Want to Find the Real Miami Beach? Get to Know Its Artists

If you look hard enough, you can pierce the phony facade in even the most tourist-choked destinations. In south Florida, I finally broke through that barrier when I connected with the artists in Miami Beach.

My first view of the art of Karim Ghidinelli was from a second floor balcony at the Art Center/South Florida, looking down into his open cubicle. The artist sat in the center of the room, hunched over a cell phone, surrounded by massive oil on tin paintings. Initially, the flamboyant colors splayed across each piece held my attention. But I was even more fascinated when I realized that a giant thumbprint had been etched into the center of each metal canvas. I had to see them up close.

Ghidinelli in his studio, surrounded by huge canvases

The intense young man welcomed me into his studio and studied me with dark, brooding eyes as I examined his paintings up close. Each fingerprint whorl was formed by words, some readable and some not, spiraling in toward the center. I read snatches:

“…the most natural pressure is fear…”

“…all the traits that make the self do not come from the self so how do we claim…”

“…fall under the omnipresent post-modern theory of everything…”

“…fearless encounter…”

The artist’s intensity is reflected in his workk

I asked Ghidinelli if the concept of fear was central to his work. “We all strive for stability but never achieve it,” he explained. Ghidinelli is no stranger to this struggle; like most artists he never knows when his next paycheck is coming. But he compared his struggle to the corporate executive who lives beyond his means and our tendency as humans to spend as much as we make. Not having a regular source of income has spared him this experience, for which he seems grateful, if a bit resigned. He shrugged his broad shoulders and crossed his arms. “At least I know I will have at least a few good months each year.”

Each canvas features a giant fingerprint, with whorls formed by words etched into the tin

On the opposite side of town, in the historic Spanish Village known as Espanola Way, Alberto de Meneses sat on the front patio of his tiny apartment/studio with two friends. Again it was color that stopped me in my tracks. A giant disc bearing a brightly painted Ohm (the Sanskrit symbol for peace) had been nailed to a post and multi-colored Buddhist prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. Wearing mismatched orange Yoga pants and purple T-shirt; with a brown knit cap covering his bald head, a red knit scarf wound around his throat, and a gold Conga drum gripped between his legs, de Meneses was himself an incongruous mismatched palette.

Alberto de Meneses (right) and friends recover from a night of revelry on the patio of his studio/apartment
A colorfully dressed de Meneses poses for a close-up

He welcomed me into the studio with a warning, “Watch out for the naked man inside.” Indeed there was a man passed out on a chair inside but thankfully he was not naked. “He had too much to drink last night and I told him to stay here rather than go home,” de Meneses explained. (It was by now three in the afternoon). Carefully navigating around sleeping beauty I perused the paintings and tapestries stacked on the floor and tacked to every available surface. Some depicted the Buddha, others were abstract, and a few depicted scenes from what I assumed was the Kama Sutra. De Meneses smiled beneath his mirrored sunglasses and apologized for the mess. “I am only here temporarily – until the landlord sells the building.” When I asked where he will go from here he shrugged and replied, “Who knows?”

De Meneses’ art occupies every available space inside the tiny studio
De Meneses erotica, perhaps from the Kama Sutra

Like Ghidinelli, the uncertainty did not seem to bother de Meneses. Perhaps all creators must accept uncertainty and make peace with fear if they are to be true to their calling. I know I have.

15 thoughts on “Want to Find the Real Miami Beach? Get to Know Its Artists”

    • Best thing to do is just stop by for a visit at his place on Espanola Way–across the street from the school at the end. You can’t miss him, you’ll see the house and the artwork in the yard, and he’s always ready to sit down for a chat and show you his art, talk about life, etc.

  1. This is totally the real Miami beach-from the eclectic artists to the white sandy beaches, you can find just about anything you want in miami, exept quiet! That is a busy body city and unless you love the hussle and bussle of city life, this is not the place for you. don’t get me wrong- i love miami but sometimes the quiet is nice. Palm bay is just that! and when I was there a few months ago, my husband and i had a great time! Stayed at the Palm Bay hotel (www.palmbay-hotel.com). because it was inexpensive and close to countless things we wanted to see while in town!

    • Hi Judith: I usually try to get off the beaten path, especially in popular vacation spots. I find that if you look hard enough, you can find a real community lurking beneath the surface of the tourist facade.

  2. Loved this piece! Although I’ve been to Florida several times I’ve always avoided Miami – for obvious reasons. You’d think coming from & living in tourists resorts over the years I would know better, wouldn’t you?! There is always another side to most places, but you do have to have an enquiring mind and open eye like yours!

    As for living from day to day, it’s been forced on me, and it’s hard to learn in later life. Wish I’d done it younger I guess, so that by now it would come naturally!  I whole-heartedly agree that modern life cushions us from reality far too much.

    Thanks for sharing this, and for proving that we can find fascinating stuff right under our noses. Travel is a state of mind!

    • Linda, if you can believe it, I’ve never heard that expression before: “Travel is a state of mind.” I love it. And I agree, we can almost always find something of interest, even in the most touristy spots.

  3. Hy Barbara,

    in the upcoming may edition of ELLE Germany we will feature an article abut Miami.

    we would love ot present also the Art Center and I’ve seen on your website a very nice article with nice pictures about the Art Center/Suth FLorida in SOuth BEach Miami. So wanted to ask you if you could send me

    a nice selection of images you made. We could pay you 100 Euro à picture

    thanks and best regards

    carlotta abbate

    Carlotta Abbate
    ELLE Photo Director

    ELLE Verlag
    e-mail: [email protected]

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  5. You’ve opened my eyes to looking more at local art when I travel. As a habit, I buy a piece of local art (typically off a street artist or small studio)on most trips as my souvenir. Hanging them around my place floods memories of trips past and special places. But to get closer to their ways of life is something more. Great article.

  6. I enjoy the pressure of not knowing when or how that next paycheck is coming. I think it helps keep one creative and passionate about what they do. Having the steady paycheck (even if it’s good) makes the mind complacent I feel.

    It’s like the hunter/gatherer mentality. If you don’t work, you don’t get fed. I always say if it’s yourself you have to reply on, don’t you think you’re in good hands?

  7. This is great Barbara. I must admit – I have no interest in Miami…however you have just given me some! Being a past corporate ladder climber, I’ve always been fascinated with the ‘artists way of life’ – and this reinforces it for me. Now I live in uncertainty every day and feel some much more free…free to do whatever I want.

    Loved the Ghidinelli paintings – I want one!


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