Skate kids kick-pushing up and down the block; a photographer and his model posing against murals in hopes of achieving the quintessential urban fashion shot; two kids getting picked up by cops for graffiti bombing a wall -- Saturday was like any typical day in Wynwood. Except for the group of artists gathered at the Hangar, making hundreds of stickers, like a pack of wide-eyed kindergardeners during arts and crafts time.
STUCK Adhesive Show brought out some of the city's most influential and involved sticker artists to engage the community about a subculture of graffiti that Miami is well-known for, but few people actually understand.
Although the event was scheduled for 2 p.m., some artists began to show up an hour earlier, excited to make, trade, and put up stickers without the heat of being arrested for vandalism. Munchies were munched, hip hop was dropped, and thousands of stickers filled buckets, waiting to be claimed. Adjacent, artists scrawled out their tags on postals (standard USPS labels), showed off their sketchbooks to one another, and even took the opportunity to tag up the table they were working on.
"People come in and make stickers or come in with stickers in hand to trade in the buckets or you can put something on the wall. Writing on the table happened last event, so we just said whatever, we'll let them do it," Vivian Azalia, coordinator of STUCK and sticker artist, said of the happenings.
With a consistent flow of traffic, guests gravitated around the Hangar's front gallery but always managed to end up in the backroom, where the sticker magic happened. Although the small space was consistently full, limited seating at the work spaces didn't bother anyone. Guests pulled up drawing decks and sat on the floor to create, as conversation about the misunderstood art form came up.
Last week, New Times ran an opinion piece by Kerry McLaney, founder of 305 Creative Group, who argued that stickers covering the front of street signs in Wynwood are making the neighborhood unsafe. It didn't bode well with many of the artists participating at STUCK.
"This lady is bad-mouthing stickers, but how else are these artists going to get their artwork up in the streets so they can gain recognition from other Miami artists?" Mrs. USVSTHEBUFF, partner of USVSTHEBUFF, said in response to the article.
"Fine, if you don't want us to do it in public places, even if this is our city, our area where we grew up and were raised, we'll take it to the the galleries. But even in the galleries, you face opposition with gallery owners because the artists that are trying to collaborate and put things together are at the mercy of the gallery owners," she said. In some respects, she has a point. Even the Hangar had its reservations about the success of STUCK, before putting on the event and being impressed.
Miami's artists say they will continue to put out work and adapt in order to survive. "It just gives us more publicity; negative publicity is still publicity at the end of the day," Azalia said. She said she and USVSTHEBUFF collaborated to make STUCK happen because of the overwhelming opposition street artists face.
The New Times editorial pointed to other events, like Go! Shop's Go! Sticker show, as more appropriate venues for sticker art. But Azalia, USVSTHEBUFF, and many other artists in attendance at STUCK said they participated in the Go! Sticker show, and felt taken advantage of. Hundreds of artists donated their stickers to the event, only to find out their work was being sold, with profits allegedly pocketed by the Go! Shop.
"The gallery was being reluctant in giving our stuff back. No, we weren't compensated in any way. We're doing it out of love, and the graffiti writers in the street are doing it out of love, so there's no need to hate or bash on it," Mrs. USVSTHEBUFF said. After three months and multiple artist complaints, the GO! Shop returned items from their last sticker show. Still, the artists say they never saw any money for their work.
STUCK managed to take the negative experience and turn it into something worthwhile. Artists even brought family to the event; RIZ503 came with his 13-year-old son, who also draws. "Art had to start somewhere. It started with scrawling on walls in caves and evolved over time, and it's always been a form of expression where we're not allowed to speak. We get shut down by everybody else; this gives us a voice. It makes it easier for us to express what we do to the public in a more legal fashion. A fashion that's not going to cost us a night in jail, and it's important to us," he said.
Conversation was enthusiastic, and it's clear that STUCK has created a niche for sticker bombers unparalleled by other Miami sticker shows. Azalia and fellow artists plan to keep putting on pop-up sticker shows and dispelling the myth that graffiti and sticker art is a vandal's craft.
"People need to understand that we're not a bunch of criminals and we're not out here to hurt anybody...we're just artists from a different ilk. We didn't choose to pick up a paintbrush and paint on canvas or do self-portraits, and that's not to say that we're not capable of doing those things. This is just what we love to do. This is our art form, and look at all the people that show up for this. Look at all the people that come to Wynwood. The public speaks for itself when they show up," RIZ503 said.
Other artists in attendance and on display included MEEL, ArtChemist, Atomik, Clue, Florist, BMK, MIB, JuanStop, Chy Tea Shoulin, and many more. As the event went on, fat rolls of blank stickers and foot-high stacks of postals shrank, as attendees scrawled, doodled, and tagged them with art. Even digital art was made on iPads with an app known as KRINK, which allows the user to create street art and share it with friends.
"I just think it takes discipline for people to know what to put up and where to put it up. You have radicals that are going to put it up wherever they want. It's just like anything, you have people for everything. You've got the good and the bad and both of the two make the culture and whether people accept it or not, it's always going to be there. It's going to be an art form where everybody's going to do it," artist WHUT said.
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STUCK might not be able to solve all of Wynwood's sticker culture issues, and it doesn't claim the responsibility to do so. But last Saturday was a demonstration in fun, tolerance, creativity, and open discourse, which is all a step in the right direction if sticker art and the people of Wynwood are to coexist.
Get to know some of the artists and the slaps and stickers they made at STUCK Adhesive Show by looking up #STUCKMIAMI and #USVSTHEBUFF on Instagram.