While the act of kissing may have a plethora of beneficial effects, doing so can actually help save lives at pop artist and gallery owner Perry Milou’s Pucker Up Project, an interactive art exhibit in Miami’s Design District. The project, launched last month, lets gallery visitors literally “pucker up” and kiss one of several canvases painted by Milou in exchange for a donation toward cancer research at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine.
Milou, who developed a benign pituitary tumor at the base of his brain three years ago, was inspired by his own cancer scare to start the project.
“Cancer is an issue that affects everyone’s life,” Milou said. “When one individual is diagnosed, families and loved ones suffer. You can never raise enough money for the cause.”
After relocating his gallery from Philadelphia to Miami, he began pursuing work on a project that involved the local community and supported cancer research. Milou had already created a pop art series featuring famous lips such as those of Angelina Jolie and Brigitte Bardot, so coming up with the initial concept occurred naturally.
Pucker Up features a series of eight-by-eight feet canvas paintings, each with a different set of lips in the center. The murals are divided into multicolored squares and sold for $100 each. Those who wish to donate toward cancer research are able to purchase a square and imprint their “pucker” by kissing a sheet of transfer paper, which is later placed on the square.
“That’s the big question,” said Milou, when asked why he chose to paint lips in the first place. “Why not? They’re timeless and sexy.”
Milou said that, before choosing the UM Sylvester Cancer Research Center, he took his time when looking for the right cancer research organization to work with.
“It’s harder than you think to give money away,” Milou said. “There are so many hoops to go through when researching charities.”
But when a friend mentioned the Young Philanthropists, a donor group that supports the Sylvester Cancer Center, specialized in lip and throat cancer, Milou said he knew the center was the right match.
Liza Lesser, the director of affiliate giving for the Sylvester Cancer Center, said the group was ecstatic that Milou considered their up-and-coming organization for the role.
“It’s such a young, fresh concept supporting the cause, and the Young Philanthropists are also a relatively young group committed to finding a cure for cancer,” Lesser said. “The two fit together well.”
The Pucker Up Project’s grand opening was held on Sept. 25.
“We had such an excited reaction from everyone who attended,” Lawrence Roman, an Urban Icons marketing director and one of the event’s sponsors, said. “The ladies loved the idea and we even had some men pucker up for the mural.”
He also said working with the Young Philanthropists group for the UM Sylvester Cancer Center was also a positive experience. “We were very lucky to pair up with them,” he said.
Jared Richardson, a junior majoring in art history and an intern for Urban Icons, worked during the grand opening to get donor contact information and described the event as “animated.”
“The energy was incredible. We had over 150 people attending that night,” Richardson said. “Everyone was having a great time putting on the lipstick, trying out different kisses on the transfer paper.”
Milou is excited about the future of the Pucker Up Project and said that its grand opening was only the beginning. The exhibit will be ongoing at the Milou gallery throughout the fall.
“I’d like to continue promoting the project until Art Basel, the winter art festival in Miami,” Milou said. “Ideally, I’d like to have most of the canvases filled with as many puckers as possible by then.”
For more information about the project, visit Milou’s gallery on 17 NW 36th Street in the Wynwood art district, or check out www.milougallery.com/puckerup.