Arts and Entertainment Guide
Fort Lauderdale’s Art Revivalist: A Look At Herbert Galarza's Murals
It started the way a lot of things do: with an ulterior motive.
When Herbert Galarza was 23 years old, what motivated him was getting into some of South Beach’s most acclaimed nightclubs without being denied access or having to pay an absurd cover fee. So, he decided to become friends with the owner of Miami’s Story and LIV nightclubs, David Grutman.
But how does a college dropout putting graffiti on train yards and buildings in Dallas, Texas, rub shoulders with a millionaire named by Rolling Stone as one of EDM’s biggest influencers? He spray paints Grutman and DJ Cedric Gervais fighting with saber swords on a poster-sized canvas, of course. Then he photographs it and tags the two friends in an Instagram post.
“Within seconds I get inboxed by both of them fighting for it,” Galarza says. “They’re like, ‘Here’s my number, I want the painting.’ I made them both a painting, and Grutman was like, ‘Hey, can you fly out here next week for Art Basel? I want to invite you to a party at my house.’”
Galarza was already traveling between Texas and Florida often to stay with relatives in Miami. In fact, South Florida was where he had moved at 8 years old when his family left South America.
“When I was growing up in Bolivia, there are nice parts, [and] there are the ghetto parts, and graffiti is inevitable,” Galarza says. “We would drive by, and [I would] ask my dad, ‘Hey, what’s all this about?’ And he would say, ‘It’s not good. Don’t event worry about it.’ Little did he know when I got older, I dropped out of college and started graffiting.”
Fueled by a breakup after his senior year of high school, what seemed like Galarza’s own destruction—quitting school, vandalizing buildings—turned out to be an essential period of self-discovery.
His friends became fans of his work and started asking if they could buy his paintings.
“I was like, ‘You want to buy this?’” he remembers. “I never thought about selling any of it. I didn’t care. It was more of a hobby.”
But soon enough, Galarza was selling his art, moving to South Florida and using Instagram to showcase his work. One year after meeting Grutman for the first time, the Miami mogul gave Galarza a call.
“He said, ‘I’m getting married,’ and I was like, ‘Cool, congrats,’” Galarza recounts. “And he’s like, ‘You don’t understand, I need you to paint a mural for me.’”
Grutman commissioned Galarza to create the artwork in Wynwood he would use to ask his now wife, Isabela Rangel, to marry him. The painting would be bigger than a billboard (the largest project Galarza has ever worked on), and it would have to be completed during the night so no one saw.
“The very first sketch I sent him, which was a day or two later, he texted me back immediately and was like, ‘Dude, we’re cutting it close, I’m not liking it,’” Galarza says.
Once Galarza sketched a rendering they both agreed on, he had three nights to complete the project. He remembers crawling into bed at 2 p.m. after spending the night into morning painting. He had sent Grutman a photo of the mural that was nearly complete, but there was no response.
Galarza proceeded to get the sort of sleep you get when you’re an amateur artist working on a job for one of Miami’s most influential persons who has yet to answer your text.
However, when he woke, he found a photo in his inbox of Grutman smiling in front of the mural—he’d driven over just to see it in person. “I already knew he loved it,” Galarza says.
The final product was a caricature of Rangel with the words “Isabela, will you marry me” and yes or no boxes for her to mark with a can of spray paint Grutman gave her on the ride over. When she confirmed her answer was “Yes” in paint, 30-some friends and family members revealed themselves from behind the wall, including Gervais, Hulk Hogan and Scottie Pippen.
“That opened a door for me to a whole different clientele,” Galarza says.
During the summer, he moved to Aventura to be in between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
“In Miami, you have world-renowned artists who are willing to paint the walls for free,” he says. “They don’t necessarily need me. In Fort Lauderdale, you’re making a living.”
Galarza has been paid to make murals in Flagler Village and the MASS District. He’s also the artist behind the artwork inside One Door East restaurant, and soon, he will have a studio in his cousin Stefan Banach’s Bean 2 Brew coffee shop in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
If it hadn’t been for Grutman taking to him, Galarza admits none of the above would have panned out as it did. When asked why he thinks he was picked to paint the mural, Galarza says he’s still not sure.
“I have my theories, I never really asked him,” he says. “He’s creating such an amazing enterprise, he’s so successful in the nightlife business it’s unbelievable; and I think that he saw some sort of talent, drive and hunger, because I was not really, I wasn’t well-known in the arts, so I think he kind of appreciated that, like he found this talented kid and gave him a shot.”