For Benjamin Aviv Moses Sugarman, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at least 10 times as a child became repetitive. Although he appreciated and respected art, he was more interested in what was being created in the arteries of the city — the subway. From the age of 13, artists armed with aerosol cans inspired him.
“I felt more amused watching subways go by with graffiti,” Sugarman said. “I wanted to know how all these artists paint the walls, the trains and how they cover the city. I grew up obsessed with graffiti and at 13 I was drawing, spray painting and knew that was what I wanted to do.
Sugarman comes from a family of artists whose parents are musicians. He grew up with an instrument in every room of the house – a guitar, piano and drums. From the age of 5, he drew and then painted as a hobby. He started photography at the age of 10.
“I was mostly drawing and spray painting,” Sugarman said. “I didn’t even really consider myself an artist until I finished school.”
In his early twenties, he said he didn’t see college as the lively, creative playground he grew up with.
“I realized after four years that none of this was for me,” Sugarman said. “I don’t want to be in finance, I don’t want to be a doctor, and all I want to do is be an artist and paint.”
After doing graffiti for a decade, he turned to selling canvases and creating urban pop art. In 2017, the 29-year-old moved to Broward County.
“I first went to Wynwood when I was 20 and became obsessed with it,” he said. “Even when I was in New York during college, I couldn’t stop thinking about this area. I knew I had to be here.
After creating a few murals in Wynwood, Sugarman gained a following and his work was noted for its bright colors and symbolic characters. His original and symbolic characters are the conceptual basis of his paintings and murals.
“Every character I paint has to do with mental health,” he said. “For example, the main character Ego is the monster that lives inside your head and lets go of negative patterns of self-talk.”
Its other characters such as Big Teeth represent more than one can chew and are reminders to slow down and savor every moment. Likewise, The Star is all about living wisely and activating the power of the stars.
“Flowers represent the garden that’s in your head,” Sugarman said. “If you don’t plant flowers in your garden, it will be full of weeds. I try to incorporate art into my wisdom as a way of trying to heal the world.
Although he has built a reputation for success through art, he has come to realize that making art means working in the face of uncertainty.
“A big thing with artists is that we’re scared of what people think,” Sugarman said. “We’re afraid of what people think of our artwork that hasn’t even been done yet. I just had to get up and paint and it took me so long to realize that. It’s about being yourself, being authentic and being comfortable while realizing that better things can happen.
Throughout South Florida, Sugarman has worked to be part of more murals, events, and art exhibits.
“Most of the murals I’ve done, I just walked through the front door,” he said. “I asked who the director was and would bring an iPad showing them my work to be part of the local galleries.”
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Since 2017, Sugarman has participated in Art Basel’s Spectrum Miami 2021 art fair and Art Fort Lauderdale Art Fair.
He has also done solo shows, such as during the collaboration he did with Pompano Beach skateboard shop, Lucre Industries, where Sugarman exhibited artwork and put his original designs on clothing.
“It was special for me to have that show there. [Lucre] because I grew up skateboarding,” Sugarman said. “I learned color through skateboard graphics and I learned through skateboarding that you have to fall over and over and get back up. That’s why I moved here for opportunities like this and to explore new territories.
In 2016, Sugarman lived in Israel for six months painting murals every week. He would cycle to a spray paint store and paint murals in Tel Aviv.
“It was another surreal feeling,” he said. “It was an eye-opening moment. I was like, ‘what happens next?’
Future work for Sugarman is to incorporate his original personas into famous cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, Pokémon, and Dr. Seuss. He said he believed it was another way to connect with his audience by combining something legendary with something new.
“I want to help people learn to love and raise awareness about mental health because we’re so divided and I want to unify cultures,” Sugarman said. “I want to inspire other artists, other people, to do the same. I want my message to be that you can have all of this and like this subway art, keep this art and this message moving for all to see.