For Benjamin Aviv Moses Sugarman, he visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City no fewer than 10 times as a repeat child. Although he appreciated and respected art, he was more interested in what was being created in the arteries of the city – the subway. At the age of thirteen, he was inspired by artists armed with spray cans.
“It was more fun watching the subway with graffiti,” Sugarman said. “I wanted to know how all these artists paint walls and trains and how they cover the city. I grew up obsessed with graffiti and at thirteen I was painting and spray painting, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Sugarman comes from a family of artists with musician parents. He grew up with a musical instrument in every room of the house – guitar, piano and drums. From the age of 5 he was drawing and later drawing as a hobby. He got into photography at the age of ten.
“I was mostly painting and spray painting,” Sugarman said. “I didn’t really think of myself as an artist until after college.”
In his early twenties, he said he did not see university as the lively and creative playground he grew up loving.
“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.”
Having painted graffiti for a decade, he was drawn to selling art 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 the area,” he said. “Even when I was in New York all through 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 artwork was noted for its vivid color and iconic characters. His original and symbolic figures are the conceptual basis behind his paintings and murals.
“Every character I draw has something to do with mental health,” he said. “For example, the main character Ego is the monster that lives inside your head and breaks down negative patterns of self-talk.”
His other characters like Big Teeth are more nibble than a person can chew and are a reminder to slow down and enjoy every moment. Likewise, The Star is about living purposefully and activating the power of the stars.
“The flowers are the garden in your head,” Sugarman said. “If you don’t grow flowers in your garden, it will be full of weeds. I try to include art in my wisdom as a way of trying to heal the world.”
Although he built a successful reputation through artwork, he understood that making art meant working in the face of uncertainty.
“The important thing for artists is that we fear what people think,” Sugarman said. “We fear what people think about our artwork that has yet to be made. I just had to do and paint and it took me a long time to realize that. It’s about being you and being original and being comfortable but better things can come.”
Throughout South Florida, Sugarman worked to be a part of more murals, events, and art galleries.
“Most of the murals I’ve done, I just passed 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 fairs.”
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Since 2017, Sugarman has participated in the 2021 Art Basel Art Fair Spectrum Miami and the Art Fort Lauderdale Art Fair.
He’s also done solo exhibitions such as his collaboration with Pompano Beach ski shop Lucre Industries, where Sugarman exhibited artwork and put his original designs on clothing.
“It was very special for me to have this show there [Lucre] “Because I grew up skateboarding,” Sugarman said. “I learned about colors through skateboard drawings and learned through skateboarding that you have to fall over and over and get yourself back. That’s why I moved here looking for opportunities like that and to explore new areas.”
In 2016, Sugarman lived in Israel for six months painting murals every week. He was riding his bike to a spray paint shop and painting murals in Tel Aviv.
“It was another surreal feeling,” he said. “It was an amazing moment. I said to myself, ‘What next?”
Sugarman’s futuristic work is to combine his original characters with popular cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, Pokémon and Dr. Seuss. He said he thinks it’s another way to connect with his audience by combining something legendary with something new.
“I want to help people learn how to love and spread awareness of mental health because we are so divided and I want to unite 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 subway art, just keep that art and that message for all to see.”
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