A few times a year, the Brooklyn-based, Miami-born artist Emilio Perez travels south to his native city—and it’s not just the December art fairs or David’s Café for café con leche and pastelitos de guayaba for breakfast that keep him coming back. Perez, who is finishing a body of work for a January exhibition at Galerie Lelong—and who can recall in great detail his first gallery show at Miami’s Fredric Snitzer—can trace the kinetic, expressive energy of his paintings to the oceanside city he knew as a kid; no matter, he says, that the city is constantly changing. In advance of Art Basel in Miami Beach, where Perez will offer a teaser to his January exhibition at Galerie Lelong, Artsy asked the artist how Banyan trees and Miami culture find a voice in his practice, why the city might be an ideal place to grow up as an artist, and which local go-to’s he’s willing to divulge—from a Cuban market serving tropical juice to a dive bar whose happy hour clock runs from 8am to 7pm.
Artsy: Looking back, was the Miami you knew as a kid a good place for an artist to grow up? How does the city play a role in your practice?
Emilio Perez: The Miami I knew as a kid was a great place to grow up. Living around Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, which are some of the older parts of the city, it was also very lush with plant life. In particular I remember always being fascinated with the old Banyan trees with their hanging vines as well as the mangroves along the water that were early influences on the organic nature of my work. I also spent a lot of time in and around the water in Miami and the Florida Keys. To this day, the ocean continues to play a huge role in my life as a source of inspiration, energy, and fun! The other important part for me was the cultural diversity I grew up around. Today it is even more international but growing up, the Latin and Caribbean culture very much influenced me as much as my travels, culinary interests, and musical tastes.
Artsy: Do you return to the city often? What is your relationship to Miami now?
EP: Miami has always been a city that is constantly changing and reinventing itself. Since I only make it down there a couple of times a year, I notice the changes much more. I mainly go down during the art fair which has made my relationship with Miami more about business, although it is hard not to have fun when you are there. It is still a very unique city that has a lot to offer if you know where to look.
Artsy: We’re making a to-do list for Miami. Can you suggest a few local favorite spots to eat, drink, and/or see art? Are there any Art Basel in Miami Beach week events you think we shouldn’t miss?
EP: One thing I cannot live without when I go to Miami is café con leche and pastelitos de guayaba for breakfast. You can get these just about anywhere in Miami, but if you are on Miami Beach, David’s Café on Lincoln Road will do just fine. As far as local flavor goes, the one place I can think of on Miami Beach that has not changed much since I can remember is Mac’s Club Deuce Bar. The place is still a dive and if I recall, happy hour starts at 8am! If you want to venture out a little further for some Latin or Caribbean experiences, try El Palacio de los Jugos for any tropical juice or shake you could possibly imagine as well as food or LC’s Roti Shop for a taste of Trinidad and Tobago.
As for Art Basel in Miami Beach events, I would say not to miss any of the private collections.
Artsy: What was memorable about your first gallery show in Miami?
EP: My first exhibition in Miami was a three person show with Mark Handforth and Dara Friedman at Fredric Snitzer when he had a space in Coral Gables back in 1996. At the time I was making abstract paintings that included appropriated objects like photos and thrift store paintings. Dara showed a film and Mark had a giant satellite dish in the middle of the room; there was an interesting dialogue between all three very different types of work. I remember when Fred came over for a studio visit he was nervous about his car since I was in such a bad neighborhood. Ironically, his gallery is now a block away from my former studio.
Artsy: What are you currently working on, and what do you have coming up next?
EP: I will be sending a couple of new paintings to Art Basel in Miami Beach, which are a preview of my upcoming exhibition at Galerie Lelong in New York this coming January. Currently I am finishing up works for the exhibition titled “Footprints On the Ceiling”, which will include a new body of paintings inspired by the art of sci-fi and pulp fiction book covers, a monumental site-specific wall piece, and a large triptych made during a residency in Southern California in 2011-12, which has yet to be seen in New York.
Perez’ work is on view at Galerie Lelong, Art Basel in Miami Beach 2013, Kabinett, G1, Dec. 5th – 8th.