Ocean Drive on Typoe
Words by Becky Randel
Miami native Typoe made a name for himself tagging walls with graffiti. Now he’s going global, eyeing the future, and designing a furniture line.
Typoe at the opening reception— presented by the Miami Design District boutique APT 606 and Spinello Projects— for an exhibition of his works.
In 2006, three budding artists took it upon themselves to establish an outdoor gallery in the then-isolated warehouse district known as Wynwood. They negotiated with landlords, begged fellow artists to contribute, and battled the city to make it happen. Typoe Gran was one of the three. He, Books Bischof, and Cristina Gonzalez called themselves Primary Flight. “We hustled day and night to get each and every wall—it was a full-time job,” says the artist now known simply as Typoe. “We had no idea that it was going to be a catalyst for gentrification.”
As Wynwood developed into the city’s first outdoor museum of street art, Typoe’s name became synonymous with the movement. But the multidisciplinary artist never considered graffiti his medium. “For me, it was more like a sport,” he says. In reality, he had been creating fine art since he was a child growing up in Coral Gables. Unfortunately, Typoe had some other adolescent interests as well: drugs, alcohol, and getting into trouble. At 15, his parents sent him to the progressive Hyde School in Maine, which “pretty much saved my life,” he says. He finally checked himself into rehab at 20 years old and has never looked back. “Going sober was my defining moment, when I said, ‘Goals—I’m going for it.’”
He focused on sculpture, learning as he went. “I would just use things around me. Then I would put it together and make sense of it.” By 2010, the newly christened Miami Arts District was the country’s hippest neighborhood, the same year that Typoe sold a piece at Art Basel Miami Beach titled Confetti Death. It was another life-changing moment. Since then, the artist has had exhibitions in Mexico, Cuba, and Argentina (at the Faena in Buenos Aires). He has designed a line of shoes for Del Toro, toured with Skrillex as his art director, created an installation inside the Faena Bazaar, and designed a collection of jackets. And today Typoe’s career is coming full circle as he returns to the outdoors.
The artist’s first solo exhibition in Latin America, “Forms from Life,” presented his latest body of work at the Faena Arts Center in Buenos Aires.
“Right now a big focus of mine is public art,” he says. “I want people to be able to drive by my work, or go to a park and see it.” Behind the scenes, he and his partners have retooled Primary Flight as Primary, an art collective and gallery, which he views as a way of giving back to the city that made him. “Miami has been going through this renaissance, and we’ve been doing our best to push it in every way we can.” Also ever-changing is the art world and the growing role played by social media.
“A lot of my sales happen just because of that,” says Typoe of his carefully curated Instagram feed. “There’s nothing wrong with doing what you love and making money from it… It’s artwork—there’s art and there’s work. But I stay true to who I am. I’m not going to sell out and start making things that don’t make sense.” Next up? A furniture company, debuting in Little Haiti, where he now lives. Expect it to reflect who Typoe is as a person and extend his work as an artist. “I always ask myself this question: If I die next week, if I die tomorrow, am I happy with what I’m leaving in the world and my contribution?”