An ‘eye’ for trash? This Latino artist is a hit during Art Basel

Cycling around the streets of Miami gave David Anasagasti, an artist known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, the inspiration to place his signature “eye” symbol on pieces of urban trash he finds and give his followers a chance to find them and keep them.

His newest concept is now drawing international attention through an exhibition during Miami Art Week that runs parallel to Art Basel.

Art Basel, the country’s contemporary art fair that runs through this week in Miami Beach attracts high net-worth individuals from around the world and includes works of artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

It’s not Anasagasti’s first time exhibiting during Miami Art Week, but the concept of featuring trash converted to art contrasts with the opulence of Art Basel.

Anasagasti, 41, began his career over 20 years ago with street art and graffiti culture. A couple of years later, he began creating paintings and drawings. His art has sold for as much as $80,000 for a piece.

The Cuban American artist had a rough upbringing in the working-class suburb of Hialeah. He and his older brother were raised by his grandparents while his mother worked late-night shifts to make ends meet — his dad was out of the picture. The brothers relied on hand-me-down clothes and spent much of their time sitting around the television watching MTV.

“Life is harsh. I learned that at an early age, ” he told NBC News in a phone interview. “I knew that survival was crucial. I knew that the only safety net that I have under me was that one that I put under myself.”

Shortly after graduating as an AP honors student from South Ridge Senior High School in Miami, he dealt with the emotional toll of his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“Me and my brother would take turns taking my mom to chemo after work,” Anasagasti said. “You go from not having to pay rent [to] all of sudden, like, a survivor for yourself.”

For almost a decade, Anasagasti would help organize parties in downtown Miami as a side gig to his regular, 40-hour-a-week job. Using his cellphone and an app similar to PhotoShop, he would create mashup images to promote the parties.

After the pandemic, he said, he decided to leave his old life of partying and drugs behind, focusing on his passion for painting.

‘Can’t get arrested for painting on trash’

Inspired by his bike rides across the city, he began painting on trash using his signature “eye” stamp while uploading pictures on Instagram, amassing more than 39,000 followers. It was a way to “interact with the city and keep it more fun,” he said.

“I can’t get arrested for painting on trash. So let me just incentivize people,” said Anasagasti, whose work has become a scavenger hunt for his followers. He posts images on his Instagram story and other social media accounts with a present icon, those who find the art first are able to keep it. “We’re being united by these trash items.”

In collaboration with Florida International University’s Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator and the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, Anasagasti’s exhibition “Geographies of Trash: Art Cycling with Ahol Sniffs Glue” has become a hit during Art Basel.

Along with the exhibition, participants of Art Basel’s first trash-to-art scavenger hunt scored NFTs of Anasagasti’s work.

“If I would have known that I was going to take it this far, I would have never named myself Ahol,” said Anasagasti, whose pricey artwork is now a coveted collector’s item. “I am showing that as long as you’re leading from the gut, and you’re shooting from the heart, I feel that I’m just living as honest as I can.”

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Kenneth Proto

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