Where are you from?
I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. You can thank them for my accent.
When and why did you come to Florida?
I came to Florida to stay in 1992. I had just gotten an International Scholarship to The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (the Fernando Botero International Scholarship). In reality, I didn't even want to come to Florida. I lived in Massachusetts and wanted to stay there developing my art studies. I also got some other scholarships from other schools, but the AIFL was the only one which covered my full tuition, so I jumped on the opportunity.
What do you love most about Miami?
The people. It's very inspiring. Very cosmopolitan and international. It took me a while to meet an actual born and raised Miami native. Plus, you can never emphasize enough on our great weather. I'm always out there, so the weather is key.
Tell us more about your career to date. Please share some highlights.
So far, it's been a back-breaking labor of love, and it feels great.
I would say that things took a 180 degree turn once I had my solo show at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines. Since, I have gotten a residency and got signed on to The Michael Margulies Artist Agency, showed and sold work at 101/ Exhibit in the Design District and had the chance to work with the Surface Merchants at the Miami Beach Convention Center on a 110 ft. mural with found objects for the Arte Americas 2012 Show (lots of fun and discovery). I was just offered some space at the Lee Wagner Gallery at the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport. I got into the 61st Annual All Florida Juried Competition And Exhibition – which will be up until Sunday July 8th – with a brick installation titled "The Community", which is also an open series of brick installations for art in public spaces for the City of Pembroke Pines. For this project alone, there will be brick towers at The Pembroke Pines Public Library, The Pembroke Pines City Hall, The Pembroke Pines Police Dept., Fire Dept., Parks, etc. My first time working this close with the city. So far so good. "The Community" is still open and ongoing. I was also lucky enough to have created a 100 ft. mural - thanks to my colleague and friend Chris Carter for donating the wall- named "MONKEY BIDNESS," which depicts Urban Art making it out of the underground into the lime-light and gallery space, AKA: the big gorilla in the room. I did a Miami Marlins' sponsored mural for a Teen Youth Center in Pembroke Pines (Thank you to Jill Slaughter). I was extremely surprised when I got the news about the Miami New Times "Best Street Artist of 2012"... and the fact that it was voted by the people of Miami is a really humbling experience... I didn't even know I was competing.
Another great thing that has happened is that I am getting a lot of love from different artists I have admired for a long time now. They honor and humble me every time they call me for a show. I just can't believe it. I recently participated in the Wynwood Artwalk showing at an impromptu space ("The Takeover" - Thanks to Jay Bellici, Kazilla) and I also have some mural collaborations in the works plus private commissions and some pieces sold to collectors. I have another group show coming up in Studio 18 in the Pines themed "Serendipity", and a live-painting/installation show during the next Wynwood Art walk which should be a lot of fun.
What is Ruben Ubiera’s art all about?
Concept before execution. The idea is the hero here. The rest, is paint on wood.
You mix street art and gallery work. What makes you successful in both arenas?
I have been drawing and painting since I had use of reason. Illustration is in my blood. And when you think about it, illustration is about a strong idea framed by technique, and I have been practicing different techniques since I was very young. I knew what I wanted to be for the rest of my life at a very early age. As far as the "street art", it all changed in NY. Baptism by fire, as I like to call it. I had never seen anything like this. With my art background, to me, it just looked like Cubism. I remember drawing by myself on the lunch table at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx (Now closed. Considered worst High school in the U.S. Violent, cold and drug infested), and this guy saw me drawing. He was impressed. Plus he belonged to some graffiti crew. He started teaching me about styles, graff techniques, tips, etc.. The things that you're not taught at school... surprisingly, that's where I learned it all.
You often incorporate Dominican, Caribbean and Latin American iconography into your work. Is it important to you to create art speaking for the Diaspora?
Very important. I belong to that Diaspora. I am very proud of my Dominican heritage, and I love to show it. I am very influenced by my surroundings, my ecosystem. I love the United States and all it has done for me, but I was born and raised in the D.R., and my culture is a very big part of me. It defines me in a lot of ways. As a young kid, I used to consider all the things that make my culture borderline ridiculous. The folklore, the music, the history. But as I grew older (and far from my home-land) I started to realize all the richness my culture had to offer. So much to draw from, literally. I realized I had to find myself, and who I was, in order to build up.
You often use found items such as wood and old skateboards. What is the significance of these items in your art?
The skateboards and the "SkateboArt Series" was something that happened organically. Once I found myself with no money to buy canvases or paints. When you're an artist it takes money to even practice your ideas, and that doesn't mean that your idea will work. It's just practice. A developmental process. I had to rely on found objects to create my art. Rough surfaces, just like on the streets. I had all these broken and torn decks in my house. I knew I wanted to use it on something, but didn’t know what. The concept of painting city landscapes came to me while skating down Federal Hwy. waiting for a train to pass, and it came to me: A view from my deck. I snapped my first landscape shot with my camera and the rest is history. I used to skateboard every chance I got. Have friends that still do. I can't now, since I can't sacrifice the bones on my hands. My hands are my life, and I have never broken a bone in my life, and I want to keep it that way. I have to produce art. I am not a skater: I am an artist who skates. Sometimes I go to parks just to watch the kids skate. Keep up with who's who in the game. It keeps me young at heart I guess.
You have had a very successful year so far. What do you want to achieve next?
Teach. Help. Inspire. Discover. I got into this to inspire in the same way I was inspired by some many artist before me. The rest will work itself out. More walls and murals. More installations. More help from art institutions. More interactivity between the viewer and my work.
You are doing a new mural in Wynwood in July. Please tell us more.
Actually, two murals. One on 27th St and N. Miami Ave. and one 24th and N. Miami Ave. All I can tell you is that they’re big, interactive with its environment and yes, they do have gorillas on it.
What other new projects do you have coming up?
I will be showing work at the next Art Serve in Ft. Lauderdale and will be painting live at the next Artwalk. I am trying not to get too busy as I am preparing my new work for Basel.
What are your favorite hang out spots in Miami?
I am usually in places no one knows. Off the beaten path. Lately (because of the nature of the area) I have been hanging a lot in Wynwood, but mostly because I am always working there. I like people. The way they interact socially. The way they scream at each other (Hialeah, lol) or treat each other, mannerisms, etc. I study them in silence. Draw my own private conclusions. Mentally photographing everything around me for the moment I have to create. When I'm done working or baking under the sun and slaving away in front of a wall: Jimmy'z Kitchen. Serious Mofongo. Try the Shrimp Mofongo or Churrasco Mofongo with avocado on the side. Killer!
Do you have any other news to share with our readers?
Keep in touch via Facebook, I always let people know what I am up to.
All photos by Robert Dempster