Look at Ruben Ubiera's Wynwood murals and you'll feel like you're in an urban jungle — literally. The 36-year-old artist's signature subject is a giant gorilla appearing in many forms: enraged, contemplative in a pair of eyeglasses, and even dainty, extending a delicate flower between thumb and forefinger.
"The gorillas started as 'the big gorilla in the room' — being the urban arts," Ubiera explains. "I started noticing how some galleries were looking down on that kind of artwork. I'm the generation of animation and comic books. This is the gorilla in the room. It's taking over, slowly but surely."
Ubiera, New Times' Best Street Artist of 2012, at first was reluctant to join the street art movement. He grew up in a wealthy family in Santo Domingo and settled later in idyllic Salem, Massachusetts. Though he loved the visual arts, he wanted to make a living. "I said to my mother, 'I don't want to be another starving artist,'" he remembers.
Instead, he channeled his creative energies into graphic design, moving to Florida in 1994 to attend the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale on a full scholarship. At first, Ubiera says, "I didn't want to leave [Salem]. But once I stepped into Florida, it's like a fungus — it grows on you."
In 2004, Ubiera's mother died of breast cancer. "I didn't cry," he recalls. "The way that I mourned was by making a painting of her."
Soon he was spending his time creating art for himself. He saved money on materials by using found objects such as salvaged wood and discarded cigar boxes.
His savings were gone within a year; he'd become the "starving artist" after all.
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Today he's known as one of the hardest-working artists in town, painting each day from 6 a.m. until midnight. Wynwood Art Walk regulars recognize his face thanks to the many live painting shows he has staged at art events in the neighborhood. It's almost a compulsion, he admits: "I'm very hyper."
Of course, he has also done commissioned murals for government and corporate interests such as the City of Hollywood and Ramada. "The agencies I used to work for are hiring me now, and I can dictate my free time."
Miami's arts scene has also taken notice. He is represented by the Michael Margulies Artist Agency and ended a showcase at 101 Exhibit last week. And there's more to come. "I have books filled with new ideas and concepts," he says. "It's about time to let them out."
Carl Hiaasen | Belkys Nerey >>