Miami has her fair share of graffiti haunts and paint-saturated penits where local and traveling bombers alike have decorated streets for decades. Few are as iconic, though, as Miami Marine Stadium.
Declared structurally unsound after the widespread devastation of hurricane Andrew, the abandoned stadium has been "off-limits" for nearly a quarter of a century. But graffiti loves a challenge, and "off-limits" means "perfect hangout" for fence hoppers, midnight drinkers, restless youth, skaters, and most obviously, taggers.
Now, the stadium is on its way to a new life thanks to the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. The group plans to renovate and reopen the venue, and that's expensive -- $30 million expensive.
One of their first prospective means of fundraising is to sell a series of pieces by renowned and respected graffiti artists, both foreign and domestic. The first of these was recently completed by Bogotá artist Stinkfish, and we got a chance to watch as he did his thing on a perfectly sunny albeit windy day on the Biscayne Bay.
Stinkfish is an incredibly cool guy. The prototypical ultra-chill Colombian, he's easy-going, soft-spoken, grounded, and thoroughly likable. His increased exposure has done nothing to cull what got him where he is today, which is simply the joy he finds in painting.
"I started 11 years ago, in 2003," he explained. "I had this group that we started, just to do little things, just for fun. Everybody starts doing this for fun in the street, and it became bigger, and bigger, and bigger. We became an important group in my city. Then we split, and I began working by myself and with other friends. One thing leads to another."
He's come a long way, but Stinkfish has a firm appreciation for working in his hometown.
"You always know where you can go out and paint without a hassle in your city and where the best walls to work are," he said.
But traveling takes a man to far off places where he can see so much. Stinkfish has developed a strong fondness for traveling and working abroad, and he takes something new from ever venture.
"My first time traveling outside Colombia was in 2007," he noted. "I went to Mexico, and it was really important for me because I know my city and I really like it, but when you travel to other places, you get the chance to see a lot of people and different techniques and styles. When I travel, I'm mostly focused on the work, looking for spots to paint, looking for people to work with. I think, for me, it's best to travel all the time. In the last two years, I've traveled a lot."
Before painting, Stinkfish explained that the portrait at the stadium would be of a Nepalese girl he saw while on a recent visit to the country. Almost all of his pieces start with a candid photograph of an anonymous stranger on some street. He fleshes out the stencil of the portrait as the focal point, then proceeds to paint freehand lines and shapes that radiate from the stranger's face. The tapproach yields a beautiful combination of stripped-down photo-realism and brightly-colored abstraction.
Surprisingly, this was the artists first trip to Miami, but not his first-time painting in such circumstances.
"I used to really only like painting in really public places, with people passing by," Stinkfish began, "but after painting in a couple of abandoned places like this in Europe, abandoned factories and things like that, I've really started to like it. You can let your idea start out as one thing and turn into another thing and keep changing with an open space like this."
He also gave perspective on our famous street-art culture.
"The Bogotá and Miami graffiti scenes are totally different," he continued. "We don't have a strong art market. In classic art we do, but for graffiti and street art, there isn't really a strong market yet. It's beginning, and I think it's going to take a long time to be something real. That's an important difference, because in my city, all the people go out and paint just because they like to do it. They are not thinking about living off of it or having an exhibition or meeting a gallerist. It's impossible to be painting in the street and meet a gallerist, and here in Wynwood, it's full of galleries right next to people doing graffiti.
"Wynwood is a strange place," he continued. "I think it's normal with the buzz about street art now. I've seen it in parts of Europe, like London, and it's the same. Wynwood is special because it's sort of designed around this, but it's normal now in some cities. My country doesn't have that, which on the one hand is really good, because all the people that do it just do it because they like to. You don't have to talk about prices and money and gallery spaces. On the other hand, it's really difficult living off your art if you are only working in the streets for fun."
When he was about halfway through his piece, he reiterated this sentiment more succinctly.
"When money gets involved, it always makes things get complicated."
Listening to him talk about Wynwood and Miami Marine Stadium in tandem was fascinating. The comparative ambivalence and enthusiasm in his voice for the two, respectively, was refreshing to mull over considering how removed the Colombian artist is from this town. With no reason for bias and no sentimental basis but a couple nights and days in the 305, his unburdened perspective was as incisive and on point as anybody who's lived in Miami for years.
As he continued to fill his apportioned wall, his enthusiasm for the place became all the more evident. As the piece grew more and more complex, he seemed to be working faster and faster. When he would take his face-mask off to consider how his efforts, the smile that worked its way across his face between his paint-soiled cheeks made obvious the fun he was having.
After about three hours, Stinkfish decided to keep painting and pulled out a second stenciled portrait. It would be a quicker, smaller painting of another girl from Nepal, but it would prove to be just as intense, energetic and enthralling as the first.
All told, he painted three separate walls, the last of which was an old-school freehand tag repping "Animal Poder Crew" or APC, his crew back home. The pieces he left at Marine Stadium, as well as the obvious pleasure he took in painting them, are worth admiring. They also beg something of an unavoidable question about the stadium's future: What happens to the graffiti?
There are a number of points of view but no clear precedent. While those who experienced Marine Stadium in it's years as an operational venue may remember Elvis or the Beach Boys or Jimmy Buffet, the generation of Miami that has come to know the stadium in the last two decades see it as a place for painting and passing time and getting away from everything on the other side of the fence. The more time you spend there, the more you come to understand that this generation has stained and engrained the concrete bodice of Miami Marine with their own vehement version of local personality.
Rosa Lowinger, who curated the recent Coral Gables Museum exhibit, Concrete Paradise: Miami Marine Stadium, is one of the main preservationists working with Friends of Miami Marine Stadium to bring the bay-front amphitheater back. She recognizes, with no lack of certainty, that the question of the graffiti is one of the most difficult and most important issues facing the stadium's future.
"It will be interesting to see how that plays out because there's no denying that something has happened here since the stadium was closed," Lowinger explained. "While yes, some people who remember it from the old days may want it to be brought back without a drop of the paint that's been sprayed in the last 20 years, you also have to take into consideration the people who will be using the stadium when it reopens and that many, if not most of them, are part of the generation that thinks of Miami Marine Stadium as it stands today. It was the generation that made graffiti a part of the place."
But even more than sentimentality, there are structural and ethical sides to consider.
"From a strictly architectural preservationist point of view, you couldn't just come in here and sandblast or pressure wash every inch of concrete indiscriminately, simply because you might damage the surface integrity of the concrete which would lead to some serious problems. But you also have to look at it from a cultural point of view. The question of whether you can come in here and sandblast everything that's been a part of this stadium and the people who've visited it for the last two decades is a far more complicated question to answer."
Check out the art of Stinkfish at Miami Marine Stadium, 3601 Rickenbacker Causeway
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Key Biscayne, open daily 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. For more info on Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium, visit marinestadium.org.
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