For some, this piece will need some explaining. Yes, those are Mahi, Dolphin or Dorado, not a grouper. The brown burlap floating in the water is the square grouper. Now I bet for those that aren't in "the know" you're really confused because that looks nothing like a grouper. So let's rewind about 35 years and start this story over.
I was a young kid on vacation in the keys, where our days were spent from sun up to sun down getting sunburnt and chasing every critter the ocean offered. One particular day we were in Islamorada and I saw my first cigarette boat. I was blown away by the noise and speed, needless to say I was mesmerized. To add another layer, the characters that were running these missiles were like nothing a kid from Michigan had ever seen. Long hair, big gold chains, tattoos and aviator sunglasses. I fell in love with these mythical ships so of course being the young artist I went to drawing these rocket ships. Every year the allure of these characters and boats always gave me a nostalgic feeling about the keys. As the years passed and vacations to the keys came and went, stories of the drug trafficking and busts involving these boats started to circulate amongst our local friends and my imagination ran wild.
Fast forward a handful of years and I moved to Miami Shores for college. I started to meet some gentlemen at the local golf course that worked in the boat manufacturing industry off of 163rd in North Miami which they call powerboat row. This is the place most of the boats I saw as a kid were built. From there of course I started to ask questions and the stories began to flow. I learned about all the legends from the boat companies like Apache, Formula and Donzi, to the king pins like Don Aronow. Then I started reading any books, fact or fiction that involved anything about the trafficking history of South Florida. They all brought me back to that day at Holiday Isle in Islamorada as a kid seeing my first powerboat.
The third and final layer to this story started a few years after I had started my business. I began to sell art to some clients in South Florida where I now live. They have now become close friends. As we got to know each other and the life stories were shared and I realized that now I was selling art to the characters that were involved in those powerboats 30 years prior. Now there wasn't any long hair, big gold chains, aviator sunglasses or 30 ft powerboats. There were some legendary stories of trafficking what they called "square groupers", aka burlap wrapped bricks of illegal contraband named square grouper as code word. They moved these loads from the Caribbean via boats and planes. Most of the time large loads were transported until they were just outside state waters which was 3 miles from the shoreline. They were then divided into smaller loads and transferred to multiple smaller boats that would smuggle them into Florida. Many times these loads would lose some of the haul in transit. The groupers would float off to sea, sometimes found by innocent bystanders but most of the time never to be found again. With all that said, my new piece "Square Grouper" only depicts one of those lost bails, a congregation of baitfish and a mahi in a feeding frenzy, but after reading this you know, this piece says a whole lot more. It not only tells a story of Florida history but also how an underworld took me back to that nostalgic feeling I had as a kid on vacation. When I look at this piece I smell the low tide of the keys, I can hear that rattle of a hooked airborne tarpon's gills, or the feeling of my heart pounding when I would come across a ledge full of lobster. Now, not only do you know what a "square grouper" is but you also understand how the Florida Keys is a major piece of the foundation and inspiration behind my work.