Vandal Director Dives Inside the Miami Graffiti Scene

By Justin Caffier on May 8, 2019

Over the past few decades, graffiti has mostly shaken off the stigma of its humble origins and made the leap from being widely regarded as a societal blight to a respected, critiqued and lucrative art form. While corporations and the Art Basel crowd throw duffel bags of cash at the du jour street artists, the underground graffiti community chugs along with violent rivalries, inflated egos and ever-present threats of arrest that have come with the trade since day one.

In the new film Vandal, which recently premiered at the Miami Film Festival, we follow one such artist from the Miami graffiti scene, Damage, as he navigates the creative, social and legal hurdles that come with doggedly chasing his true calling and staying true to the art form. The film’s director and co-writer, Jose Daniel “Jaydee” Freixas, has been graffitiing since age 10, and brought many of his real-world experiences to the project. To better help us understand the wild world of “bombs” and “toys” he captured in his film, PRØHBTD asked Freixas a few questions on the subject.

Give us some background on your own history with the graffiti scene.

I started doing graffiti when I was around 11 years old. I was very active in the Miami street bombing scene in the late nineties. I moved to North Florida in the early 2000s and got into freight train graffiti. Around 2003 I moved back to Miami, enrolled in film school, and that was it as far as full-time graffiti goes.

How much coaching did [Damage actor] Daniel Zovatto need on his painting technique?

Danny is an artist in real life. He is a very talented painter. His love for art is really what made him want to do Vandal. He had always wanted to play an artist on screen. Considering he already had a lot of experience painting, learning graffiti was a bit more natural. I connected Danny with a lot of real graffiti artists so he could not only learn how to spray, but also absorb their lifestyles, stories, history, etc. The first guy Danny met was the legendary West Coast graffiti artist RISK, who is an executive producer on the film.

How much of the graffitiing we see was illegal?

All the graffiti in the movie is legal, and though we shot a lot of illegal graffiti, unfortunately, we had to cut it out of the film for legal reasons.

Did you have any close calls when shooting those?


(Editor's note: We asked Freixas to elaborate more on this question, but he declined our requests.)

How long did it take to create that revenge bombing montage? Was all the footage new for the film or did you include old tape?

As mentioned, that montage originally had a lot of illegal graffiti. It did take a long time to shoot as it’s harder and more time consuming to make legal graffiti look illegal. You have to get permission for the wall, paint the graffiti, toy with it and then paint it back to normal. Illegal graffiti skips a few of those steps. So, all the footage that made the final cut was new.

What relationship does cannabis have in the Miami graffiti scene, and how have you seen it change as it has become increasingly legal?

Cannabis and graffiti have gone hand in hand for as long as I can remember. It’s part of the culture. I can’t really pinpoint exactly why, but it might have something to do with artists feeling stimulated while painting and smoking cannabis. It definitely has changed for the better with legalization. I feel like the police are way more lenient and not pulling up on graffiti or street artists anymore using possession of cannabis as a reason.

What are your favorite and least favorite trends you’re seeing in the graffiti and street art scenes today?

My favorite trend is seeing graffiti artists creating decent living situations for themselves. It wasn’t always like that. First off, brands weren’t so willing to associate with graffiti, and graff artists also felt like those brands were selling out. I love that brands and corporations are now tapping into this culture more and more and love that graffiti artists are seizing those opportunities.

My least favorite trend is the reliance on internet graffiti street fame⎯the idea that you can paint a secluded wall or fence behind a house or building, upload to Instagram and ride on that fame. I still feel like the real street fame is rising to a highly visible spot where the danger of arrest is still present.

In reference to Nick’s convo with the wayward youths, what’s something you wish a graffiti legend had told a younger you?

"In 15 years, there will be a neighborhood called Wynwood, which will be the epicenter of street art and graffiti worldwide. Stick with it, and hone your craft now because, in time, you can make a great future for yourself with this graffiti."

Photos courtesy of Exilium.

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