Miami is Muse for Pop Artist Alex Yanes
by nathaniel sandler
Artist Alex Yanes pulls inspiration from Miami, and a youth spent here, to create pop art that’s picking up steam.
Miami artist Alex Yanes’s vibrant, layered pieces, like Good Days, draw on street art and cartoon memories for their widespread appeal.
Alex Yanes’s art studio is surprisingly clean for a guy who works with cut wood. There’s paint, an antique Milwaukee jigsaw handed down from his grandfather, and little else. That very same jigsaw is tattooed on his shin and calf, a fitting symbol of his life and how that has translated to his work.
As a teenager growing up in Kendall, Yanes learned to build from his grandfather who was a pilot in Cuba, and his father, a tool salesman in the United States. Most formative were the skateboarding ramps based on pictures in Thrasher magazine. “I’d bring the magazines to my dad, and my dad would teach me how to make the ramps,” he explains. Once built, the teenage Yanes would take the extra step of painting the raw wood for decoration, a practice he is now doing professionally 20 years later.
He looks back at those times when his family helped him learn woodwork and admits that “if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t do what I do.” What he does today is poppy absurdist paintings that feel inspired by both street art characters and cartoon memories that appeal to rich, poor, young, old, and all walks of life.
Yanes puts the finishing touches on the DJ booth he built for LIV nightclub.
After a stint studying graphic design, Yanes took on a great deal of commercial work, all the while honing his style and voice as an artist, and painting mostly on canvas. Today he works almost exclusively in birch wood, and his materials, with the exception of brushes, are bought from Home Depot, not an art supply store.
All of his art is hand-cut with a jigsaw. The vibrant, layered pieces resist strict classification and can be skate-inspired, reminiscent of street art and an animated pop-surrealism, and, he says, even pull from classic 1960s MiMo architecture. Other influences include cartoons he remembers from childhood, as well as those he watches now with his two young daughters, one a newborn, the other 4 years old.
The people of Miami also have an effect because “one thing Miami has is a lot of characters.” The city, it seems, is woven into his life and art. Half a block away from his studio sits a 1965 Dodge Dart, baby seat in the back. The chop shop is giving Yanes a discount on the extensive mechanical work being done on his vintage beauty in exchange for a wall mural. It’s an economy he’s proud of: his art in exchange for goods and services that bolster his mix of old-school charm and subculture style.
Siempre, mixed media on wood.
“I was into so many things growing up subculture-wise,” he says, thinking that’s why his work has begun to garner such widespread appeal. “I’ve had everybody from well-known DJs to an 85-year-old lady in Texas buy my work.” Indeed, Miami nightclub guru David Grutman, the operator of LIV at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, has begun supporting Yanes’s work by buying pieces for both his home and the club itself. Yanes designed the venue’s newest DJ booth, so when the weekly revelers at this city’s most raucous nightclub chant toward whichever superstar DJ is playing that night, they are also indirectly paying homage to Yanes’s ebullient and homegrown style.
Yanes’s installation My Fruition, which debuted at the Brisky Gallery in Wynwood.
The artist is a little taken aback by the celebrity aura and clients he is beginning to attract from LIV—he doesn’t drink and even has gone as far as mentoring young artists who feel their substance abuse has gotten out of control. But it’s all part of the bricolage of influences that fall within his artistic grasp and translate into work that crosses so many cultural boundaries. Maybe most importantly, though, Yanes has himself become an influencer. He says of his 4-year-old daughter, “I love that she doesn’t have to grow up the way I did, always feeling like I wasn’t ever going to be able to achieve my dream because everybody told me I couldn’t. She’s gonna see it right in front of her and be like, ‘Hey, my dad’s an artist, I can be an artist.’”
Photography by Duffy Higgins 2013, a76productions.com, (Good Days); Cristina Rauseo (Yanes); Yanes (Siempre, My Fruition)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.