As the world-famous mural collective known as Wynwood Walls celebrates its 10-year anniversary, curator Peter Tunney speaks to the global and social impact of street art.
Peter Tunney in his gallery at the center of Wynwood Walls
There are so many reasons to visit Wynwood Walls. The murals, obviously, are striking. The restaurant is tasty. The new gift shop is lit. But perhaps no reason is more compelling than the chance that you may encounter Peter Tunney. The artist whose gallery sits at the center of the complex is also a mentor and curator. You’ll often find him in paint-splattered pants and a white T-shirt sitting at his chair in the back of his gallery or fiddling with the jukebox.
On the day we arrive to interview Tunney, he is deep in conversation with a small group of people. We sit and watch as he enthralls them with... who knows what? But they are enthralled. His publicist checks her watch and his assistant tries to catch his attention. But there is no interrupting Tunney. When the group leaves, he offers a huge hug and takes a seat at his desk. It is now our turn to be under the Peter Tunney rainbow.
What inspires you?
What keeps me in the game every day is that every single one of the street artists who have done something for us in Wynwood is a social activist—for how we treat the environment, how we treat prisoners, how we treat each other.
So you are saying that street art is more than meets the eye.
I’ll tell you this story: A few years ago I was planning a dinner during Art Basel and asked the artists who would be sticking around. Faith47 said to me, ‘No, I’m going to Cape Town to do this thing for endangered species.’ I asked Pixel, and he said, ‘No, I’m going to make a giant gorilla out of trees to help with protection.’ I asked eL Seed, and he said, ‘No, I’m going to Cairo to do a mural on 50 buildings to honor the garbage people.’ Imagine that? They all did those projects. They all dropped their little bombs of positivity around the world.
And it all started here in Wynwood Walls.
You know that American Airlines map that shows everywhere they fly? There’s probably 600 or 700 lines on that map. There’s probably 6,000 or 7,000 lines coming out of the Wynwood Walls of where these artists have gone. Every artist in Wynwood Walls would rather see traction and change on a social issue than score for themselves.
What is your role in all this?
I do kind of see myself as the Wizard of Oz. The artists come to me for the things that they came to the wizard for: courage, brains and a heart. And I give them something and they think that’s what it is. If it works for you, that’s good. If you leave here feeling more uplifted and more inspired to do your work, then yes, I’m the wizard. Because that is my entire human energy every day—including when you walked in and I was with those people. I don’t know those people from a can of paint. But I gave them the full 45 minutes on why you have to stay positive.
Photography by: Yesi Flores; polaroids by Peter Tunney