the better and allowed them to be even more creative and expressive with the space. It still hurts a little, but all wounds heal, and sometimes even more beauty can spring forth.
By now, they've covered the whole city in their art, and honestly, they've got the market oversaturated. People are starting to hate on them for it, so they know it's time to hit the road - at least until December.
"We're not the type to play games, but at the same time, we're in the middle of it," Vallee said. "We don't want to leave Miami for a better place. It's our destiny to travel and get back on that gypsy tip."
Over the course of the last couple of years, they've been mastering their crafts separately and together. Now, they're ready to seize the moment and grow even stronger. It's time to take on the world.
Yep, 2Square is leaving, but before they head out, they're showing their work one last time at the "2Square Exiting Exhibition: Now is the Time," going down Thursday, July 27, at Wood Tavern.
Where are they going? They're heading back out to Europe for a street art tour, and they're more than excited to see what they create together out there. A new level must be reached on this journey, and they're looking forward to coming back in time for Art Basel bigger and badder than before.
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They'll be taking their talents to 12 cities with some planned commercial gigs already set up and no doubt lots of free-forming in between. They're not exactly sure about the details, like how they're going to get around or where they're going to stay, but they're not afraid of taking it day by day.
"The universe will work with you," Valee said, "you just have to make the moment."
2Square Exiting Exhibition: Now is the Time. Thursday, July 27, at Wood Tavern, 2531 N.W. 2 Ave., Miami. The show starts at 5 p.m.