Finding the Perfect Canvas in the Unlikeliest Places
Miami mural artist José Mertz turns his local streets into a modern-day art gallery.
José Mertz is not your average creator. He’s gone from graduating Maryland Institute College of Art in 2002, to eight years studying Zen in the confines of a monastery, to delivering his take on the world on huge walls across Miami for all to see.
But his first canvases were like many beginner artists doodling and scribbling on text books at school as a way to find his voice. “At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just scribbling on my homework. I was that archetype. I was in the back of the class drawing, super-introverted, didn’t really want to relate to what was happening but I had a bunch of ideas in my head,” says José. “Then it got to a point where now as an adult, I had to ask myself ‘What am I going to draw now? What am I really going to say with this? Where will it take me?’”.
Initially it took him to upstate New York and a Zen monastery. “Everything was very pristine and clean. The only things that were represented in traditional 2D art were ink paintings. Those ink paintings, although they were very simplified, they were very beautiful and very flowing. It wasn’t so much about the visual outcome, it was more about the philosophy behind it (that I was attracted to).”
“When you’re in a heightened mental state like that and it’s very contained, those images really resonate. It then becomes something I was trying to emulate and influenced by respectively. It became something that was a part of my life. That was the art in me and all the time now.”
José left New York confident in his creative flow and the style he had started to develop. “I saw that technical art and graphic arts was very hard edged. It’s very zeros and ones. My hand naturally has a flowy vibe to it. The hand and the wrist have a certain range that they can do.”
Back in Miami people gravitated to José’s Eastern-influenced art style and he decided he would try to develop it on the street.
“It all started from a spark with friends. We just wanted to showcase our work on a larger scale and be noticed in the midst of tons of murals throughout Wynwood and Miami.”
“I think we’re conditioned to think that art is only viewed in institutionalized places like a museum or an academic school, and now that more and more people are aware of it being in the street or in their actual environment, their communities and their life, it’s not like you’ve got to go pay a ticket to go see it, you now live with it,” says José.
Not only are the places where we now see art changing but now people’s attitudes towards street art are also evolving. “I think people are more open to having art in their daily lives, more people appreciate it. Whether you’re into playful, or serious political art, or whatever the case may be, just having that human touch of paint people relate to that more. It encourages more people to do it. I think that’s awesome. I think that’s great because just like a fingerprint, everyone’s going to reinterpret an idea differently and you can’t fabricate that. People that do street art are starting to be more recognized as individuals,” says José.
“Hard work, determination and a true passion to create something that truly embodies you, that’s the end game.”
But making a name for yourself in street art is not as simple as painting it on a wall. “Just like anything in the beginning, it’s not attractive. It’s grueling,” he explains. “Everybody wants to draw good, everybody wants instant results, I guess like working out. Everybody wants a six pack, but nobody wants to do the crunches.”
Hard work, determination and a true passion to create something that truly embodies you, that’s the end game.” His lion’s attitude is visible in his street murals and body art. “I’m kind of relentless. I have tigers and crazy beasts all over me!”
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