Why Four Creatives Are Making Miami Home
April 22, 2016
by Carla Torres
With each year, SVA’s alumni community expands its national and international reach—a growth that speaks to the increasingly global nature of its student body, the decentralization of the creative industries and the success of the College’s graduates. Starting with its spring 2016 issue, Visual Arts Journal will spotlight cities and countries where alumni live, work and contribute to the local art and design scene. First up: Miami, home to a number of SVA graduates, including the following four.
Walk into Miami Beach’s swank Faena Hotel, which just opened its doors last December, and it's only a matter of time before you see the work of Colombian-born artist Gonzalo Fuenmayor. Fuenmayor was commissioned by the hotel’s owner, Argentine designer and businessman Alan Faena (who has personally collected Fuenmayor’s work for six years), to create monochrome murals for the property’s lobby and its restaurant, Pao. Faena has also seen to it that each of the 169 guest rooms features limited-edition photographs and drawings by Fuenmayor.
Fuenmayor has lived in Miami for a decade now, and much of his work seeks to embody the city’s culture. “It’s a paradise of excess leisure, and a crossroads between Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S.,” he says. “For me, it’s about reconciling the idea of Miami with the real Miami.” That means merging elements that evoke decadence, opulence and the seductive lull of the tropics: a baroque amphitheater encircling a lone palm tree, an empty swimming pool with ornate coffered walls.
These and other recent pieces hang in Fuenmayor’s Miami Arts District studio, which he’s been working out of for the past six years—long before the neighborhood, also known as Wynwood, became a destination for international art, design and fashion set. “Rent was affordable, spaces were big, and there were a lot of artists in the building. Still are,” Fuenmayor says. Come September, he’ll truck the works to San Francisco for a show at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, then on to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, for an October exhibition at the Galería El Museo. After that, some of it may make its way back to Dot Fiftyone, Fuenmayor’s Miami gallery, where he will have another solo show, in 2017.
John Paul Leon’s sliver of a studio, nestled in the back of his home in Miami’s Coral Way neighborhood, is every comics fan’s dream. Shelf upon shelf bursts with tales of every superhero from Ant-Man to Batman, from the Avengers to Captain America. Yet Leon—the man who helped redefine the Marvel Comics universe with the 1999 – 2000 series Earth X, and whose illustrations grace the current covers of DC’s Sheriff of Babylon and Dark Horse’s The Massive: Ninth Wave—doesn’t spend much time reading them himself.
“I did as a kid,” he says. “I was always partial to Superman.” His high-school education at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, however, was fine-arts focused, and his interest in the medium waned.
His years at SVA reawakened his inner child—and superhero. “When I was a kid I liked the idea of telling a story with pictures,” he says. “That’s what attracted me to illustration.” After graduating, Leon worked in New York for five years, at a time when comics production was still largely pre-digital. “You used to have to FedEx your work, and actually go to the library to do research for scenes or get visuals of cityscapes.”
Leon moved back to South Florida in 1999 and today, with the efficiencies of the Internet age, working remotely has never been easier, or more comfortable. When he’s not in his studio reviewing scripts, sketching, coloring covers or working on Batman: Creatures of the Night, a forthcoming DC miniseries, he’s spending time with his wife and daughter, or losing himself in movies, particularly those of Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. And not just for pleasure.
“A lot of the same rules that apply in film apply to comics,” he says. “It’s important for readers to know where everything is in space in relation to each other, no matter the amount of action happening.”
Though photographers are often thought of as observers, documenting life through their lenses, Carolyn Mara Borlenghi tries to live in the moments she captures with her camera. “The image ends up being a reminder, but sharing that experience with other people is what counts,” says the Houston native, who has made her home in Miami since 2007.
After receiving her psychology degree—with a minor in photography—from Southern Methodist University, Mara moved to New York City, where she landed a job at Pace MacGill Gallery, which has represented such legendary photographers as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Irving Penn. The experience inspired her to continue her own practice in the field, and she enrolled at SVA.
“I guess you could say love brought me to Miami,” Mara says. She met her husband, a born-and-bred Floridian, in New York; not long after marrying, family ties—and a longing for more sun—drew them south. Now a mother of two boys, Mara is pursuing her photo career both on- and offline. She teaches classes through Define, an online photography school; contributes to Childhood Unplugged, a collaborative photo/parenting blog; and has built a large audience (55,000 followers and counting) for her work on Instagram, having won the site’s weekly Weekend Hashtag Project four times to date.
She’s also pursuing several series of conceptual works, with prints available through her website. One, "Day Dream," comprises portraits of mothers, photographed in the morning after their children have left for the day. Another is the surreal and intimate “Women + Masks,” in which Mara photographs women alone in secluded spots of the Everglades, wearing the animal mask of their choice. “Everyone is hiding from something, and putting on a mask is the first step in allowing you to take it off,” she says. “It’s a liberating experience, for them and for me.”
Today’s “mad men” are faced with the challenge of not only making an impact in a digital era—one in which a proliferation of screens compete for our attention—but with reaching a new generation of consumers, a.k.a. “the Millenials,” which Forbes reports is proving to be a particularly tough sell. But according to advertising veteran Bill Wosar, who has helped craft award-winning campaigns for everything from Diet Coke to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to Sporting News over the course of a three-decade career, while the platforms may have changed, the basic tenets of the field are the same. “It comes down to taking the benefit of a product or brand and creating stories to communicate that through emotions,” he says. “That’s how people fall in love.”
Wosar, a Miami native, had a long love affair with New York—first attending SVA and then spending 17 years moving up Madison Avenue’s ladder. He moved back to his hometown just last year and now leads a bifurcated life as a freelance art and creative director and an entrepreneur. When not conceiving multimedia ad campaigns for such brands and corporations as Bacardi Limited and Citibank, he is developing his nascent digital venture MagnetRooms, a series of social-media apps that enable millennials to engage with, and advocate for, brands for which they are a target audience.
And though he’s working just as much if not more than he did before, “I do get to work from my balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay,” he says. “That’s the difference between Miami and New York.”