Brandon Opalka’s Miami Beach studio is part construction site and part art installation. Located on Liberty Avenue and 20th Street, Opalka is one of the first artists to work in what the City of Miami Beach hopes will soon become Miami’s newest arts district. When I arrive, Opalka is outside of his studio with friend and fellow artist Carlos Stincer. “When do you get to see this?”, laughs Stincer. “I guess now you know what it feels like to be on the other side”, he says to Opalka as he covers a pencil-scrawled tag on the exterior wall of his space with a matching shade of spray paint. City of Miami Beach code enforcement officers recently gave him a hard time for the graffiti, and Opalka is trying to play by their rules. Ironically, behind the glass windows is a huge wooden graffiti installation, courtesy of MSG Crew, that flows over the top right side of the space. Large chiseled wooden bookcases by artist Doug Hoekzema hold books ranging in titles from The Holy Koran to Phaidon’s World Atlas of Contemporary Architecture.
On the east side of the space, two sawhorses hold up a makeshift table filled with oil paint, brushes, aluminum cans, rags, and spray paint caps. A tall ladder with a work light clipped to it stands fully open, and as a testament to its environment, is splattered with spray paint. Hanging on the main wall where Opalka paints is his latest piece, a painting commissioned by collector Mario Cader-Frech. The artist’s oil paintings are known for their intense and vibrant colors, but Opalka is currently working on monochromatic, high contrast pieces that incorporate subtle splashes of color placed in corners, or hidden within lines. The piece, White Landings, is ready to go, and the painter personally installs his work for clients. But while many in Miami are familiar with Brandon Opalka’s work, they don’t know that much about the artist himself.
Twenty – eight year old Brandon Opalka was born in Virginia to a single mother. After spending time in the Carolinas and California, the two relocated to Boca Raton where Opalka grew up and discovered his talent for making art. Initially, the type of art that he was attracted to was graffiti. “I started doing graffiti in the sixth grade. I found some spray paint in my friend’s dad’s shed and I tried it out by just using it to write my name – Brandon Opalka”, he says. That simple discovery led to him and his friends working on large-scale murals for his middle and high schools. It also led to the lifestyle of a true graffiti artist – late night “bombing” and tagging up whatever and whenever he could. “ For me, graffiti isn’t vandalism. It’s art. It’s a beautiful medium that makes something look better than it did before, and I’m attracted to the instant gratification of it, the spray paint – how much it covers. I’ll always do graffiti as long as it keeps challenging me and keeps me being creative”, Opalka says of his first art.
After graduating from Boca Raton High School and South Tech Educational Center (he attended both schools simultaneously for their magnet programs), Opalka moved to Miami and went on to complete one semester at what was then known as IFAC (International Fine Arts College). “I dropped out of IFAC because school for me isn’t that challenging and most kids don’t take it seriously anyway”, says Opalka. What did come out of that stint in college was meeting fellow IFAC alumni and artists Christian Curiel and Jason Ferguson. The three formed the collaborative group FeCuOp. But as far as Opalka flying solo as a painter, the artist is self-taught. “ I learned to paint mostly by working in my studio, and I learned about art and art history by reading books about it, and going to art openings and lectures”, states Opalka. Being part of the Miami art community since the age of 19, Opalka started his career by selling his art on the sidewalks of Espanola Way. But what makes him stand out is the fact that his pieces are undeniably Brandon Opalka.
Opalka’s work has much to do with composition and the juxtaposing of abstract forms against concrete, identifiable objects. A good example of this is 2005’s Silverbull, where the bust of a bull lays dead center among floating horse hooves and heads. An abstract orange figure gives the piece an organic feel, creating a beautiful dynamic between form and flow and color. Process is important for the artist, as he uses sculpture, photography, and objects in order to create images. Much of his work has a cadence that is directly related to his background in graffiti. At times it is the drip of a line or colors that burst out at you. In any case, its evident that street art led to fine art for this painter.
His paintings have been included in various group shows in Miami and New York. He has also worked on installation pieces with FeCuOp in Miami and Washington D.C. He has curated art shows for local Miami galleries such as the Barbara Gillman Gallery, the Upstairs Gallery, and most recently, for Park Place Residences in Miami Beach. In 2003, Opalka was commissioned to create paintings for the Millennium Partners Collection of Contemporary Art at the Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue.
In December of 2004 Opalka’s first solo exhibit debuted at Rocket Projects Miami. Entitled Pig to Man, Man to Pig, then Pig to Man again after the last line in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the exhibit featured paintings where brightly colored animals set against abstract landscapes and dream forms take the place of humans in a narrative comparable to that of Orwell’s famous novel. While Opalka’s earlier work incorporated animals, this series’ intense figurative elements showcased the painter’s increasing skills with color and composition.
In April of 2006, Opalka had his second solo exhibit, Light Forces on the Dark Side, at Ingalls and Associates in conjunction with the Barbara Gillman Gallery. The paintings in this series show the artist’s experimentation with light and the use of technology – namely, a scanner. Using the scanner, Opalka creates a high contrast look by manipulating sculptures and model figures across the scanner bed as the light passes underneath. “I see the scanner as a camera – a way of capturing space and images” says Opalka. The end result is an image that is more disjointed. Segmented portions of horses, giraffes, and other creatures assemble over a wash of grays, whites, and blacks. Again there is a rhythm within the abstraction, even though some people like the more figurative paintings as opposed to the segmented animals.
For Brandon Opalka, the point is to keep moving forward, to keep making work. “Right how, I’m just focused on making more and more paintings”, the artist says. “This year brought me this amazing studio, for which I’m really grateful. My next major goal is to have a show outside Miami, hopefully somewhere outside the US. I also want to do some traveling and gain new perspectives. There’s so much to experience; I just don’t want to miss any of it.”
By L. Gonzalez