Two Miami originals got together yesterday to merge art and beer at the beginning of the Art Basel frenzy.
J. Wakefield Brewing Company's Jonathan Wakefield and Miami street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue combined forces for a limited-edition version of the brewery's Harbinger beer.
The brew, designed by Wakefield, is a hazelnut coffee imperial sweet stout. The label, designed by Ahol Sniffs Glue, features characters from the artist's film Biscayne World. Only 555 bottles were released to the public, with each one individually numbered and signed by the brewmaster and the artist.
Ahol Sniffs Glue, best known for his street art featuring sleepy, marble-like eyes, wasn't really aware of Wakefield and Miami's craft beer movement until he was introduced to it by Robert de los Rios, owner of Wynwood Map. "Robert spoke highly of Jonathan [Wakefield]; then I started coming here and drinking the beers. I drink a lot, but I drink to get fucked up — I just like to be able to go to a gas station, but this is so cool. The people who come here to the brewery are superchill."
Ahol says the collaboration on the bottle came about organically. "It really was like on a gentlemen's handshake. You like what I do, I like what you do, so let's do something together."
The Harbinger's coffee notes proved to be the inspiration Ahol needed for the label. "That's why one of the characters on the bottle is serving coffee. It really ties in with my Biscayne World characters. It's not eyeball, eyeball, eyeball, but the design is still relevant to me."
Although this was the first time Ahol designed a beer label, the artist confides he came close once before. "About two years ago, I was approached by Vice and Beck's [beer] to be part of an artist's bottle series. I was into it, but because of my Ahol Sniffs Glue name, they shot me down at the last minute. It kind of worked out for the better, because this is more of a Miami approach. It's cozy. It's chill. It's like a hometown thing. I'm all about empowering Miami."
The collaboration may just have made a craft beer drinker out of the self-professed gas-station-beer guzzler. "This is much better than drinking Schlitz malt liquor."
Although Art Basel and Miami Art Week have just begun, Wynwood was a hive of activity, with artists painting every last inch of blank wall and sidewalk while pedestrians snapped pictures to post on their Instagram feeds. Ahol says he's trying his best to enjoy the week without getting too caught up in the hype. "As I Miamian, I see Art Basel in much the same way as I see Calle Ocho or Winter Music Conference. If you're an artist and you're expecting to get discovered at this time, the odds are pretty much against you. There's too much happening. I'll do things that are either cool of financially worthwhile. I just want to enjoy it and not be tied up with so many things. I like seeing all the whack shit, and I like seeing all the cool shit.
"You know, even local artists say, 'Oh, it's Art Basel — I gotta go paint a wall.' Dude, you had all year to paint a wall! Miami is epic, and we have to love our town all the time and not just do something when people are looking. We have to stay busy even when no one's looking. It's a good thing for Miami."
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Ahol also has something to say about the gentrification of Wynwood. "If you're owning, you're loving it, and if you're renting, you have to deal with the repercussions. I make it work."
While Ahol and I talk, a fan approaches him. "I bought a shirt from you, and you sent all this extra shit in the box, and you even drew on the box, man." The artist, who was named Miami's best graffiti artist by the Huffington Post and best street artist by New Times, shows a bit of his alter ego, David Anasagasti. "Man, for years I worked in customer service. I remember that little things, like putting a sticker in a package, mean a lot. I always do that." And with that, Ahol digs into his pocket and presents me with a tiny button depicting one sleepy marble eye.