After Fatal Scaffolding Collapse, Muralist Hoxxoh Fights Tragedy With Art

The first couple of walls Douglas Hoekzema ever painted were at his high school. He thinks the murals are still there today: three large faces and the school's mascot, a shark.

Almost 20 years after leaving Spanish River High, the artist now known as Hoxxoh has graduated to bigger things. His work, recognizable from its wavy, cobra-like patterns and use of interlinked circles, adorns walls across Miami. In August, the 36-year-old began his biggest project yet: a 25,000-square-foot mural on the side of the Hyde Resort & Residences, a luxury high-rise in Hollywood.

On October 24, as he was working on the outer rings of the nearly complete blue and green design, tragedy struck. The hanging platform Hoekzema and two friends had been standing on broke, and the three fell. Hoekzema and Jonathan Olsen were caught by their harnesses, but the safety line on Raymond Brown's harness snapped. He died on the scene.

Hoxxoh has been devastated by the loss of the 32-year-old artist who was his close friend and right-hand man. But he'll cope by doing what he has always done: making art.

"I'm lucky that Ray helped me stretch all my canvasses; he helped me paint all the murals in Miami," Hoekzema says. "I can pretty much relive that if I'm still doing it, you know? He's there in spirit."

Hoekzema's interest in art began at a young age. In high school, he found a mentor in an art teacher, whom he worked beside on the shark mural. That teacher helped him — and his dad — see art as a career path and a way to make a living.

Typically, Hoekzema starts his murals with just a vague idea of what he wants to do ("What are plans for? What you're really not going to do," he says). He uses a giant compass to map out his signature circles and a spray gun to create his wavy patterns in a motion he says is "kind of like a dance; there has to be rhythm."

His work has been described as looking like a vortex or a porthole. Hoxxoh says it's up for interpretation.

"People are like, 'What is it?'" he says. "I don't know. I don't want to know. I give the wall what it asks for."

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