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The art of ‘tapenology’

Marcus Blake is Miami’s ultimate renaissance man. He’s an artist, a painter, an event organizer, poet, musician, and a writer. You’ve probably encountered his art in some form without realizing it.

A master of subtlety, Blake’s work can be found on t-shirts, in magazines, and most recently all over the walls of Little Haiti and Little River. He’s previously worked as a fashion designer and even started his own clothing line. He then moved on to performance art, hosting the beloved “The Imperial” open-mic night at the popular, and now closed The Vagabond and The Stage.

Blake’s most recent project brings color to the walls of Little Haiti and Little River. His vibrant, geometric pieces can be found boldly wrapping full walls, or peeking out of small corridors and alleyways. We learned a little more about Blake and what inspires his many talents.

Marcus Blake
Marcus Blake (Courtesy of David H. Dennis)

How did you get started as an artist?

I was born in Jamaica and I moved to Miami when I was about 8 years old. As I got older, I started off by working in fashion. I designed a clothing line and I was a fashion designer for the South Beach Times. I started to write and paint on the clothes, not really thinking that I was an artist.

I got more and more into poetry and switched from fashion and got into writing. I hosted my own open-mic night between The Vagabond and The Stage, and I did that for about 8 years until they closed down. Then I was ready for a transition, so that’s when I really got into painting.

But in between all of these things, I never completely stopped the others. While I was designing, I was still writing. And while I’m painting, I’m still doing other things. For example, last night I did an avant garde play at Inhale Miami. So, I don’t work in just one medium.

How do you describe your current work?

I call it “tapenology.” It always starts the same way — you have to prepare the surface of the building and shave away the air pockets. I won’t tell you the whole process, but basically the colors underneath are all spray paint, and the geometric patterns are all made with tape.

It was just something I felt like I had to create. and I’ve always done it in some form. I just decided to finally take it to the streets last December.

The first one I did is actually not there anymore. It was on 71st St. and NE 2nd Ave, but the building just got painted over. The second one is on NE 2nd Ave. as well. It’s on a gas station on 76th St. That one is totally different from the stuff I’m making now. It’s not painted underneath.

Though they look similar, each piece is personal and the art evolves over time.With each piece I make, I learn things. I think it’s like a high form of meditation. That’s why the art looks very geometric, like I’m in a clear mind frame.

It takes about 6-7 hours to do the taping. Just the first section of the last one that I did took almost 9 hours to tape down, then an additional 3-4 hours to paint. It’s like a full time job. I wake up, drink my coffee, leave by 7 a.m., and then I work for 7–12 hours straight.

What inspires your design?

I don’t know what inspires it, to be honest. It’s a mentality. I like vines, nature, and geometry. If you let a vine grow, it will totally consume the building. When I’m painting these buildings, I become the vine, the nature.

When you look at the patterns in a tree, it grows and splits then splits again. So in my work, I split it into geometric shapes, and I think that there are triangles in everything. I keep splitting and breaking down the work into different triangles. Once I let it flow, the patterns build themselves.

I see your pieces all over Little Haiti. Sometimes they’re a whole wall, and other times they’re just a small column. Why is this? How do you decide what to paint?

I never intended to paint buildings. I was more drawn to things like doors, walls, and very specific objects. When I drive through the city, my eyes are drawn to specific parts of the buildings.

When I find the right spot, I usually ask building owners if I can paint their location. If you just paint without permission, your art will just be painted over. Then, while I’m painting, people often stop me and ask me to take a look at their wall and we usually make it happen.

There’s one location I’m still plotting on. It’s an all square bus station, and every time I pass it, my brain tells me I have to paint. When all the conditions are right, it’ll get painted.

Why did you pick Little Haiti?

I live in Little Haiti. I love this area. So I’m kind of obsessed with this little square. Being an artist, I could easily take my talent to Wynwood, but I live in Little Haiti and the art has to be where I am. I want to inspire the people where I am instead of being just another painting on a wall in Wynwood. I want to create my own scene. I want to give the color and inspiration to this neighborhood.

Also, the neighborhood has the architecture to support it. It’s a space where, previously, art wasn’t happening, so I wanted to be a trailblazer. Now my art has become part of the facade of the building — it doesn’t really stand out, it’s merged into the building like a vine. I really think art is like nature, so I’m also pleased to see where it has gone and how it has evolved over the years.

In Little Haiti, I’ve covered more than 60 locations in one year alone. Now people see the work everywhere and think something is alive and happening in the neighborhood. The art is physically in motion and is moving around Little Haiti.

While I think Little Haiti is the center of is where this work is all happening, I have work as far as 18th Ave and 62nd St., to 14th St. and 3rd Ave. in Downtown Miami, and I have some pieces in Overtown. I like to put the art where it’s not normally expected. Art changes people. In places like Overtown and Liberty City, I wanted to introduce the art to help people think differently, feel differently.

Everyone needs art, I think the geometrics and the symbolism in my pieces change the way your brain works. For example, I was painting a wall on 64th St., which is filled with drug abuse and people walking around the alleys. People would stop and gather while I painted, and as they saw the shapes taking form, they would tell me they were starting to feel different. I’m not sure why – maybe the art gives them something else to think about. Something else to feel.

With that said, I don’t think art necessarily has to “say” or “do” something. And to say art has to do something puts a lot of pressure on the artists. Not everything has to make a statement. It can just be an expression, and for me that’s the best part.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on some poetry and some new music. In February, I’m planning restarting on The Imperial, an open-mic series I used to run. They will be at four locations throughout the month — MADE at the Citadel, Churchill’s, a new spot in Wynwood, and the last one is still up in the air. I’m also working on an avant garde performance art play.

In the next few weeks, I also have two more buildings to paint, and while they will be tapenology and have the same geometric patterns, they will look totally different. The pieces are a constant evolution, and that’s what I like.