“She’s so confident,” read the first mural I really stopped to examine during my first visit to Wynwood. I’d grown acquainted with this iconic Miami neighborhood while studying the relationship between street art and gentrification for an article with Street Art United States. I was humbled, yet thrilled to be in the place itself. “She’s so confident,” I read again. I wanted to be confident like the relaxed woman Claudia la Bianca had depicted against those background words.
I was so inspired that I shared a photo of the mural on Instagram. That’s how my conversation with the author of those words, Renda Writer, began. The Miami-based street artist agreed to meet me for breakfast at Jimmy’s Eastside Diner on Biscayne Boulevard, just across the street from his studio in December 2018. I was impressed by his following, and the sheer volume of work he’d managed to produce. I needed to know what drove him to write those beautiful phrases ceaselessly, with the care of a teacher gently reminding students how to behave.
When did you move to Miami?
The simple answer is I moved here in 2013. The more complicated answer is I’m everywhere. I basically am kind of a nomad, and I’ve lived out of vehicles and on peoples’ couches since 2010. In 2013, I started parking in Miami. Wherever I sleep, that’s where I live. I’m a roaming art gallery. I’ve got 150-200 pieces of art on me at all times.
Did you come to Florida on purpose?
I was born in New York on Long Island, and then I moved to Florida when I was ten. Right after college, I moved back up to New York by myself, and my goal was to work in the record industry. I reached that goal, but then I realized it kind of sucked, and the record industry started falling apart. It was 2000 when I graduated college and I moved back up to New York. I stayed there for four years. The reason I moved back down here, honestly, the city had kicked my ass. I loved it, but I just was broke.
I came down here and I basically took all that inspiration from the previous four years of New York, all that performing poetry and writing poetry and living in the city, and I brought it in and channeled it here in Florida and became a big fish in a small pond. I kind of like, dominated, honestly. I started creating these events and they became really popular and I was getting in the paper every week.
I did all that until roughly 2012, and then I had gotten out of this relationship and I was living nomadically. I got into the art kind of because I had the time now. I started writing on garbage. I just started walking the streets a lot, and walking the alleys in Miami Beach and finding cool shit. I just started writing poetry on it, and shorter phrases, and then single words, and then I got into the repetition and then I started selling this garbage. That was the beginnings of me as an artist, as a visual artist. In 2014 I did my first mural in Wynwood. That’s when everything blew up, that changed everything.
“That’s the moral of the story, do what you haven’t done.”
How did that mural come about?
Like most things, it came about in a rather serendipitous way. “Love is a risk. Do it anyway,” was a statement that kind of came to me in 2011 or 2012, and it was kind of indirectly a result of a mini-relationship I had. I wrote that on a really big piece of cardboard, and then I decided to nail it to a pole in Wynwood.
One day, I went to check on it. I was actually high as fuck, walking down the street, and I was wearing this crazy shirt. It was two women engaged in intercourse. I walked by this guy, and he sees my shirt like, “hey I love your shirt, can I take a picture of it?” So he takes a picture of it. I kept walking to get closer to the sign, I took a picture, and then I turned around. As I was heading back down 23rd I passed by this huge blue wall. I go in, and there’s that same guy, sitting at the desk. I was like “oh it’s you, hey! Is this your gallery? what’s up with that blue wall?” And he’s like “why, you wanna do a mural?” I had never done a mural in my life. That’s the moral of the story, do what you haven’t done.
I ended up writing “Love is a risk. Do it anyway” a half a million times on this guy’s wall. It took me six weeks, and I finished just in time for Art Basel 2014. That’s what shot me up. Now I’ve done over 200 murals all over the world, and it all started with that. It’s like that for everyone, but only if you recognize it. Once you recognize it, you tap into that, then it happens more. But if you’re never cognizant of that kind of thing, then it won’t really be like that. You won’t have a life filled with serendipity and the perfect alignment of things. You’ll just have a humdrum regular life. That is what art has taught me. My art career has really taught me the value of that kind of perspective.
You’ve always worked in a word-based style?
Yeah, pretty much. Art-wise, I don’t do anything else. I don’t know how to draw, that’s not my style. It’s just words. I also created a little pattern, I call it the L7 pattern. That’s the other thing I do besides words, that’s what I use to accentuate the words.
“I was just a huge hiphop head, and I was really into the lyrical side of it. It was the words that got me.”
Did you start off as a writer?
I started as a poet. Actually, I started as a kid that was a huge fan of hiphop. I was a nerd in school, all about my school work, straight a’s and shit, in every club and every thing. I also had a nerdy approach to my hiphop fandom. I had like a thousand cassettes in alphabetical order. I would listen to them all day, and look at the credits, and open them up and memorize everybody’s lyrics and shit. I was just a huge hiphop head, and I was really into the lyrical side of it. It was the words that got me. All that hiphop as a kid led me to writing poetry.
Do you think the high volume of canvasses you create effects the sales of your larger pieces?
I do a lot of smaller pieces, and that’s what really keeps my money flowing. I sell those at small pop-up events and art fairs and markets, but I do bigger work too, and that’s what I display in galleries for a higher price tag. They sell too, but obviously not as often.
I think, if anything, it kind of helps. I know that there are two different markets, and I know that in the real deal art market, they would probably frown upon an artist doing smaller, affordable works. I understand the logic in that, but I just do it my way. It all just kind of feeds each other.
So when you collaborate with other artists, how does that process work?
I do collaborate a lot, on canvas and even on murals too. I think what’s cool about my style of art is it’s very easy to combine words with just about anything. If I talk to any given artist, you know, this person typically paints portraits of people or animals or whatever it is, it’s kind of like, ‘I’ll put words all around it. Is that cool?’ That’s kind of how it works. I have to like the person too. When I do collaborate, I try to collaborate with people who inspire me. There’s a local artist here named Claudia La Bianca, she’s got stuff all over. She did Melania Trump and Michelle Obama hugging. I did a mural with Claudia, so that’s cool, because Claudia is very well known and very talented and just awesome. I’m always looking to work with people and do new shit.
Is it always your words that you use, or are you open to using someone else’s quotes?
No, I’m open to other people’s words and phrases. It’s mainly mine. I’ve written some of [Wayne Dyer’s] quotes, like “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” That shit is so real, right? When you think about it, it’s like, “man that’s basic, but it’s deep.” Whatever you put your attention on, that’s where the energy will go. I also do custom commissions. Like, if someone says to me, “hey can you write my name and my husband’s name over and over?” I do that too. One guy proposed to his wife with my art.
“And I very much realized the power of words, I realized that what I write manifests into reality.”
How did the World Peace Mural Tour come to fruition?
That’s my main focus, that’s what I’m all about. Like most things in my life, it comes from hip hop. Back in 1988, KRS-one had a song called “World Peace”. One day in 2016, I woke up and that song was in my head. I’d already done many murals and all my murals were different phrases and things that I wrote. And I very much realized the power of words, I realized that what I write manifests into reality. So I was like, “well, if I’ve learned that lesson, that what you write comes true, then why not write something really grandiose with the goal of that becoming true?”
The logical application of it was this girl named Kathleen that I was friends with. She was a poet, and she was a supporter of all my events. Her day job was that she was an executive assistant to a retired lawyer who was also a really big supporter of the arts. She hit me up and was like, “yo, you know how I told you I’m an assistant to this rich dude, well I just want to let you know that if you have any type of idea where you need money type it up. Make a proposal, and I’ll get it to him.” I kept that in mind, and when the World Peace song hit my head, I put the two together and I was like, “that’s it. I’ll do World Peace murals all over the world and I’ll ask Kathleen to ask her boss for the money.” He gave me a check for $8,000 like it was nothing. I’m really economically thrifty, so I ended up doing fifteen murals with his $8,000.
On The World Peace Mural Tour page, it says “I will do the World Peace Mural Tour for the rest of my life.” This is the reason I’m on Earth, to write “World Peace” as much as I can. Now I’ve done 68 murals in 7 countries. Mel’s money eventually ran out, so I used my own money and did fifteen murals with my own money from selling art, basically. Then I did a GoFundMe. I raised $7,500 and I drove from [Miami] to LA and I did murals everywhere.
Then I was like, “okay. I have to go out of the country.” I did some in Mexico. Then I was like, “okay. Now I’m an international artist, technically. I’ve done a mural in another country. So what other countries can I go to? What else is close?” I did a few murals in Haiti and I was like “cool, now I’ve done Haiti, Mexico, America, I gotta go to Europe.” I created a GoFundMe account again. I think my goal was $3,500, but I reached it, and I did it. That was this past summer.
What are you goals for the World Peace Mural Tour?
It’s more about the journey because, to be honest, there are no goals. I know that sounds weird. The goal is to just keep doing it. I’m not looking to do a certain number of murals, or a certain number of countries. I’m 40 years old, and I look at it like this: I’m 40, maybe I got 30 more years. That’s why I say I’ll do it for the rest of my life. I’m just gonna do it until I can’t get up on the ladder anymore. The intention is, when I’m 70, I’m gonna find someone to pass the torch onto. So it’ll go on forever, it’ll go past me.
You said your poetry was focused on your self, but this is so externally focused. Was there a change that took place in you?
Yes, but it was gradual, kind of undetectable. It was just growth, just evolution. The messages are things that I learned and applied to my life, the stuff that I know people need to hear. A lot of times when I describe my art, I tell people “it’s just reminders.” Everything I do is a reminder, all these little statements, they’re just things that you already know, but it’s me reminding you with a piece of art. And it’s me reminding you by telling you something you know but phrasing it a little differently, as a poet I phrase it a little poetically. That’s my approach, and it works.
I left my interview with Renda feeling a little closer to that image of a confident woman that had brought us together. Armed with the affirmation that the universe wants to help, and its power is at your disposal if only you decide to access it, I felt the warm Florida breeze nudging me towards my next destination. Renda is an artist brimming with pure passion, and that type of person’s power is contagious. His artwork is a tangible expression of this magic, available to each and every one of his numerous collectors.