Antonio Rubalcava, a Miami-based street artist, is an incredibly open man who speaks in a stream-of- consciousness manner. In this first in a series of blog posts profiling street artists, Antonio spent the afternoon with my deaf dog Edison and me. Though Antonio speaks often of gratitude and humility, he really doesn’t need to give voice to those states of being for they radiate from him naturally. They are palpable in the air, electric, as he goes about his day.
When Edison and I first met Miami-based street artist Antonio Rubalcava, I was immediately struck by his warmth, his openness and his strong sense of purpose as an artist and as a human being. Though Antonio speaks often of gratitude and humility, he really doesn’t need to give voice to those states of being for they radiate from him naturally. They are palpable in the air, electric, as he goes about his day.
Before meeting in person, my relationship with Antonio had been limited to Instagram comments and messages. You see, every day, I share photos of street art on Instagram, both with and without my deaf dog, Edison. My Instagram is an explosion of murals, walls and art in the Wynwood, Little Haiti and, more recently, Little River neighborhoods of Miami as well as photos I shoot during my annual trips to Paris.
I’m not sure I can authentically claim the moniker of “artist”, but if I can, nouns and verbs are my media. I’ve never attempted painting and I’m afraid that I am more skilled at adding color with carefully chosen adjectives than I ever could be with actual paint. I have pipe dreams of trying my hand, but so far, I’ve been a chickenshit.
I have such respect for all visual artists but most especially street artists. There is a frenetic urgency about street art and graffiti that speaks to me. Maybe it’s because I am a 14-year old rebellious boy at heart.
Maybe it’s because I think art is for the masses, not just the moneyed elites and investor-collectors.
Maybe it’s because street artists break all the rules or not, create new ones or not, pushing themselves and each other into new terrain or not, developing a community, cultural norms and a vernacular in the process.
Or maybe it’s because an explosion of sucker-punching art in an unexpected place just turns me on.
I’m a bit jealous of street artists, not only because in my pipe dreams I too could paint, but because of the rebellious historical beginnings of their craft, the context in which they work, as well as the political and social commentary and the personal confessional themes that are so frequently expressed. I read somewhere once that post-graffiti street art is the most important development in recent contemporary art, and though I am not a student of art history, I suspect this is probably true.
The sheer purpose and profound function of street art inspires me. My arm hair tingles. I can hear my blood thundering through my arteries. I can feel my synapses heating up then firing and I get all the feels.
It is my profound respect and admiration for street art and artists that led me, quite by happenstance, to melding deaf dog messaging with street art. You see, I have two deaf dogs and deaf dog awareness, training and education is a passion of mine- one of my missions if you will. Both deaf dogs and street art spark me to create.
In my own small way, I try to promote the artists. In each photograph I share, I tag and credit the artist if I know her or him. If the work isn’t signed, I always ask my artist friends or my followers to tell me if they know the artist. Though I am the amateur behind the camera, the soul of my digital polaroids is the art and a very special deaf dog named Edison.
The first time I had a conversation with Antonio, it was after I shared a photo of Edison in front of one of his walls and tagged him. In the months after, we developed an Instagram friendship of sorts, and I have shared his work a few more times. When he agreed to let me write this post about him, we met up at Panther Coffee in Wynwood, Miami.
Since Edison is much more recognized than I am, I told Antonio to look for the large, white bully-breed dog and he’d know he had found me. Antonio told me I’d know it was him because he’d be covered in paint.
Edison loves this mural by @antoniorubalcava at @outofthecloset thrift shop, where 96% of all profits go towards HIV/AIDS services! Shop here, donate here and enjoy the art of @antoniorubalcava! #deafdog #woofandwalls #miamistreetart #hiv #deafdogsrock #dogsofmiami #antoniorubalcava #outofthecloset #miamiart
He wasn’t kidding. Paint covered his jeans, his shoes, his hat, his hands. He had even painted the frames of his glasses. We locked eyes half a block away and greeted each other with a handshake. Then he pulled me in for a hug.
We sat down and I asked him an innocuous question, an icebreaker of sorts, but without proper notes or a recording of our conversation, I couldn’t tell you what my question was. I do remember him reaching down and scratching Edison’s ears, gently connecting with the magical creature that brought us together, as he began to talk. I also remember that Edison stayed glued to him the entire time.
Antonio is an incredibly open man who speaks in a stream-of- consciousness manner. A single question led him to sharing twenty minutes or more of stories. How meaningful it was to spend time with an artist who knew so little about me but trusted me and spoke so freely about his life, his work and how he views his work and himself as an artist.
Antonio is a self-taught artist whose physical body is integral to his creative process in a very specific way.
He began painting three years ago when a friend gave him some paint during a period of disruptive changes in his personal life. Antonio began throwing and flicking paint with his fingers on a canvas laying on the floor, following his gut and budding artistic intuition. Flicking paint is still a technique he still uses today, even on mind-blowingly massive vertical projects such as the Voodoo Lounge in Miami Beach that he just completed for Art Basel 2016.
His work is visceral in the most literal sense of that word, for he uses only his fingers or hands, never a brush. His spray art involves short, rapid zig-zags, his wrist brunting the weight of bringing Antonio’s vision to life. Whether working on a canvas or a wall, each piece frequently leaves Antonio’s fingers, hands, wrists and forearms swollen and painful.
For Antonio, painting is a spiritual process. He will tell you that he feels that he is merely the conduit for the art, that his work is greater than he. It already exists in some ethereal sense; as an artist, he simply gives it form and breathes it to life. His attachment to the work is temporary and finite; once a piece is complete, it is no longer his. He feels that the wall is for the community, and he believes his canvas work, once finished, now belongs to someone else.
He tells stories of meeting strangers, even at one of the three gallery showings he had during his first year of painting, demanding they stay put as he rushed home to grab a painting that he felt compelled to give them because he sensed, no, he knew, that it belonged to them. He may have lost a sale- or not- but for Antonio, the work was with the person to whom it belonged and that encapsulates Antonio’s artistic spirit.
One day, I hope to see more of Antonio’s canvas work in person. The photos he has shared and the few I have seen at exhibitions reveal more of Antonio, his unique use of mixed media and an authentic process that he has honed, one that allows him to share with the world even more of the world he knows, the one he wants to inhabit and his gentle, humble spirit.
To connect with Antonio, to commission a private piece or to view more of his work, go here.
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