INTERVIEW: Doug Hoekzema, aka Hox, Bursts on the Scene
by Raymond Herrera
On a beautiful sunny South Florida afternoon I met up with Fransisco De La Torre, proprietor of Butter Gallery, and up and coming artist Douglas Hoekzema, aka Hox, who his gallery represents. He got heavy on our radar with his piece at Del Toro Shoes for Art Basel 2012. We toured the building, which is set in a multi-story former warehouse – that is now home to a design firm and two prominent Wynwood galleries – to look at Hox’s and some of his gallery mates’ work. We then hit Joey’s Wynwood for pizza, beer, and a great discussion about the history of Wynwood. There are very few people who have Fransisco’s insight, since he’s seen the district rise from the traditionally Puerto Rican manufacturing community that it was, into what it is becoming, as one of the original investors there.
After filling our bellies, one pizza pie compliments of the house, (Thanks Joey’s!) we had espressos at Panther Coffee – the facade of which was once covered in a mural by Hox. You can still see remnants of Hox’s trademark style on the outdoor chairs there. When the caffeine kicked in we were ready to head to his studio in Little Haiti, which is one of the most depressed neighborhoods in the country. But I have a feeling that things in that neighborhood will change soon with the presence of artists like Hox, Bhakti Baxter, and others that rent studio space in the area. After some fantastic Florida kush we sat down and talked all things art, architecture, design, and dreams.
CS: So, Who are you?
Hox: Oh, It’s that simple? Douglas Hoekzema. Also Hox, because they usually can’t say my last name.
CS: And where are we right now?
Hox: We’re in Little Haiti, in Miami… track side, at my studio.
CS: On your bigger pieces you use spray paint. Do you consider yourself a graffiti artist, a painter, do you put yourself in a category at all? What do you do?
Hox: First and foremost, I’m an artist. It was always tough for me to decide whether I was an artist, or a designer. I used to think that a designer, on a tier level, was more powerful, because…
CS: it’s something that has more prestige?
Hox: Not even that. Just in terms of being able to understand any element; whether it’s art or structural design. But I’m an artist! Maybe more sub categorically I’m a painter, currently. But I’m also a sculptor, a carpenter, a welder…
CS: You really caught my attention with your piece at Del Toro Shoes. It’s two dimensional because it’s aerosol, but the design is very textural. Where did the style come from?
Hox: Some people think it’s the cap but really it’s just a cone of paint that comes out of the can. So really the “U” shape I get from this mark is just how I lay the paint off. My hand touches the wall sometimes, but it’s about the delivery. They’re closer related to flares and hand styles that Twist [Barry McGee] always had. He had these awesome hollows, where you could really see what the fat cap was doing. [Mine] is more about these two outer hard lines, and this fade on the inside. Sometimes the cap makes these triangles when you turn it. The mark is purely because that’s what the can can do. I have these cross hatches that make triangular grids. I also use the classic dots. I made a portrait of Buckminster Fuller out of dots. I used a projector and hafltoned the image. It was fun using these dots that you usually use when you’re catching tags.
CS: So when I’m looking at your instagram and I see Godzilla’s scales, I’m like, Yo! These marks really look like Godzilla’s scales. So I’m wondering, what inspired the design? Was it something in nature, something you saw somewhere, or really Godzilla’s scales?
Hox: (Laughs) They’re purely abstractions. I was always, definitely into patterns, and the patterns that the technique made. I’ve been doing these marks for three years now. But Godzilla, or Goldzilla or Hoxzilla… It’s like my mascot in my studio. I didn’t realize there were other people that did this shit, but Retna is Count Dracula, and @sickermania has McGruff the Crime Dog. We drove around one time he was just taking photos of McGruff the Crime Dog.
CS: So is that one of your aliases, Hoxzilla? In a sense Miami is your Tokyo.
Hox: I don’t take that alias too seriously. Godzilla is neither good or bad. He destroys all cities yet he is a victim of society. Ha ha ha. It came out of just joking around but I kind of have embraced him. I think that the patterns I make and Godzilla’s scales are just a coincidence. One thing that does influence my work is water. From being in the water, surfing. Florida is sunsets and beaches. :::freight train approaches, the horns sound, and the train crossing sign goes off::: If you’re smart you’ll find yourself by water… Or a big ass train!
We can barely hear each other now and we have to scream because the train was really fucking loud!
Hox: ONE DAY WE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE COOL TO LIKE… PAINT THE TRAIN WHILE IT’S MOVING! I MEAN… WHEN YOU’RE OUT THERE… YOU REALLY HAVE TO DUCK! HAHA! YOU GOTTA WATCH THE LADDERS COME BY! I THOUGHT… I WOULD NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!
CS: THIS IS AWESOME! (Referring to the train as the backdrop to his studio)
HOX: YEAH THIS GOES ALL THE WAY OUT TO LA, ILLINOIS, UP AND DOWN THE EAST COAST!
CS: THERE’S PROBABLY TAGS FROM EVERY WHERE!
The train passes. The sun is starting to set. He then tells me a story about some local painters, (he didn’t share on the record if he was among the group) that drink lots of beer and fill the empty bottles with paint, then throw the bottles at the trains, covering the sides with splatters and shards.
CS: Was it an outlaw’s life sometimes to do this coming up? Sometimes artists get permission, some times they don’t. Have you ever been in trouble for bombing or tagging, and what is that like?
Hox: When I started… haha yeah, I definitely went bombing, and I was catching tags. But I was always more interested in the crew aspect – where you’re putting together big productions. You’re on a wall, you’re collaborating with 5 of your closest brothers. It’s like, the wall talk, the shit that people say :::laughs::: Also painting with guys that are older than you, that are teaching you old tricks. That’s what most of my interest is in.
I did big portraits back then. I was a big fan of El Mac. I was excited when I got to meet El Mac and Retna. I did a 35 ft portrait of Celia Cruz, a 25 ft BB King, and that was my interest then. But I’ve really been in the studio. Everybody’s getting older. They’re starting to have kids. Real real jobs. They don’t have time to paint for three days the whole day, you know?
CS: I do. So did you ever get in trouble with the law?
Hox: Yeah about three years ago. I got too comfortable. I was interested in these patterns. I had a good 6 to 8 month run here in the Design District, Miami where I was doing these flowers, or coral bursts. I heard people calling them all different things. Anyway, getting in trouble gets expensive. I’d rather take the $2 to $6 grand and dump it into my studio, you know?
CS: Who are some of your influences?
Hox: It’s been interesting. When I met El Mac and them I was fresh out of architecture school. The only times I was painting was to have fun and do a portrait. That was my go to. Little did I know that I was going to become more of a painter. But I was really lucky to meet a lot of amazing artists because of Primary Flight.
So I fucking graduated in 2008, and shortly after I got to do this giant sculpture for Grafitti Gone Global. It was a horror story, but in hindsight I really enjoyed it. I did this design and they didn’t like it so they changed it up. I had to change a modular 1,800 weld with 120 mini pyramids. They didn’t like it. They changed my sculpture and locked me out. I was freaking dude! They owed me money, they locked up my tools, the moved my shit. I was good friends with Books III and I knew Books was doing Primary again. He was bringing painters and had more lifts. Most graffiti writers really weren’t on lifts much, or scaffolding. They needed ladders.
Futura did these marks I was making years ago and I had no idea. My friend told me I should check out his work. When I finally met him he said, “Man I’m trying to figure out how you’re doing what you’re doing.” I’m like WHAT, what are you talking about? You did this in the 70s. If I was ever to place myself in a movement, whether street art or graffiti art, I can say I really relate to the Futurism 2.0 movement.
Hox operates lifts for many of the large scale murals in Wynwood including the Retna tribute piece “Go Big or Go Home” in the detail picture below. As a tribute to the people who have helped him, Retna includes Hox’s name among others on the top of his 7 story tall mural. I’ll give you a hint… the H is in tan. The video illustrates Hox’s uncanny skill operating the lift almost as an extension of Retna’s arm.
CS: So where did the lifts come from, was that a hook up? Not a lot of artists have that luxury.
Hox: With the lift thing I started a lift company while I was going to school, when I was like 21 or 22 putting up Christmas lights for cities. So I had tons of lifts and I just knew how to drive them and ended up helping out a lot of artists. And also the size of the murals I was doing, the big 35 ft BB King one, I was on a lift the whole time. I knew how to make them work. Books [ III ] was a good friend and I was looking for something to do. I told him I need to get busy or I’m going to set this whole thing on fire. So he hooked me up… Funny thing is I did start a fire that year… We were at the RC Cola lot and someone mentioned they were cold. There were these giant semi truck tires, and we lit them, and the tires lit the brush on fire. The smoke could be seen from I-95. Books called yelling “THERE’S A FIRE,” he just kept saying “FIRE, FIRE.” The guys at RC Cola loved it. They filled up big drums with water and put it out right away.
CS: Wow! (Laughs) That’s crazy, and dope. So what are you working on now? You took me to your studio to show me your process with these drip spirals. What brought on the inspiring moment, was a joint involved?
Hox: A joint and a beer?… I mean, it just comes with having fun in the studio. I don’t have to have a beer and a joint. I have a lot of friends that work in the area. Not many artists can work with people in their space. People love coming to my studio and just hanging. My studio is a community. And it’s also the front of Bhakti Baxter‘s space. People come see him. There’s always someone in my shit… So the the first time I did these, I call it a paint pendulum, I saw a friend do it with sand. It’s an old technique, I didn’t fucking invent it, it just looks newer cause I do it with a neon string and an Evian bottle.
CS: These patterns and rhythms your work creates have an almost architectural element to them. Earlier today we were talking about the parallels and separations between architecture & design and fine art. Does architecture play a part in your work?
Hox: It might be coincidental. Maybe in the graph lines or CAD lines…
CS: I really thought you were creating these new pieces in AutoCAD or 3D Studio Max.
Hox: I definitely did these types of patterns in AutoCAD at some point. I refused to work on CAD until Studio 8 in architecture school, but that’s what I did on CAD. I made these things. That’s all that CAD was good for. I don’t think it all happened on purpose. I’m really happy that it’s moving in this direction. With spray paint I took this mark and thought: how can I create different things with it. Same as my focus in architecture, which was prefabricated and modular pieces to make something larger. The spirals are not as primitive as a brush. It’s something more technical. And it’s just fun. My buddy set up a turntable now to spin the canvases, and I’m experimenting with layering these spirals. So my work is now going into 3D. When someone gives me lots of money I’d like to get more 3D and work with routers and knuckle booms and spend all my money on tools.
CS: You mean you’re not going to spend it on Del Toro Shoes?
Hox: Nah, nah. I like shoes, and I like Matt [Chevallard]. I’ll definitely have more of his shoes, but maybe I’ll trade for them.
CS: So you’re working on a collab with Del Toro, tell us about that?
Hox: It’s still in the early design stages. He found me on Instagram and they invited me to paint at the store for Basel. He saw the work and contacted me. That seems to be how new things are happening now. But I’m really excited to see how it works out.
CS: I know. That’s how WE found you. Where do you see yourself in the future? Are you in Miami for good?
Hox: I want to be landing in as many places as possible. Miami will always be home. I’m really blessed to have friends here. There’s a good network of young artists. There’s a tight network of artists here. There’s one obvious week where there are a lot of artists (BASEL). Basel, Basel Basel. But I think there’s a permanent group of quality artists, and I’m proud to consider myself among them. But Vienna is on the map this year, and definitely Switzerland, and New York. You gotta go to New York at least once a year. Also Colombia. I go there every year. My love is from there.
CS: You’re definitely an essential part of this Miami movement. Do you get to work in Colombia?
Hox: Every time I go, I paint. But I mostly go there to have fun and live life. But Stinkfish is there, and other artists I know. I would like to do more serious work there though. Not to get sponsorship or to try to get someone to pay me, just to do it. I can do a lot with two cans, so…
Normally we would be excited to see the further evolution of his past work. That too. But among the new directions he’s heading in, Hox will explore the layering of paint to achieve a 3 dimensional effect. There is order in this process from the selection of the paint and the positioning of the canvas or slab of wood. But the swing of the paint pendulum is controlled as much by Hox as it is by gravity and chance, though I’m sure he leaves chance as much room as Phil Ivey does on a poker table. We are really looking forward to the new textures, visual and tactile, that these peices will create. Hox is also developing a top secret and exciting new method of “delivering” paint to surfaces. I promised not to share, but as soon as I see it out there, you can bet we will report on it or at least instagram and shed a little light on the mystery.
You can like Butter Gallery’s facebook page here.
You can follow Hox’s awesome instagram page here.