Eyes On Miami: A Scruffy Street Artist Faces Off Against A Global Clothing Brand

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When it comes to street art in Miami, the Cuban-American artist AholSniffsGlue (born David Anasagasti) is the golden child. Even though he’s only 34 years old, he’s been a fixture on the art scene for the last 20 years, with his murals of quirky and iconic sleepy eyes looking out at large tracts of the city.

But now this successful graffiti artist has entered a much less creative endeavor.

He is suing the uber-trendy Pittsburgh-based clothing company, American Eagle Outfitters, for “blatant, unlawful and pervasive infringement” of his artwork. In other words, Anasagasti’s suit alleges, AEO has illegally used his work to advertise its wares.

He is seeking an injunction barring the company from further using his work and asking for monetary damages.

The work in question is a mural originally commissioned by Marty Margulies, a well-known art-collector. Fields of sleepy eyes, as Anasagasti describes them, were painted on a warehouse along I-95 in Miami and on various other structures in the Wynwood art district.

But to understand art, you need to also understand the artist. According to gallery owner Gregg Shienbaum, who represents Anasagasti, “The eyes symbolize the struggling, hard-working people of Miami.”

The suit was filed in July 2014, after American Eagle reps had landed in Miami looking to brand their spring catalog with a more “urban” style. The company took photos of their models in front of two of Anasagasti’s murals in Wynwood and used the photos on their websites, social media, in-store displays and ads.

And so Anasagasti’s work showed up in stores across the U.S, as well as in Colombia, Panama and Japan.

“It’s not simply about the work,” Shienbaum told Fox News Latino. “Artists are not business people. AEO has stores in 81 countries. They used Ahol’s work without giving him any credit or money. The worst offense is a photo of a model holding a spray can, appearing as if it’s his work. This was seen in Medellín, Colombia.”

Shienbaum added, “All of it is a misrepresentation of Ahol’s work.”

Books IIII Bischof, one of the pioneers of mural art in Wynwood, told Miami New Times, “If American Eagle was truly interested in becoming authentic by affiliating its product with a street artist and tapping into a creative vein, they should have approached Anasagasti for permission and compensated him for his work.”

But, it’s clear by the wording in his complaint that Anasagasti probably never would have agreed to sell his images to AEO.

Perhaps unsruprisingly, given that he hails from the counterculture world of underground art which values not “selling out” to large corporate interests, Anasagasti has never permitted his work to be used to advertise or sell commercial products.

Yet ironically, in today’s fashion marketplace, artists who have such street credibility are a commodity highly valued by retail brands for the cultural cachet and access to the youth demographic that they may offer.

American Eagle Outfitters did not respond to a request for comment.

“As long as a piece of work [has been copyrighted], you simply can’t take creative work and make a profit without crediting or compensating the artist,” civil litigation attorney Michelle Burton, who isn’t involved in the lawsuit, told FNL. “It appears that AEO was looking for some kind of urban, street cred for their marketing, and [it] has backfired for them.”

But not for the artist, who is selling more work today than ever before.

“I sold four of his pieces this week,” Shienbaum said, “and they say they saw the articles in Miami New Times.”

The gallery owner is quick to point out, “We’re not raising prices because of the case … but there is a buzz. The Pérez Art Museum Miami is now carrying Ahol’s work in the gift shop, and the Standard Hotel has begun carrying a jewelry line inspired by his work. Both of these projects were in the works, but the case may have pushed things to happen more quickly.”

Ultimately, this case is about artists taking a stand. According to Shienbaum, the street artists of Miami are all pulling for Anasagasti. “He’s become a rock star in Wynwood. He can’t even come around that much without people clamoring to talk to him about the case.”