Ron English spent two years creating his brightly colored mural and deer sculptures at Wynwood Walls. It took thieves less than four minutes to steal them.
Last month, three young men stole English's last remaining deer sculpture. Now the street artist is asking for them to return it.
"It's fine to borrow them but you can't keep them forever," he says. "You've got to bring them home."
On March 2, video cameras at Wynwood Walls captured images of three young, well dressed men scaling a seven-foot partition on 26th Street.
As a security guard paced the front of the graffiti mecca, the men grabbed English's 75-pound metal deer sculpture and hoisted it over the fence.
English says it wasn't the first time the deer were stolen. In fact, there was originally a family of four on display. Developer and Wynwood Walls owner Tony Goldman paid English $20,000 for the sculptures -- about a fifth of their market value -- and asked him to paint a mural to accompany them.
All four of the spray-painted animals were stolen some time last year. But police spotted one of the deer in someone's front yard and were able to "agree to some kind of deal" for its safe return, English says.
Bambi's bucolic paradise didn't last, however. Seven weeks ago, thieves struck a second time, re-stealing the last remaining deer.
English is pissed, not only that "a stupid prank" has undone years of his work but that the thieves broke the most basic unwritten rules of street art.
"Even though I got paid for the pieces, with artists it's never about the money," he says. "We worked really hard to get those deer to Miami. They were part of my popup show on West Broadway [in New York City] and my local town desperately wanted the deer for our visitor's center."
English says he was proud to put his art on display in Wynwood, where thousands of people could see it.
"That's considered the epicenter of street art and I'm a street artist," he says. "Wynwood Walls is like a museum. It's not a private thing. The Goldmans have always kept it open. It's not like they've taken a piece of art and hidden it away from the public."
English has made his own reputation by bending -- and occasionally breaking -- the law. He's bombed abandoned buildings with his murals. He's covered billboards and re-circuited LED displays to reveal his own messages. And he once evaded authorities in order to paint the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
"So much of my art over past 40 years has been kind a criminal," he says. "But I would never mess with somebody's art."
There are rules to art -- including street art -- that even upandcomers should respect, he says.
"If somebody else had made the camo deer and I wanted to mess with it, I wouldn't steal it," he says. "Maybe I'd make a camo wolf and put it there to stalk the deer."
"There is a lot of ethics in this world that I'm a part of ," he explains. "You don't go over someone's art. You don't damage someone's work permanently. Even when we re-wired the billboards, we left instructions of what we did and a bottle of cognac for the workers."
English says his work has been stolen elsewhere, but isn't sure why it keeps happening here. "This is where street art became mainstream culture," he says.
Maybe Miami hasn't yet learned the rules, he wonders. Or maybe it was just too easy to steal them.
"It probably wasn't helpful that the Goldmans acted like [the deer sculpture] wasn't worth much money," he says. "They put it out there like, 'Oh, it's a prank, like stealing someone's mascot.'"
Miami Police have released video of the most recent theft, including still-frames of the faces of three thieves.
"You'd think they are stupid because they did it right in front of a camera," English says. "But they haven't been caught yet."
Despite his anger that his deer have been stolen for a second time, English's message for the kidnappers is one of mercy.
"I certainly wouldn't prosecute them if they brought the deer back."
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