Shitti Graffiti

“Graffiti-inspired canvases” is how Street, the ad-scam, faux-alternative paper, described Argentine artist Tao Rey’s six-piece And I Quote exhibit, showing at Placemaker in Miami’s Design District. There isn’t much irony in that statement because this is indeed a basic, incomprehensible series of clean-cut graffiti scribbles placed on dazzling backdrops, hence producing an ultimately paradoxical effect – how graf pieces are meant to be shown throughout the urban concrete of the city and not on glittery canvases.

Rey got his start like most other graffiti artists – in the streets – but his approach was slightly different. Instead of lugging five cans of Krylon spray paint in a backpack and waiting until 3 a.m. to roll around and bomb the system, Tao pre-designed his pieces on vinyl stickers and other materials found at the sign shop where he worked. His method was rather simple: peel and stick.

By rendering graffiti strikes as all too-sleek and almost glamorous with vinyl and acrylics (plus a glass spheres coating, the same material used in street reflectors), the artist creates a glitzy finish, so the technique he implements defeats graffiti’s aesthetic of grittiness and its sense of spontaneity.

Influenced by his days at the sign shop, most of Rey’s work is created with materials and colors (red, blue, orange, green, etc.) used to make Department of Transportation road signs. Appropriately titled, the pieces are cryptic phrases, wherein the words are meant to match the colors of street signs and their universal meanings. The title piece has a brown backdrop, the color dedicated to recreational signs such as national parks, fairgrounds and historical sites. Fittingly, “And I Quote” serves as a landmark for the exhibit, thus the color.

Check out his aptly constructed “Communication is the Key” piece. With its vibrant red background, it’s probably the most attention-grabbing piece of all, attracting the eye immediately and making you stop to decipher the expression. Ostensibly, in street-sign speak, black and white are designated to give straightforward information, see speed limits and “right turn only” signs. Tao’s chosen phrase for these colors interestingly flips the script by telling the viewer to “Read Between the Lines.”

“These Words are all I’ve Got” concludes the exhibit in a blue hue, which is habitually reserved for signs of service or things people need like gas, food and lodging. This can be interpreted to mean that art is just as important to Rey as are the basic necessities.

It should be noted that the uniformity of all the pieces take away from the extemporaneousness of graffiti, although all of these are well composed and profess certain compelling messages. But each work is redundantly rectangular with white letters on a solid-colored background. Although the exhibit lacks to convey the raw feeling of graffiti, Tao Rey does an excellent job in matching the phrases with appropriate colors, as each saying seems to lead the viewer right to the next in a conversational style.

For those expecting to see rough-and-ready, street-wise graffiti, try again. Tao Rey’s work is (unfortunately) the kind of graf metrosexual SoBe shop owners would pay to display on their outer walls or it’s what some rich phony cokehead living on Brickell would buy to let all his drug-dealing “homies” know that he’s down too by “appreciating” urban culture and doesn’t even need to leave his lavish apartment to enjoy sparkling “graffiti-inspired canvases.”

And I Quote is on view at Placemaker, 3852 N. Miami Ave, Miami, through November 22. Call 305-576-6695 for more info.

Ambar Hernandez can be reached at