If you follow the Miami art scene – or even if you’ve just spent enough time rolling through the city’s streets – then you probably know street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue. His eyeball graffiti murals adorn walls all over Wynwood, South Beach, and downtown Miami. He is well-established in the global fine art landscape: he has been a regular at Art Basel for years and is represented by galleries in South Florida and New York. What sets apart Ahol Sniffs Glue, whose given name is David Anasagasti, besides his punk rock attitude and die-hard love for Miami, is his dual commitment to create both high-end art and accessible objects for the everyday consumer.
“There are some artists that just forget about the average person and they just want to make the bigger art pieces…It’s a difficult balance. It’s hard to dance around the commercial side cautiously without looking like a sellout and still be respected in the fancy shit: in the gallery stuff or museum stuff, and I want to do both…It’s my obligation to do both, especially coming from a background of street art,” says Anasagasti.
In addition to making paintings and accepting commissions to paint murals for commercial and residential spaces, Anasagasti has several alternative revenue streams, including partnerships with retail brands like Rider Sandals and Floatie Kings, a fine jewelry line that is carried by the stores at the Perez Art Museum Miami and The Standard Spa, and the annual pop-up shop and art installation, The Ahol Sniffs Glue’s Cyber Trap Boutique, which sells apparel, handmade accessories, and other limited edition items. The boutique, which holds the same name as his online store, successfully closed its second run at Churchill’s Pub in Miami earlier this month.
Artrepreneur sat down with the artist in downtown Miami to discuss how he protects and values his brand, makes wise choices regarding retail partnership offers, and manages the delicate balance between being an authentic artist and “selling out.”
Protect Your Brand & Diversify Your Income
Anasagasti has been working as a full-time artist since 2011. Prior to his art being profitable, he worked various jobs. “I’ve been doing art full-time for the last 7 years when I’ve been living on it. But before, I’ve always worked full-time shitty jobs where besides my full-time job, I was organizing art shows, making art, doing graffiti, and throwing parties…I worked shitty jobs because I refused to be broke,” he admits.
“Hustling” is one of Anasagasti’s defining traits as an artist, which is why he fights to protect his brand. In 2014, he was involved in a lawsuit in which he sued American Eagle Outfitters for appropriating images of his eyeball graffiti without his permission; the copyright infringement case ended in a confidential settlement. Since then, he entrusts his lawyer, Andrew Gerber, to monitor his corporate contracts vigilantly while managing the licensing deals for his signature eyeball images. In 2016, Anasagasti traveled to the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX to speak on a panel with his lawyer titled “Fuck You, Sue Me: Artist Rights, Corporate Theft.”
Even though his eyeball images are the most lucrative, he says that it’s crucial to diversify and pursue other creative projects. In addition to the often-licensed eyeball icon, Anasagasti also has two different lines: Cellular Fuckery and Biscayne World. Cellular Fuckery is the title of a self-published artist book of frenetic digital collages that Anasagasti released last year. Biscayne World is the name of a short animated film by the artist that premiered at the Borscht Film Festival in 2014 and was selected as a Staff Pick on Vimeo in 2016. The film is populated by illustrated caricatures of archetypal Miami characters that Anasagasti encountered on public transit. He continues to produce work, like pins, mugs, and shirts, within the two different styles, in addition to the eyeball images.
“I would consider the eyeball somewhat as a hit song-ish type of thing. At the same time, I do a bunch of different shits that entertain me, like the Cellular Fuckery. That’s a fun thing and I bet on myself with that. Also, the characters, Biscayne World thing. I keep on pushing that as much as I can,” says Anasagasti.
“I think that for any artist, just because one thing isn’t popping doesn’t mean that it isn’t being respected. Sometimes people are not ready for it. I like having the different lines in the waters and all that.”
“Criteria of Dope”: How to Take on Retail Partnerships Without Selling Out
Anasagasti says that he has specific criteria he uses to gauge whether he should take on retail partners interested in licensing his work. “I’m really selective about the retail partnerships that I do. That’s the main thing. I could have sold my soul so many times, but the shit is I pick and choose what is dope. It has to meet the criteria of dope,” he says.
Anasagasti says that when potential retail partners reach out to him to do a collaboration, they are often interested in using his popular eyeball imagery. He says that the key to a successful retail licensing deal for him is controlling the amount of time the company can use the image and the numbers of products they can produce and distribute. He recently embarked on a partnership with the Brazilian company Rider Sandals earlier this year.
“The flip-flops, the chancletas, that shit is Miami as hell. They’re from Brazil; they came at me correct; they were cool; the money made sense…That’s the main criteria: if the money is right, if the item that is being made is right, if the numbers are being controlled and they are limited, to me, that’s dope. If the deal is not conflicting with anything I stand for, and then if the money is right, and also if my lawyer says sign the papers, then let’s do it,” explains Anasagasti.
He describes that it can be difficult to pass up profitable deals from big companies, but he says the most important thing is to respect yourself as an artist. He recounts an offer from a large company that he asked to remain unnamed.
“They said ‘Are you seriously going to pass this up?’ I said, ‘Dude, I can’t.’ The first thing that came to my mind was seeing my artwork in the back [of one of those stores]. I said, ‘Yo. If I see my shit there, I’m gonna fucking wig out.’ I told my brother how much they were offering and he said, ‘David, you’re stupid, dawg.’ I said, ‘Dawg, you don’t understand!’…You made this thing and you gotta fucking nurture it…Your integrity is the most important fucking thing, man.”
Anasagasti is also currently working with the celebrity-endorsed pool float brand, Floatie Kings. He licensed his eyeball images for the floats, which have already been produced. He is in the works to structure a deal to partner with a South Florida water park for a special release event.
Know the Bottom Line & Embrace the Hustle
Even though Anasagasti has several retail partners in the works, he says that his most lucrative endeavor still is creating fine art because of the large profit margins and his social media presence.
“A canvas costs $100 to buy. I probably have the paint lying around. It takes me 30 minutes to an hour to do the painting. [I can sell it for] a couple thousand dollars?…I haven’t done a solo show in three years, but technically I’m having a solo exhibition every day on Instagram. I post a brand new picture on Instagram and I sell most of my shit on there,” he says. “Sometimes I think that I could just paint a couple of paintings in peace and just sell them and kind of make a good amount of money [with just fine art], but people want this stuff…This is a way of me making something people can fuck with and rock.”
At the end of the day, Anasagasti says to always believe in your work as an artist and focus on how to improve yourself: “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Burn the fire under yourself hotter than anyone can burn it because there is really no competition but yourself…It becomes a lonely hustle because people start hating, start getting jealous, envious, and that’s cool. Have your blinders on and be like that horse that’s galloping down the fucking raceway, just straight up gas, dawg.”
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