By: Camila Álvarez
Douglas Hoekzema (alias Hox) is sweating. It’s 5 pm and it feels like it is 95 degrees inside his studio in Little Haiti. He is surrounded by a galaxy of circular paintings he made with a paint pendulum—a low-tech device he uses to make his patterns— made with a rope that hangs from the ceiling and an Evian water bottle full of paint. White paint in this case.
The first time I met Hox was back in 2009 when he was working with the guys from Primary Flight. I remember Hox was always busy and when he wasn’t, he liked to grab a spray can and paint these flower-looking shapes on the walls, or puffballs as he calls them, made with a technique where he uses half the cone of paint which leaves a U shaped mark. I remember seeing Hox’s flowers on random walls all around the Design District area while I was driving and thinking that he was going to end up doing something really cool one day.
And I was right.
Hox continued developing his technique and organic patterns and started making huge, colorful mandalas on walls around Miami. Because of their scale and the boldness of his trace, his circular designs can look aggressive sometimes, like an organized chaos coming out of the wall. But because of their colorfulness, they also look fun and make you think about corals, cells, or the freedom you felt when you were a child and had an unlimited supply of paint and time in front of you.
After being arrested several times because “he painted a flower,” like a police report once stated, Hox decided to leave his illegal painting years behind, and invest all his time in his studio and in painting commissioned walls. He has collaborated with dope artists like Andrew Schoultz, Fintan Magee, Stinkfish, and Santiago Rubino, and has painted in the streets of New York, San Francisco, Colombia, and Vienna.
We chatted with him about his process and the development of his patterns…
CA: What was going on in December 2009, when I met you at Primary Flight?
HOX: That was my second year with PF. I was just the guy on the streets who was helping everybody, from the lifts, to the scaffolding, to buffing everybody’s walls. But at the same time I was fresh out of architecture school, working at a lumber mill. I couldn’t find work, so I got back to purely focusing on art.
I remember you were beginning to draw your flowers with the spray can. How did the simpler patterns evolve?
I did that mark, the first marks where these puff balls or flowers, and it just seemed natural to make circles with them, and then keep making repetitive larger marks of the same mark or like petals, or vaguely thinking about coral and plant organic growth, the golden mean…
Do you really think about that?
No, I really try to think about nothing [laughs], but I’ve looked at it, like the microscopic drawings of Ernst Haeckel. But when I’m painting I don’t reference anything. It’s just about what I can do with my gesture.
What did you do before these flowers?
Before, I was doing paintings of jazz musicians. I did B.B. King and then in Basel 2008 with Primary Flight I did a 30-foot portrait of Celia Cruz at the same time I was helping everybody. That year I met El Mac, Retna…I felt like a little kid. I got to help El Mac do his sketch, drive the lift for him. I was like his arm, so to speak. That was a really cool experience, and then I kind of lost interest in needing an image, or a story, or a reason to paint. I started doing this mark, and just playing with patterns and see how I could organize this u-shape, this arc.
Did you think about the shape you were making or it just happened spontaneously?
It was very intuitive; they were obvious patterns to make. Maybe now I’m beginning to think, to analyze what I’ve been doing, because it’s been very experimental. I think I’m thinking about it more because when I travel, I can only get so much paint, so I have to think about how I’m going to use each can, whereas when I’m here in Miami I can get all the paint I need. So the thinking has been kind of a reaction to this.
When did you paint your first walls?
I painted my first wall in 2009 with Primary Flight. In 2010 I painted with Andrew Schoultz. It was awesome cause I had no idea who he was. I was doing my own thing and then I got a call— they needed me to help him with his lift. I showed him an image of the puffball and he liked it. It was awesome. We ended up collaborating and I got very good advice from him.
Somebody told me something about a cop writing on his report that he had arrested you because you had painted a flower…
[laughs] Yeah, I got caught painting on 20th street in Wynwood. It was a sergeant with like 8 other cops and there were 3 cops who were in training. The sergeant was like “This is how you arrest a graffiti artist” and you know, whatever. You couldn’t read anything of what he wrote on the paper, except for the last sentence. It said “He painted a flower”. And that’s all the judge could read, and he looked at me like wtf?! [laughs]
Ha-ha that’s hilarious. Now talk to me about your process…
Tons of experimentation. It came to organize the pattern I was making and the obvious was a circle. Then it was about going out and painting in the streets and collaborating. It was also about how to contain myself because I’m really good at over painting. Try to learn restraint was a big step. And then as I got bigger walls, I started painting bigger circles, and circles within circles. It was either a total freeform pattern or I don’t know…I didn’t set out to do mandalas, that’s just where I’m at. It just seemed to be the organic way to evolve on it. Now I’m thinking about other geometries, but for those I need bigger walls and more time.
Crop circles. There are some patterns that are based on the Flower of Life, the golden ratio. They really get into more fractal patterns. I’ve started to get close to those in some of my last murals.
Tell me about your average studio day…
Wait, can we go back to painting larger murals?
In reaction to my studio and painting larger murals, and even just the mark and the spray paint, which is more of a mechanism, a delivering device…I’m still interested in airless spray guns, spray paint cans, I moved into a paint pendulum, turkey basters, sprinklers. So it’s just the same idea finding another mechanism and seeing what kind of patterns and marks it is capable of doing and seeing how some of them react to each other and so forth.
Going to the next question, there’s not an average studio day. I wish there was, there’s been months where I’ve been here at 9 am every day and I leave at midnight. I feel that I’m about to get back into that. I really miss it. And the work I do is geared towards if I have a show coming up. For example now I have 140 circles that are getting cut. That I’m really excited for cause that’ll be 2, 3 week push in which I’ll work every day for 10-15 hours.
In September I’m painting the YoungArts building, next to the Bacardi building on Biscayne. I’m covering the windows, the walls, everything. In October I’m giving a lecture to the Architecture Institute of the Western Mountain Region in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I’m also painting a mural. In November I have a solo show in Vienna at Ernst Hilger’s project space.
How did you meet Ernst Hilger?
I met them at an exhibition called Cash, cans, and candy last summer in Vienna— a couple of my friends were showing with them. I started showing with them this year in February at the Art Wynwood fair, and then they offered me a project space for November. The show will be called Tangible Time.
Featured Photo by Mark Diamond
*This interview was originally published on Culture Designers