Many of Miami's creatives are transient, showing up on our shores and disappearing as quickly as the tides. The Art on the Street series will document this overlooked and ever-changing element of South Beach culture.
|Street artist Julie Aiken sits with her work on the corner of Lincoln Rd. and Collins Ave. |
On the northwest corner of the sidewalk outside Walgreen's on Lincoln Road, a woman's lanky body is folded in on itself in a position that looks almost prayer-like. She wears a magenta head wrap draped around her head, despite the thick afternoon heat. She is surrounded by small tubes of paint, pencils, circular stencils, and pen and watercolor renderings pinned to the sidewalk by candles.
Before she tells me her name, she relates a murky and less than
linear account of the last six years, involving a husband lost to
colorectal cancer, conspiracy, poverty, and homelessness. As she talks,
her eyes often go wide, revealing a lot of yellowing white around her
milky blue-rimmed irises. It appears that most of her teeth are gone.
She's 55 years old.
At a short lull in her story, I ask, and she tells me that her name is Julie. When pressed, she says quietly that her last name is Aiken, and she brings her skinny elbows up to her eyes to swipe at incipient tears. "He was a Vietnam vet," she says, "and when he died the government stole his pension and threw me out into the streets. He was sick for 18 months, and I was his caretaker. When he was alive, they paid, but as soon as he passed, the money stopped coming. Nothing from the oil company, nothing from the government," she says, and then explains that her late husband had worked as a merchant seaman for an oil company. "No one would ever tell me which one," she says.
At the time, Aiken says was living in Los Angeles. Two months after her husband's death in November 2005, a divine voice told her to come to Miami. Here, she is homeless. She sells her mixed media paintings and drawings on sidewalks in South Beach. Her prices vary by buyer and with her levels of desperation. "The tourists are very kind to me, very kind," she says.
Aiken's art is composed of many tight, precise lines, celestial objects, and bright colors. She says it's largely inspired by the zodiac. "I did 30 years of astrology," she asserts. "I know the mathematics of the planets. I don't need a computer for it."
She says she began drafting and drawing while attending Robert Lindblom, an accelerated technical high school in Chicago, where she grew up. She even went to college in Charleston, South Carolina, but doesn't specify where.
"And ... I'm nothing!" she says, throwing her arms up in an exaggerated shrug.Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.