MIAMI- Nestled along Wynwood’s 5th Avenue there’s a mural of a figure painted entirely in black and white. Pictured on its monochromatic surface is a woman, naked except for the long ringlets of hair wrapped constrictively around her body. She sits contemplatively before the viewer, back bowed while pedestrians pass her by.
Surreal-looking spectacles like these can be found scattered throughout the city, all of them authored by Rolando Adrian Avila. At only 25 years old and with less than six of months of residence in Wynwood he’s poised to become one of the more prolific and better-known painters within Miami’s art district.
The Cuban-born muralist and former Angeleno (native of Los Angeles) has roots to South Florida dating all the way back to his days at New World Schools of Arts, a small and selective magnet school known both locally and nationally for its excellent arts and theatre programs.
“Unfortunately not everybody has a chance to do it. I come from a pretty poor family, and the only way I was able to travel and to go outside the city was because of art,” Avila said during a sit-down interview, “I got money to go to California from school, that was the only way. I feel like that’s important for an artist, to be educated. Education is everything.”
To date Avila has created at least 12 murals in Miami, most of them concentrated within Wynwood and the surrounding art district. As a self-described “wall vampire” he often seeks out unadorned spaces within the area to renovate and embellish with his work, masking concrete in a monotint display of long-limbed bodies and lotus flowers.
Avila first emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. at the age of 13, eventually gaining a scholarship to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The most notable thing about his work at first glance is just how stripped-down his pieces tend to be, both literally and figuratively.
“Women in general are a lot more powerful than men to me, especially around [Miami].” -Avila said
The subjects he portrays are predominantly female and nude, implied to be the objects of a male gaze. But there’s also simplicity to the color composition of Avila’s work. He often picks a single shade to dominate the canvas, focusing attention and detail on the subjects of his murals by keeping the palette relatively monochromatic.
As for the nakedness, Avila doesn’t believe his primary subjects are likely to scandalize here as easily as they might somewhere else. Miami’s extensive beach culture brings with it an inordinate preoccupation with body image and physical beauty, making the city a quintessential place for nudity in art to be accepted and, in some cases, even lauded.
“I feel like people [here] really respond to figurative work. I do these girls, and in Miami the body is something that is celebrated.” Avila said.
It’s true that there’s a definite sense of eroticism to Avila’s work, but more often than not it’s purposely coupled with mythological imagery and significance. The women depicted in his paintings and murals often show up in triplicate, a reference to the religious archetype of “triple deity” so often seen in classical literature and art.
They’re goddesses the way you imagine goddesses would look like in the 21st century; slender and statuesque, hair coifed and lips pouted perfectly as if posing for an editorial.
“Women in general are a lot more powerful than men to me, especially around [Miami].” Avila said, “It’s kind of like the whole idea of goddesses, this whole idea of the Greeks and the Romans. To them women were everything.”
These women often appear to be reveling too, frozen mid-pose on the canvas while onlookers are free to gawk at the display of their bodies. Avila’s work is, if anything, voyeuristic in nature. He plays with perception as often as some other artists play with the colors on their mixing palettes and it’s never made clear exactly how we should feel looking in on these private scenes.
The women within his murals almost always have their eyes covered or bound by their own hair, blinded to the audience’s gaze and unable to take in their own surroundings. They appear naked and vulnerable before the viewer, and yet the artist himself describes their sightlessness as transcendent, a reference to a harrowing experience his sister once underwent in Guantánamo after one attempt to emigrate to the U.S.
“At the time my sister was trying to get out of Cuba. She tried to get out through the water because her boyfriend was trying to bring her over here and she got sent back to Guantánamo two times,” Avila said. “She almost died, and they cut off her hair just to be assholes with her. I was doing an illustration at the time just about depression and so I did this woman with her hair wrapped around her face.”
Avila explains most of the story from inside of his studio, a modestly sized, brightly painted room located in the heart of Wynwood. Walking in you can see the artist’s half-finished paintings dotting the main wall that runs along the interior. A pile of surreal-looking prints rest in the corner. The apartment building it’s housed in is also home to the studios of his colleagues, many of whom he spoke about as having an influence over his body of work.
“I think [it’s] one of the most important things as an artist. Especially when I was at Art Center what I learned was [being influenced by] other artists.” Avila said.
Like him, some of these individuals feel conflicted over the commodification of Wynwood’s art scene and the ensuing gentrification of the area. The popularity that events like Art Basel bring to the neighborhood creates more substantial opportunities for urban artists to work and promote themselves, especially when corporate sponsorship becomes a viable reality.
But all that promotion comes at a cost, mainly that the rise in property values now mean that a significant portion of Wynwood’s local artists can no longer afford to live in the same neighborhoods that their murals have helped to commercialize in the first place.
“I think artists should be paid a good amount of money to do what they do because it takes time and it’s hard, you know? If people appreciate it then [they] should appreciate it by helping.” Avila said. “That’s why I feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that happens, especially now that I’m getting lucky enough to get some projects and [have] some people like my work.”
A recent exhibition of Avila’s entitled Paradox Lost ran almost a month ago as part of an Art Walk experience originally hosted by Minimax Events. The display was held at the Mana Production Village, a raw space popular in the area for accommodating everything from art openings to film crews.
Aside from the show, one of Avila’s upcoming public projects includes plans to beautify a local apartment complex sometime in October. His intent is to turn the space into a hybridized showcase for both fine art and street art, one style juxtaposing the other in a strange marriage of aesthetic to functionality.
Collaborating with him on the project will be Reinier Gamboa, another Wynwood artist well known for his figurative painting style and use of religious and tropical iconography.
A contemporary of Avila’s, the Cuban-born Gamboa also spent his youth at New World. His body of work has been exhibited everywhere from the non-profit Locusts Project in Miami to the Nucleus Gallery in California.
“I want to be a fine artist that does walls,” Avila said at one point, explaining the changing nature of his field’s accessibility to the general public, “If you think about it that’s what artists do in their careers. They start by canvas and then later on in their life they do a mural somewhere. I want it to be the other way around.”
Photos: Bea Sampaio/ Rise News
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