At only twenty-two years old, street artist Gaia painted a huge mug of Henry Flagler in the Wynwood Doors the same year he graduated from the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore with a degree in sculpture. Now, Gaia is a self proclaimed “skinny white boy from the Upper East Side.”
So, what is a well-to-do, New York native, sculpture graduate doing with street art? and why is he seemingly glorifying Henry Flagler? Well, Gaia grew up rather comfortable financially, thanks to the successful careers of his doting parents, but in high school, he met a Graffiti artist through Myspace who introduced him to a new world.
Gaia began experimenting with stickers that became popular enough to sell and learned about street art and urban life while at it. His artwork seeks to disturb the quaint denial in which society finds itself regarding city planners, politicians, and rich men who manipulate city landscapes to serve personal agendas. Beyond that, Gaia is very outspoken regarding gentrification, segregation, and the degradation of the environment.
In an effort to raise awareness over these issues, Gaia, whose artist name is borrowed from the Greek goddess of the Earth, chooses to plaster these faces of powerful men who directly impacted (or stunted) the development of urban spaces. Henry Flagler, an oil-rich, industrialist tycoon, was such a man in Florida, and more specifically, Miami.
In Gaia’s painting, the city name “Overtown” is written across Flagler’s forehead with the interstate symbol of “I-95” next to it. Overtown and its development is appropriately credited to Flagler because he established the town for his black railroad workers to live. The construction of I-95 later devastated the already poor community, effectively dooming the west side of the tracks to a long history of severe impoverishment.
Gaia believes his murals may spark further investigation into false histories and sugar-coated biographies. He places his art in forgotten neighborhoods and embraces a commendable role as an artist who immerses himself in cultures not his own.