Eugene "Jobie" Steppe is an artist, but not the kind who wears a beret and paints watercolors by the river. He's the sort who makes a mural reading "Miami City Hall Nazi Party" and then parks it on Pan American Drive right under the mayor's nose for two months.
The small, wiry 65-year-old calls himself a "redneck from Fort Pierce" who was brain-damaged in Vietnam in 1963. "Part of my brains were blown out," he clarifies. "I don't remember it, but that's what they tell me." A knife in a leather sheath dangles from the belt of his khaki shorts.
So Riptide was unsurprised recently when Jobie — as he likes to be called — said he wouldn't back down from city code enforcers who last week began fining him $250 a day for running an illegal art gallery out of his home. "Last time they came by, I said, 'You better call the police before you come again, because I'll fucking beat your ass,'" he says.
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Early this year, he began displaying his colorful mosaics made of cracked, glazed tiles in driftwood frames in front of his home and studio on shady Gifford Lane in Coconut Grove. Code enforcers cited him in June after neighbors complained. They noted some of the murals said "Art by Jobie" and that a website of the same name offered similar pieces for sale at prices up to $395.
After he failed to pay the fine or remove the murals, the case was sent to the city's code enforcement board. Things became so heated at a September 10 meeting that cops escorted Jobie from city hall. "The fines are going to continue," code enforcement director Mariano Loret de Mola said, "until he moves everything from the area in front of his home."
Jobie asserts the city is infringing on his First Amendment rights, and says a recent federal court decision allows him to sell art on the public easement in front of his house. But Riptide points out that a half-dozen tabletops with tile murals are on his front lawn.
"Those are just patio furniture," he says, smiling.