We’re launching a series called “Meet your Makers,” where local artists interview other local artists about their craft.
This time we’ve got Stuart Sheldon, a Miami-based artist, interviewing Douglas “Hoxxoh” Hoekzema, who got his start as a graffiti artist and is now all over South Florida. He’s working on his biggest project ever now: a 25,000 square-foot mural. We heard all about how he got there. Watch the interview:
If you want more highlights from the interview, there’s a transcript below. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
Stuart: Hox, the very first time I met you was at Fancy Nasty, when I got a call from your friend Brandon Opalka on a Tuesday at 9 p.m. and he says, “Dude, I gotta paint. Can I get over to the house?” So I met him there and you jumped out of the car. And for the next four hours you guys went bananas on the back wall of this thing. Just beers, paint, shit talking. It was a beautiful thing. I get the feeling you are one of these “I gotta paint” kinda artists. Would you say that’s a fair description?
Hoxxoh: Yeah, paint, make. That’s definitely a must. I can only relax for a couple days and then I can’t sit still. … In Miami, my work is all commissioned. I rarely just go out and paint. What you got that night was how it started. Brandon and I, we’ve been painting together for over 20 years. That night, we both had time, we both had paint.
I started painting when I was 15 or 16. That’s when I met Brandon. He was a part of MSG [one of Miami’s original graffitimuseu crews] And I was kind of the background guy, more or less, and painted here and there with them. I didn’t really get down with the crew until like 2006. In my college years I was studying architecture and when I’d get some rare breaks I’d come down to Miami and paint with my crew.
The graffiti aspect for me wasn’t so much about vandalizing. I was definitely not a good graffiti artist. I got caught a lot. I learned the hard way in that sense. My favorite thing about the crew and graffiti is the like-minded people and really good support and learning. The thing I like is there’s a competitive aspect. You gotta always bring your A-game. And if your shit’s whack, you’re gonna hear it first from your friends. And if it rides and nobody paints over it, that’s like the ultimate compliment.
For a while anything we painted got toyed, people messed with it immediately because of the reputation – some of our members in the crew in the younger years were not liked so much. I luckily never had any problems with that. In our later years, we’ve grown, a lot of us have families and businesses and we’re still making it happen. We’re definitely a little dysfunctional and not organized as some other crews but super happy to have been a part of it and still be in it. It’s really good support.
Stuart: As far as the street art scene goes in Miami, I’d say you guys are royalty.
Hoxxoh: Definitely we’ve done our time on many levels.
Stuart: One of the things I find really interesting about your evolution and what I know of it is that it does come from this real street thing and kind of grinding it out in the dark with your buddies, but your work now is super elegant. We were actually in a show together recently that Kathryn Mikesell curated, the Black. White. Show, where you had one of your pendulum pieces in there. … I stood in front of that piece for quite some time, just studying it, just trying to understand the physics of it. It’s on this beautiful linen and it’s just so elegant. So peaceful.
Hoxxoh: Thank you. All my work is based on a mechanism. The early years and graffiti and this love for spray paint and the immediacy of it, it grew into what can it do? What are its capabilities? What mark can it make? And what can I do with that mark? I think it was 2008 or 2009, I discovered this mark… [and began] painting it over and over and over. And through this repetition I started discovering these other patterns it can make and then it became containing the madness.
So the logical thing was “I can do a freehand circle and only paint in that.” And the next step was increase the scale of the circle. And then, for the last year or so it was concentric rings, which is read as a mandala. And then this current year I offset the rings, which is being read as a portal or a vortex. And in that sense it’s really exciting with my work, reducing it just to this one mark and one mechanism and then [I expanded to using] these ready-made guns that you’ll find in Home Depot: an airless spray gun or the weekend-I’m-gonna-paint-my-picket-fence little gun. That makes a different mark.
Stuart: And then taking that mechanism and just blowing it up 100 times, like with that crane that you did, that pendulum in that parking lot. Bro, mad respect! I mean the work itself was beautiful. The mere notion of it was exhilarating. And then just to watch it was mesmerizing. … On the bucket, on the crane. I’m like, this guy is a fucking genius.
Hoxxoh: That was really cool to discover that. It doesn’t matter, scale. It still works the same. Whether it’s a six-foot string or a 30-foot string. And what was more exciting was that’s only the second level. The next phase I have this series, I want to use a helicopter.
Stuart: You heard it here people.
Stuart: You just moved into a new studio in little river…
Hoxxoh: Where I’m at is Little Haiti. The nickname of my studio is Little Haiti Country Club. There was a show a couple years ago that was called Little Haiti Country Club. And it was something that came about because I shared a studio with Bhakti Baxter and for the first two or three years we got robbed once or twice. And we managed to buy all our tools that they stole just to have them stolen again. We installed camera equipment just so we could watch people rob us. Watch the cop do nothing about it basically.
… And then this January I moved into a permanent studio, right across the railroad tracks from where I was for about five years. It’s small. It’s definitely the smallest studio I’ve ever had. But it’s perfect.
Stuart: So as a guy who’s been there from the days when it was hectic, sort of Wild West and now it’s getting fancier and cleaned up, does it feel good? Is it a productive vibe? Are you feeling it?
Hoxxoh: I have mixed emotions on it. All in all it’s positive. I think it’s more of a let down that when the new developers came in and bought up everything, there was a promise of like a pizza restaurant. And it would have been so great if I could walk 100 yards from my studio and get something to eat and go back and then that never happened. … The security’s nice. I gotta say that. Things are a little safer. But it’s still a long way.
Stuart: It feels real. There’s a lot of real makers, a lot of good artists, and I’m feeding off their energy. I have a studio by myself, so I’m alone in a big warehouse, sweating, painting, working, which is fine. It’s how I like it. But when I go in there and close the door, I know that a few doors down and few blocks over there and few or over there, shit is happening right now and it’s pumping out into the world and I’m feeling that vibe.
Hoxxoh: That’s nice to hear. Because it was for a while, for a year or two, just Bhakti and I over there… There’s been a really good community of artists that have moved in there. It’s really brotherly. It’s really awesome.
Stuart: Does Miami feel fruitful for you? Is it productive? Are you amped about it? How does Miami feel as a place for your thing?
Hoxxoh: I’m very grateful. It’s definitely grown. I remember when there was nothing going on. People had this illusion because of what they experienced during Basel that it was like that all year, and it totally wasn’t. The community is not a huge community. There’s probably like 100 to 150 artists in the Miami area, and everybody more or less knows everybody. And I’ve been very lucky to have nothing but really good support.
In Miami it’s exciting ‘cause it has been growing. Just having an amazing museum [PAMM], a Herzog & De Meuron world class building, that gave a lot of pride. I do have a lot of pride being from Miami.
It has its pros and cons. Summers are rough. It’s really hard to work here, but there are shows that are happening now and there are a lot of different art events that didn’t happen four or five years ago because nobody was here.
Stuart: What do you want? In Miami, in your art? In your life? What are you dreaming of?
Hoxxoh: Maybe dreams. I really try to stay away from wants. I am dreaming. Things are extremely surreal for me right now. I don’t even know…to keep going in the route that I’m in currently. This past year has been really big. And I feel where I am right now is what I wanted. And I feel like, “Oh, shit”.
Stuart: Be careful what you wish for.
Hoxxoh: I’m trying to figure out how can I do something minimal?
Stuart: Especially after this, I mean talk about a juxtaposition. This epic 25,000-square-foot wall you’re doing now, it seems like, yeah, of course the next thing is gonna be minimal. Of course it’s gonna be the least amount of marks for the most amount of impact.
Hoxxoh: I’m thinking black and white right now… no color. Somehow find restraint after leaving five weeks of straight painting.
Stuart: Five weeks of straight painting: Hox is doing a piece right now for the Related Group. The largest piece he’s ever done. 25,000 feet on a wall just a block down the street. Images are on the website. And it’s amazing! I just stood in front of this thing early on and it already looks bananas. Epic. Beautiful. And Hox just told me, “He’s just getting started.” So tell us a little about, what is this gig? This is the biggest gig you’ve done in your life, that’s a pretty seminal moment. What does that feel like? You got a handle on it?
Hoxxoh: I think I got a handle on it. I’ve been wanting a wall of this scale for, you can ask my wife, it something I’ve always wanted…a monster wall… and I got it. It’s exciting because after I’ve been painting for several years, and I’ve done some pretty big walls and worked with a lot of different lifts and different countries and there’s different setups and different paints, different environments, different temperatures, it’s a whole new ballgame because of the swing stage and the scale.
For instance, a wall I just did in DC, there’ll be a pass I’d do that will take me five to 10 minutes. Well, on this wall, it’s 45 minutes to an hour just to do one run, of how many marks… I don’t think I really want to know how many times I actually hit it. … When I’m up there working, it reads big and then I go down and look at it and it’s like an M&M up there.
Currently, where I’m at on the wall, it’s everything I know with the can, and I can get the mark to be around two feet. I’m only on one-sixth of the wall. So the scale, I’m excited because I get to get into these other spray guns that I’ve been wanting to push. And even into some more traditional painting techniques, just because I want the scale to expand, where the first mark is two inches and then when it gets down there it’s 40 foot by 20 foot… that mentality. That pattern’s gonna expand.
Hoxxoh: Typically, I have very vague plans, and I work it out on the wall. The wall asks for what it wants, so to speak. It’s always very, what am I working with, what kind of lift, what kind of ladder, how’s the ground, where it’s a dance, how can I keep this rhythm and work the wall. So it’s really cool. It’s all these new opportunities to learn and experiment more. So I’m really excited about it.
Stuart: So you’re where you want to be now. So five to 10 years, what do you hope you’re doing?
Hoxxoh: I plan on having this balance of the public realm of these large scale murals or city-sized installation and keep pushing that. That will entail these large printing spray machine. And an idea I have is embracing the performance aspect of installing a mural. Kind of thinking of it as a choreographer is something I’m really intrigued with. At the same time I can’t wait to buy a finca in Colombia and build a studio there and have a lot of animals that think they’re all dogs. I want to have them as confused as possible. To own land, that’s something I really want to have. And to keep doing what it is I’m doing. It’s interesting. I don’t really set too many goals. They’re very loose goals I’ve always had.
Stuart: Miami is so stoked. Your work is magnificent. Your personality is fresh and real. And it’s really nice to see you doing your thing. Thank you for doing it!
Hoxxoh: Thank you.