Typoe Gran picks up a page from Friedrich Fröbel’s book. The Miami-based artist has long been inspired by the inventor of the nursery and building blocks, creating larger-than-life sculptures and murals that remind us of the importance of play and experimentation.
Typoe, who recently made headlines with his major artistic contribution to the Andy Warhol Museum’s Pop District, has been creating his own lexicon of building blocks over the past few years. His imagery extends well beyond the cubes, spheres and archways introduced by Fröbel in the 1830s to include flowers, hands, skulls, drops of blood and ravens – all of which have a unique, symbolic meaning.
Artnet’s current buy-it-now offers By the grace of God, a collection of brand new, well-balanced sculpts, each with a unique color element. We sat down with Typoe to learn more about the inspiration behind this title, the process behind the work and the future of his visual language.
Read on to find out more and bring home one of Typoe’s sculptures, available now through August 16th.
When did you realize you wanted to make art? Has that always interested you or did it only occur to you later?
My mother is an artist, my older sister is an artist and my great aunt used to carve marble sculptures with a chisel and hammer. I grew up around a lot of creative female artists. My parents also collect art, so I’ve always been surrounded by that.
I’ve been doing things ever since I could crawl, always building intuitively. The first sculpture I ever made was made by taking two teddy bears, cutting them in half and putting them back together to form a new bear. I remember finding it interesting to bring the two different concepts together.
My parents kept most of my artwork from my childhood, so they have my drawings and stories and clay sculptures – everything. I can look back and see a lot in common between then and now, also in terms of content. Some of it was bright and fun, but a lot of it was really dark for a kid.
Can you tell us more about yours shapes from life and Form Series? How were you originally inspired by Friedrich Fröbel’s building blocks?
The inspiration behind the blocks came to me about six years ago when I was reflecting on the state of our world: everyone was fighting and everything seemed so polarized. Humans have been around for thousands of years, and yet we don’t know how to communicate.
I was wondering how we ended up like this. So I started thinking about childhood psychology, and that’s when I came across Friedrich Fröbel, who developed kindergarten and children’s building blocks. I was fascinated. And that got me thinking about kindergarten “rules” like: be nice to everyone, don’t take what’s not yours, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. These are such basic rules of life that adults don’t follow!
But as adults, we can still play and learn and change. A lot of people say it’s too late, but I disagree. i created forms of life with huge, larger-than-life blocks because I wanted adults to feel like kids again.
While these works mimic building blocks, the shapes go far beyond traditional cubes and rectangles. Can you tell me about the symbolism behind these shapes and how you chose them?
I started with the basic building block shapes like triangles, rectangles, squares, and archways. But I thought it would be fun to create my own shapes and symbols. I started researching and looking at the world around me and my own interests. I was reading Edgar Allan Poe a lot back then, and that’s where the raven came from as a beautiful icon of the afterlife. For me, the drop of blood represents a connecting shape – a reminder that in a way we are all the same.
Every few months I try to bring in a new form. I hope to create a rolodex of shapes that will serve as my own visual language that I can use to build a whole new universe.
Her current collection, available on Artnet’s Buy Now platform, is titled By the grace of God. What is the meaning behind this title?
I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous when I was 16 and I’ve been sober for 18 years. And every time I introduced myself to AA and said I was sober, someone would come up to me and say, “By the grace of God.”
I’m not religious at all, but this phrase stuck in my head as a reflection of life and fragility, trying to connect and rebuild yourself. And the images in the piece reflect that theme. The Creation of Adam’s Michelangelo hand is just about balanced on its finger with the circle hanging on the edge. Every object is in a constant state of equilibrium.
Life is often like this – one small moment can change everything.
Can you explain the technical process behind creating these sculptures?
Everything I do has a balance, an exploration of light and dark, positive and negative, that extends to my materials. These sculptures are made of walnut, my favorite wood. There’s something so natural about it, but at the same time it’s cut with precision and finished to perfection.
Each block is balanced in such a way that a small change could affect the entire sculpture. The circle above hangs from a tiny sliver of metal. It’s an amazing feat of engineering. My team had to sit down and figure out how to effectively defy gravity. Each piece in the series has a color block. I used an automotive paint that was painted and then sanded several times. It’s a constant six coat finish and gives a beautiful glossy finish.
I love that each piece has a thoughtful pop of color that ties them together. I consider these works as a collection, not an edition, as each one is handmade and colored differently.
They have contributed to several public art installations and murals, from the Andy Warhol Museum to an installation at the MiamiCentral Brightline Station. Why is art in public space so important to you?
Community is so important to me and I want my art to appeal to everyone, whether it’s driving to work or walking down the street. Often my listeners are homeless people or people running errands. I create art for ordinary people and their energy drives my work.
Working with the Warhol Museum was a lot of fun because the mural is part of the institution but also public. I love challenging spaces like stairs and elevators – or in this case, an alleyway down the side of the museum. At one point it was uninviting, cold and poorly lit. Now we’ve created a place for people to gather, hang out and take photos.
Tell me more about Primary, your gallery in Miami. What was the inspiration behind the room? What projects are you currently looking forward to the most?
My partners Cristina Gonzalez and Books Bischof and I founded Primary in 2007, and it began as a public art project in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. The goal was to bring murals to Miami. The gallery opened in 2010. We wanted to have our own space because as much as I love public art, if you don’t own the building you don’t control anything. We wanted that freedom to have fun and to create and bring in new artists. We are currently working with Jeffrey Deitch curating a series of public works at Miami World Center.
We want to bring different voices to different communities in a responsible way. We know that many people use public art as a gentrifying factor. It’s important to us that we have the right creative and critical conversations when creating art in a new space.
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