HOW THE WORLD’S LARGEST CURATED STREET LEVEL ART EVENT, PRIMARY FLIGHT, EARNED IT’S WINGS.
Words by Anthony Spinello
PHOTOGRAPHY Paul Bruno, Jess Weos / VIDEO Jess Weos
BooksIIII Bischof is part SKH, 100% Florida grown gringo, and 100% Primary Flight.
In December of 2006, BooksIIII felt the influence of Art Basel Miami Beach resonate through Wynwood. The district, formerly known as “El Barrio” as part of a 1950’s Puerto Rican colonization, became a frequent locale for BooksIIII — as a graffiti artist he grew very familiar with the innards of its urban landscape. As a fine artist, he housed works with spicy Venezuelan collaborator Srta. Cristina (SKH – She Kills He) in the Spinello Gallery, a convertible walk-up apartment art space on North Miami Avenue. As satellite art fairs began migrating to Wynwood, the sharp-eyed artist detected Art Basel’s spreading impact. Fairs such as Scope, Pulse and NADA made the emerging neighborhood’s possibilities very obvious.
In 2006, Wynwood’s visible track marks consisted of heroin street zombies, a handful of galleries, and the omnipresence of a few real estate moguls: Rubell Family Collection, The Margulies Collection, and MOCA at the Goldman Warehouse. It was also the one-year memorial of OBJEX Artspace, which dated a myriad of top street artists of the time and played a significant role in Miami street art culture since 2001. BooksIIII, an OBJEX alumnus, had his signature marks plastered all over Wynwood: in the same year, the artist went from ‘mark marker’ to bona fide corporation. Primary Flight was conceived. The idea was simple — artists would use Wynwood’s nearly unlimited outdoor surfaces for painting murals. The neighborhood’s natural landscape provided the perfect canvas for reconceptualization as monumental works of art. Anthony Spinello arranged with local property owners the installation of three large scale murals. One wall on the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 34th Terrace was decked with two murals by SKH and Santiago Rubino. The other mural, by SKH, “And The Circus Comes To Town”, adorned the face of a bodega on NW 2nd Avenue, directly across from Scope.
In 2007, Primary Flight officially took off and journeyed through the uncharted Wynwood corridors. The exhibition was billed as “Miami’s First Curated Street Level Group Exhibition,” curated by BooksIIII, Anthony Spinello, and Lynn Yohana Howard. A cast of 26 artists were invited on the first excursion. On the first week of December the international parade of art lovers virtually flew standby as they witnessed and interacted with artists on the streets producing their murals day and night. The public could conveniently visit the new website, and download the first map outlining the final destination of each participating artist. This historic flight marked the first year in which Wynwood’s framework was vitalized with a previously unseen energy.
In 2009, Tony Goldman, a developer known for revitalizing decaying neighborhoods such as New York’s SoHo, and South Beach, Miami, saw an opportunity to capitalize on his Wynwood property investments and decided to hitch a ride on the graffiti beerwagon. Along with SoHo buddy and art world icon Jeffrey Deitch, Goldman provided a number of his properties for the first phase of Wynwood Walls to artists Aiko, Os Gemeos, Nunca, Stelios Faitakis, Jim Drain, Shepard Fairey, Futura, Barry McGee, Ara Peterson, Clare Rojas, Kenny Scharf, and the team of Swoon, David Ellis and Ben Wolf. Deitch’s stamp of approval in Wynwood undoubtedly cemented and, for many, legitimized what has already been established by the true visionary and pioneer — BooksIIII. That same year Miami Graffiti, a vibrant 176 page book was released by Prestel. Within the book is an extensive collection of over 200 Miami murals documented by James and Karla Murray. Many of the images captured were Primary Flight murals.
In 2010, the sideshow — which initially consisted of a handful of murals by several local artists — became the ultimate street art conference in the world and consequentially flipped the script on the impact of street art and its significant role in increasing property value in a new urban renaissance arts community. Primary Flight is officially the world’s largest event of its kind, having featured over 250 artists from around the globe since its inception.
Dirty caught up with Primary Flight founder BooksIIII Bischof on December 8th, 2010, three days after Primary Flight.
DIRTY: WHAT HAPPENED?
BOOKS BISCHOFF: (Laughs) Oh man, I don’t know dude. It was unbelievable. The city is destroyed. It feels so good. I’ve seen fucking cops in the street flirting with bitches while kids just ravaged the city. That shit is amazing. (Laughs) Thank God that can happen.
D: WHAT WERE SOME MEMORABLE HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST WEEK?
BB: In 2009, PF started off with Slow getting arrested for painting and Hox setting a property on fire. In 2010, Slow gets into town for no more then two hours. Hox and Slow are now together and Hox’s car gets run over by an 18 wheeler (Laughs). Welcome to Primary Flight 2010. What the fuck happened? I don’t know.
How and Nosm’s mural is the most unbelievable thing in the city and somehow Anthony Lister convinces the property owner to smash a sports car into the wall so that he can paint the car to make it look like it’s on fire. Now he has a smashed Viper up against the wall. How the fuck anyone can convince another person to do that shit is beyond me! Retna’s show at Primary Studio, Silver Lining, was included in Esquire’s Miami (Art Basel) Five-O: All the Artists You Need to Know. What a way to come out fighting. And I got my first lesson in the blue chip hustle of dealing art. Crash course number one.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST LESSON?
BB: Taxes, taxes, taxes… come from many many hands. When there is money to be made, there are handouts that are going to be asked for. And that this shit is so good. I think in the most positive way, the circus that we were out to throw our middle fingers up at turned out into a sideshow. It’s unreal how many fucking people came here to just paint.
D: HOW MANY PEOPLE PARTICIPATED IN PF THIS YEAR?
BB: Officially, approximately 125 people. Unofficially, it’s not Art Basel — it’s Primary Flight. And that shit is why people are coming to Wynwood. How much revenue was made in the streets of Wynwood? Please come at me with your anger! I fucking drove a flood of people into that district for those fuckers to make money. I don’t even want to hear that you don’t like graffiti. Fucking up your neighborhood is making you more money then it ever has.
D: WHO IS PF’S M.V.P. FOR 2010?
BB: The M.V.P. this year is Hox. Not only are his paintings sick as fuck, but that guy is working hard as shit. If it wasn’t for him, PF wouldn’t have worked. Hox is the truth in the word: hustle. I’ve never seen any human being like him before. Hox is the million-dollar man. If you should give money to anybody, you should be giving Hox like twenty bucks just for showing up at your fucking wall — “Hox, good to see you nigga, let me give you some money.”
D: WHAT IS PRIMARY FLIGHT?
BB: I don’t know what it is. It’s a scary dream. It’s fucking amazing. Primary Flight is not just about making murals anymore. We are guiding culture throughout the streets of Miami. Contemporary art in some definition of the word is almost typical, bourgie, and boring. Graffiti and street art is truly contemporary art. It breaks the boundaries. Over the course of 30 years it has always been evolving and reinventing itself. It’s always the freshest and the newest. We truly have our thumb on the pulse of the culture.
Street artist TYPOE and Dirty have a phone chat:
DIRTY: WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN PRIMARY FLIGHT?
TYPOE: I am one of the Creative Directors. I secure walls from local property owners such as Craig Robins, David Lombardi, Tony Goldman, Tony Cho, and Alex Saa, and curate them.
D: HOW DO YOU SELECT THE ARTISTS FOR PF?
T: PF is by invite only. Usually new artists are referred from previous PF artists. We also review thousands of artist submissions, proposals, and websites from artists who want to participate in Primary Flight. Typically we have a core group of artists; they are like family to PF. We then mix it up with some emerging artists.
D: WHAT WERE SOME MEMORABLE HIGHLIGHTS FROM PF 2010?
T: Fuck. Jesus! Mostly the Retna exhibition at the new Primary Projects. The illest shit is How & Nosm’s wall. They came so correct. It was a beautiful thing to see. They didn’t complain, the grabbed what they needed and got it down very quickly. True professionals. That is what we want. We want people that love what they do.
Dirty talks to Hox, Primary Flight’s 2010 M.V.P.:
DIRTY: WHO IS HOX?
HOX: Douglas Hoekzema. Born in Colorado and moved to Florida when I was three. I’m a Painter, Sculptor, Welder, Carpenter, Designer, and Architect.
D: WHEN DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN GRAFFITI?
H: I’ve been involved with spray paint since I was 15. I started off painting with Hest of MSG. He got me on cans and I got him on canvas.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN PF THIS YEAR?
H: (Laughs) Put out fires… organize, deliver, fix, move: four 40′ straight booms, three 30′ all-terrain scissor lifts, four electric 20′ scissor lifts, hammer drill, thirty sets of scaffolding, ladders, 280 gallons of buff… In a nutshell I was the guy assisting 130 artists in the streets with all the equipment.
D: HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO BOOKS HONORING YOU WITH THE TITLE OF PRIMARY FLIGHT’S 2010 M.V.P.?
H: Wow… Not to be modest, I think it’s definitely deserved. I almost died twice and it almost cost me my relationship. An 18 wheeler ran over the hood of my truck, my car was impounded with all of my equipment, and I had a guy threaten me with a hammer and try to run me over with his car.
D: WHAT HAPPENED?
H: (Laughs) What didn’t happen? Chaos controlling chaos. When Books brought me in this year, I had one rule: I wasn’t allowed to start fires. Which was an interesting metaphor, because all I did was put out fires. I saved the fires for the last night of Basel. That’s a long story that includes Cruz and Space. But what really happened was the Graffiti World Cup.
D: WHAT IS PF?
H: PF is like a three headed tiger-lion-dragon beast. We are a community that will forever be manipulating the urban fabric through paint, sculpture, parks and architecture. We are defining and redefining public spaces to inform and enlighten life as we know it.
Dirty receives a few words from Cruz and Space mid-bathroom.:
CRUZ: Let me take a piss, I just got nervous.
DIRTY: ARE YOU SERIOUS?! UNREAL.
D: CAN YOU GIVE ME AN IDEA, FROM DAY ONE OF YOUR PRIMARY FLIGHT PAINTING PROCESS?
C: Ok, well we found out where the wall was that we were curated to paint on. It was a 20′ x 60′ wall. Then Hox let me into the lot, the Kohn Compound. We primed all the walls and then he let me use the sprayer to put on the “imprimatura” wash with a watered down like purple….
D: WHAT’S A IMPRI….WHAT IS THAT?
C: It’s like a first painting, like the first wash on the wall.
D: AND HOW DO YOU SPELL THAT?
C: I don’t know how to spell that, I’m too tired.
C: Imprimatura… Actually I know how to spell it, but don’t make me fucking spell right now.
D: ALRIGHT, GO AHEAD.
C: From there I came up with this idea where I was going to do this spirit dragging this physical body through different dimensions. I started like that and two days after I called Space so he could join me on the wall. That’s when it really took off because we work fucking great together.
D: IS THIS YOUR FIRST PRIMARY FLIGHT COLLABORATION?
C: No, second.
D: WHERE WAS THE MURAL?
C: On 24th and NW 2nd Ave.
D: DOES THE MURAL HAVE A TITLE?
C: No, not yet. Because it is sacred.
D: IS THIS YOUR BIGGEST MURAL YOU HAVE PAINTED?
C: Yeah, mine… Space?
S: With you, yeah.
D: WHY DO YOU THINK PRIMARY FLIGHT IS IMPORTANT?
C: I feel they created a new Renaissance of graffiti in Miami because it was dead for a while. That’s why I really love them so much. You know what I mean? The façade of Miami has literally changed because of Primary Flight and funny to see all those copycats afterwards.
D: WHO IS CRUZ?
C: I don’t know who that is. It depends on who’s doing the interview?
D: BARBRA STREISAND.
C: No, not who’s interviewing me but who am I right now.
D: WHO IS CRUZ TODAY?
C: I don’t know who that is.
D: WHO IS SPACE:
S: A former underwear fashion model who turned to art as a means of furthering his ego. After gaining 150 lbs, I could no longer walk the runways so I had to feed my ego in some way. I worked on this mural this year with Cruz… mainly because he’s the only artist who would put up with my artistic demands and rigorous painting routine.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN PRIMARY FLIGHT?
C: To be a badass, color-swinging motherfucker. Yeah, ya know, to fucking paint the baddest mural I could paint and convey the message. We were painting, we were performing, setting fires — we blew shit up.