Part of my study on Wynwood is about street art, street artists, and the world of painting on walls. So when I got the opportunity to paint a wall with one of the longstanding members of the Miami graffiti and street art scene, I jumped at the chance. Hec1 was one of my first interviewees for the project, chatting with me in his backyard for almost two hours a few months ago. At the time, I offered to help him paint whenever he wanted. It would help us both out: he needs help with the high spots and rollers because it’s just so hard physically, and I need some experience with what it’s like to actually paint a wall in the neighborhood.
Well, the day finally came last week on Thursday. Hec has had a wall on N Miami Ave and NE 26th Street for several years now, but he wanted to update it. Up to now, Hec has focused on his Loveism campaign: big murals that creatively display the term in big, crisp letters. His Bob Marley wall (which he co-executed alongside Trek6, another amazing Miami native street artist and graffiti writer) is visible from the I-95 expressway and remains one of the most famous walls in all of Wynwood.
On this wall, though, he wanted to put up a different message. “Love Harder,” he wanted it to say. Big letters. Solid letters. Crisp and perfectly executed letters. “I want it to look like I printed that shit right on the wall,” he told me. Every leg, every corner, every inch would be perfectly measured. It has to be absolutely exact, he said, because if you mess it up even slightly, people will be able to tell from 40ft away.
|Hec1Love putting down the tape. Photo by author.|
We got to work by 10am. The plan was to put up painter’s tape to outline the letters and then begin with the first coat of white paint if possible. Every letter took forever, though.
We had to measure, re-measure, drop a chalk line,
get it exactly right, make sure that shit is perfect, yo,
pluck the line, add the tape, measure tape
measure tape did you get that one right
where did you put the black mark,
move it an eightofaninchtotheright
to the lefttotheright.
After getting my instructions, though, I was ready to begin on my own. I put myself into position for a letter and climbed up the ladder for the first time that day. I was standing on the top of the ladder, on the last step before the top. You’re really not supposed to go much higher than maybe 3 steps down, but I had to get up high to be able to reach the top.
|Always follow instructions.|
In any case, I had just finished taping or marking or whatever, and I must have pushed off the wall just slightly too much. In any case, the ladder started falling.
Yes, it was falling. Away from the wall. Towards the ground.
I tried to compensate. I gave a little yell. Now the ladder is on its two side legs. I’m still balancing in the air, still trying to compensate for the falling ladder. Still yelling. Still balancing.
It felt like an eternity.
I was probably balancing up there in the air for 2-3 seconds, my whole body weight resting on the two side legs of the ladder. Back and forth, a few inches this way, a few inches that way. Those 2-3 seconds were long enough for me to see everything around me: the people watching me about to die, the height I was about to fall, and the car that I was going to land on.
I wonder if I’ll dent the roof? Maybe break the windshield? Shatter it to pieces? So much time to think, so much time to daydream my fall.
Hec was sitting in the car taking a break, and I called for him. “HELP ME!” I yelled.
I started falling. Yup, here I go. And there goes the car. I wonder if my insurance will cover this. I wonder if I’ll die or just break some bones. It was such a long time falling that I even had the opportunity to feel embarrassment at the fact that there were people watching me.
Finally, Hec arrived and caught the ladder. I started falling more slowly, ever so slowly, and landed on the roof of the car like a cat. Maybe like Spiderman. Not as graceful, but definitely like Spiderman. I rolled off the windshield and then landed on the ground. Nothing happened to the car, nothing happened to me, and everything (except my dignity) was saved.
Hec and I started laughing uncontrollably from the nerves. “I was sitting there hearing you,” he told me after, “but I was like, no way. No fucking way that this is happening. I’m about to kill a Princeton boy.” It took him forever to get up and out of the car to me because he just couldn’t move. “No fucking way. No fucking way.” We laughed and kept saying “Help me!” over and over. “You’ve never said anything more heartfelt than that in your life,” he laughed.
We had to get out our fear, our anxiety, and our nerves this way. We just kept laughing.
I was freaking out. I really was. I couldn’t believe that this had almost happened. I almost fell on a car with the ladder, almost broke a car, almost broke myself, and all for a free wall with some paint and some research experience.
It really is a crazy thing to get up there and paint. Several street artists have told me that there is this thrill to doing the dangerous, how it’s exciting to get up there on the ladder to do something like this. You don’t get much mobility up there, you really just have to turn your body 90 degrees and try to paint something beautiful, something compelling, something awesome with that little mobility. You're at the whims of the elements: wind, rain, people walking, etc.
And for the most part, you do it for free.
But I was shaken up. I now had a new respect for the ladder. I had a new respect for walls. And I had a new respect for wall artists and muralists. This shit really is dangerous.
|Stay on the ground, yo.|