Street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue may hold the world record for most eyes painted, ever.
His iconic eyeballs stare out from street corners all over Miami and beyond. A young graffiti artist of Cuban descent, Ahol tagged, painted and stickered Miami to the point that you can’t hide from the omnipresent eyes. His wild talent and dedicated passion have made him one of the most recognizable and respected street artists in the world. In 2014, Ahol found himself at the center of a scandal when retailer American Eagle used his artwork in a world-wide add campaign without asking permission or offering compensation. They settled the lawsuit out of court.
Ahol has played a big role in transforming the perception of street art from vandalism to high art. We caught up with Ahol Sniffs Glue to see what he had to say about life, art and his critically-acclaimed short film Biscayne World.
What are you excited about these days?
I still like writing my name on walls, and I still like stickers, but that’s kind of automatic. I’m doing jewelry stuff and selling it at the museum over here, the PAMM museum and The Standard. And the short film thing was pretty fun.
I went to SXSW; I did a panel talk with my lawyer regarding intellectual property and things.
About the American Eagle suit?
Not just that, but also going through that and knowing, as an artist, you do have rights and you gotta protect yourself. People’ve been bringing me out to different places to do different talks and empower people, to let them know that you can be an artist. You should stand behind your work and push it to many different boundaries and just know that if someone’s stealing from you, you do have a way of defending yourself with lawyers.
Do you feel like what you went through with American Eagle has affected your art?
I mean, as far as affecting me, it’s made me aware that this can happen to anyone. You have to [handle it] the right way. You can’t just go on the internet and start badmouthing people. Luckily I had a good lawyer, but I look at everything in a different way, you know? I tread lightly. It’s made me a lot more knowledgable about the creative world, the good and the bad, but it’s all punches we roll with everyday.
Credit: American Eagle, via Miami New Times
You’ve said the characters in Biscayne World are an expansion of the eyeball…
I’m just continually trying to push the characters because it feels like the eyeball pattern and the eye went kinda viral, whereas the characters got left in the dust a little bit. But showing the movie and the story of it, people could see where it came from and my type of humor and approach to things.
What do you think it is about the eyeball that resonated with people so much?
To be honest, I know that the eyeball is something that’s been around forever. People can sympathize with it no matter what religion, no matter what language you speak. No pun intended, it’s iconic. [Ed. note: lol. Eyemazing.] It’s been around since hieroglyphics. There are some places where you wouldn’t be able to paint on a wall where they say, “Oh, no, we can’t have graffiti or murals or anything like that,” but they’re willing to let the eyeballs stay up because it’s like a pattern or a texture. I think people associate with it more because it kind of speaks to them in whichever way they want. The main objective to me is defining style, [and] for people to see it and be like, “Wow, that’s Ahol’s work.”
Biscayne World features footage of you taking the bus after you got run over, and they totaled your scooter.
Even though I got run over, I still had to find a way to work, you know? It was basically making the most out of that situation. Even getting the footage from the actual [traffic] camera…
The funny thing is that we didn’t grow up rich or nothing. We grew up highly trashy. It’s kinda weird to see that you’re always like, “Oh, you can rely on the police, the police are gonna help you out,” or whatever. And then you get run over, and it’s not your fault. You’re hoping that the police are able to use these cameras that they have up there, and they end up just giving you a souvenir of you getting run over and not helping you because they never caught the lady [who ran me over].
You’re probably the one person that was able to use that souvenir as art.
That’s why I’m so proud of that movie, even though [when it comes to] short films, there’s not a bunch of money to be made or anything like that. But it got into a bunch of different film festivals and it got me to different parts of the world and it showed that people are interested. For Vimeo to make it a staff pick was really humbling. They never caught the lady [who ran me over], and I don’t wish her anything bad, but hopefully she’s not out there running people over, you know?
It’s that Cuban ingenuity, you know? Whatever you throw at me, I’m gonna make something of it.
Tell us about some of the other work you’ve done.
I have done stuff for Lotus House, which is a battered women’s shelter. I did their logo for them, the little girl. For the eyes, for instance, I made them into hearts, and on the hairs, I put little bowties, so it was kind of a way of cleaning it up and making it aesthetically nicer for the type of situation it is.
I pick and choose what charities I align myself with, but those people are amazing. I mean, I’ve lost my mom to cancer, so to see women who need help, it makes me feel really good to be able to help out, especially with my art.
Did you lose your mother when you were young?
I was about 22 when I lost her to cancer. It’s something that you never forget, but it’s life, you know? You gotta roll with the punches. Sometimes those punches hurt more than ever, but you gotta deal with it, you know? Life is gonna keep throwing curveballs. Losing my mom really added a layer of realness to my life. Not holding back for nobody.
Do you feel like that affected your art?
When I was going to see her at hospice and taking her to chemo, […] it did make me question what I was doing. “Should I go to school for this or that?” It strengthened me a lot. Art has always been something I can rely on. But it’s rough. Everybody’s dealing with different things, that’s why you gotta treat people good.
Do you feel like there’s a message that runs through all your work?
Pretty much the whole concept of the movie and the way that I go about life is “every second counts.” Everything matters. Everything’s important. Even a little tag under a sink in a bathroom will be seen by somebody. And I’ve said it quite often it’s like living as a ghetto astronomer where you’re constantly tying constellations together and just making everything work. That’s why that whole balance of being able to flip stuff in the fine art gallery setting, but also still you know being able go to the ‘hood and paint something. Turning the corner always.
How do you think your work got so popular?
When people ask, “How come you’re up everywhere…?” to me it’s just second nature. It doesn’t take that much. If you’re remembering your wallet, and you’re remembering your cell phone, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t remember your stack of stickers and a marker. And that’s just like daily life. When people say, “Oh, nobody cares what I do, nobody listens to my artwork. I’m better than this person, I’m better than that person,” but that’s the good thing. You’re in total control of the frequency of what you put out there. So if nobody cares about you or likes what you do, well at least they know [your] name.
Did you ever think as a child that you would grow up to be a famous artist?
No, it’s crazy. I try not to listen to the wake that I create. I try not to get jaded by the ups. Sometimes they’re just as powerful as the downs, so got to just keep pushing and pushing.
I also gave a TEDx Talk about rolling with the punches. I made the best out of every situation. There’s time to sit down and cry about stuff you know, but I feel like one of those hippie buses that could run on gasoline, diesel or cooking oil. So whatever it is, I’m gonna make it work. The world doesn’t owe anybody anything, you know what I’m saying? We gotta make with what we got. A lot of times I felt that I got the shitty end of the stick because I didn’t get to go to art school and a lot of stuff, but you know what? I am who I am, and it is what it is, and thank God that everything happens how it happens. I just ask to be able to interpret and deal with whatever comes my way on a daily basis. As long as I go to sleep fine that’s all that matters, you know?
We totally know. Ahol continues to tour the country painting and inspiring fellow artists to live their lives to the fullest. Check out his raw and beautiful TEDx Talk and keep your eyes peeled for his new animated music video coming soon at www.aholsniffsglue.com
BONUS: Below, check out the teaser for Ahol’s video for Otto Von Schirach’s “Biscayne Block.”