On a recent weekday, Douglas Hoekzema stands atop a ladder after sunset, painting a mural outside his Little Haiti studio. The 34-year-old artist, who goes by the street moniker "Hoxxoh," is working by the light of a bonfire fueled with broken wooden palettes and rotting Christmas trees.
Just behind him, a freight train rattles down the tracks, sending sparks swirling into the evening sky and casting Hoekzema's wall-engulfing fractal flower patterns in an amber glow.
After a few minutes, he descends the ladder and walks into the studio he shares with local artist Bhakti Baxter. They call it the "Little Haiti Country Club."
"Every street artist across the world now wants to come to Miami," he says, "to paint a mural or have a show."
Besides creating murals, Hoekzema conjures striking paintings that unify chaos and control. He often mixes science with art. His unusual geometric abstractions will be on view at this weekend's Art Wynwood International Contemporary Art Fair. He'll even create several murals as part of the program.
Now in its third edition, Art Wynwood will feature 70 international galleries exhibiting emerging contemporary and modern works. Katrin-Sophie Dworczak, who curated the show "Cash, Cans & Candy" in Vienna for Galerie Ernst Hilger, has corralled a marquee lineup of global street artists to create original works onsite for the fair.
Joining locals Hoekzema and Brandon Opalka are Colombia's Stinkfish, Mexico's the Stencil Network, Puerto Rico's Alexis Diaz, and Cleveland's Stephen Tompkins.
For Nick Korniloff, director of Art Wynwood, street art has become not only a driving passion but also a reflection of the local community. "It's the next great movement in the contemporary art scene," he says. "It also represents how culturally rich Miami is."
Hoekzema, whose career arc has begun to ascend in the past few years, is the embodiment of the way Miami art is changing. He was born in Colorado but grew up in Boca Raton, where he attended Spanish River Community High School. His dad, Ron, worked with IBM for 35 years and helped the firm develop the photocopier, the artist says. "My father is a man of institutions," Hoekzema reflects. "Early on, he almost became a priest and was later a captain in the U.S. Army before joining IBM."
Hoekzema's mother, Lynn, stayed at home to raise him and his four siblings and encouraged the artist's creative leanings. In high school, he began taking graphic design and painting classes and regularly visiting Miami with friends. "I was into skateboarding and graffiti at a very young age," he recollects. "Miami seemed like the only real city in South Florida, so we came down here a lot to hang out and paint."
That's when he met longtime friend Opalka, a local artist with whom Hoekzema will collaborate on a mural over several days at Art Wynwood. Hoekzema later enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, where he studied architecture and art history.
At his Little Haiti studio, evidence of his training as an architect is on full display as he leans back on a battered swivel chair surrounded by milk crates full of spray-paint cans. Nearby are a drum kit, several ladders, and cardboard boxes stacked to his chest.
Large panes of glass and raw circular canvases line the walls. Hoekzema, who has an athlete's wiry frame, stoops to pull a homemade pendulum he employs in his current work. When he releases the rope over a canvas on the floor, a plastic water bottle at the rope's end begins a rhythmic journey, applying enamel paint to the surface in elliptical drips. The process is aided by gravity and an occasional change of trajectory controlled by his hands.
At times, the artist spray-paints his canvases before surrendering them to chance and the pendulum. "For me, the spray-painting technique in some sense can be super-unforgiving," he says. "I like to hit it with one shot. I'm trying to see how I can push a mark. I started painting on circular canvases so I wouldn't have to be concerned about treating an edge."
Hoekzema has also experimented with spray guns and water sprinklers to apply paint in his works. "I love the viscosity of how the paint flows from the Evian bottle to the canvas, building layers during each pass of the pendulum." Sometimes, he also employs a fan or even wind rushing through an open window.
After graduating from FAU in 2008, Hoekzema, who couldn't find work in the architectural field, took a job at a lumber mill in Fort Lauderdale. A few years later, he found himself spray-painting flower and coral bursts in the Design District and Wynwood.
One of those graffiti works earned him a night in jail. So he figured it would be better for his career if he took a studio rather than continue risking arrest. "I got busted by Miami city cops in Wynwood for painting flower patterns," he laughs. "The cop wrote on the citation that [I had painted a flower], which the judge commented on and I got credit for time served. I decided right then that I would much rather invest the four or five grand in my studio than give my money to a lawyer."
Keeping regular studio hours immediately paid off for Hoekzema, who began drawing the attention of visiting collectors during Art Basel 2012. Last summer, he spent three months in Vienna when a collector offered him an apartment to work.
While there, Hoekzema was commissioned to paint two massive murals on glass for Vienna's Sofitel Hotel. He was also asked to participate in the "Cash, Cans & Candy" exhibition at Galerie Ernst Hilger, which presented works by more than 50 international street artists, including Retna, Shepard Fairey, Faile, and ROA.
"The media attention and support for the work I received was totally unexpected," Hoekzema says. During Art Wynwood, he'll appear at the Galerie Ernst Hilger booth. "I think Art Wynwood is paying respect to local artists and the surrounding community of Miami."