Chris Oh has been a monumental part of the development Miami has seen in the Design District. From Culture Kings, to beautifying (with street art) some of the most neglected parts of Miami and now being considered by other countries as a blue print creator for his Primary Flight model, Chris keeps spreading his passion for Art.
While others leave our city and become part of an existing culture elsewhere Chris helped our city create its identity from the existent culture. Learn more about Chris during our visit to his work space at Primary Projects.
WIT: For people who don’t know you, how long have you been in South Florida?
CO: I kind of grew up in South Florida. I was here most of my childhood. The only time I wasn’t here was during college. After I was in New York and Los Angeles for a couple of years too. I’ve traveled all around the world and always find myself drawn back to Miami. There is a culture and style here that no where else in the united states has. Plus there is more beautiful women here per square inch than anywhere else in the US.
WIT: How did your store Culture Kings come about?
CO: Basically, I was fresh out of college. I was always a sneaker head and had always loved street wear. At the time there wasn’t many choices down here. There was ARIVE but they targeted a higher end demographic (unaffordable to most people). There was also Shoe Gallery, who their buying at the time catered more to the hood dudes. They were not up-to speed yet with NY and LA.
Me being a purveyor of culture saw an opportunity to do something in an area which was the Design District, where no one at the time was doing any retail. I saw an opportunity to do something I wanted to do… I just did it. That’s it…
I saw an opportunity to activate a new area of Miami and introduce a new demographic and culture to the area which I envisioned as a high end retail driven district and basically be the “Soho of Miami”.
At the same time It gave me an opportunity to pay tribute and represent my graffiti crew CK, in a different way.
WIT: Your store provided consumers with a little bit of everything, what was your vision at that time?
CO: I saw Miami attempting to try and become a city with its own identity. The common perception of Miami when ever I told people in my travels it’s the whole party scene, South Beach, all night life, etc.
They were not aware that Miami had an emerging culture of a bunch of kids who didn’t really have a direction. They would follow trends from LA and New York. That was a huge influence when I was growing up everyone would always want to be from LA or New York event though they weren’t. I thought that was a shame. They were not really representing their city… New York it’s just New York…
It’s easy to move to a city like New York and fall into an existing scene and culture. I had an opportunity to do something for my city and a chance to dictate culture as opposed to just being a part of an existing scene or culture.
I saw an opportunity to drive and create culture. I wanted to push culture and to push my lifestyle.
WIT: Everything you had in the store was part of everything you had experience up until that time. How did the name come about?
CO: The name was attribute to my graffiti crew. I was with CK at the time, as well as MSG. I was always into it but there were no outlets to purchase at the time any of the labels I wanted to buy.
It being a dream, I just went for it. I was working at Merrill Lynch at that time and I saw there was no outlet for the culture that was forming so I did something I always wanted to do… I reached out to some brands that my friends owned and found a space in the design district. The area, at the time, didn’t have any life style or high end apparel stores. It was only furniture and galleries so I found a space and took a preemptive move to something I saw it might be something in the following 5 years…
In the end, I inspired people to get up off their asses and pursue they’re passions.
WIT: We touched on your history, a bit of the store but what led to this contemporary art collective you have created: Primary Flight?
CO: Primary Flight was started by my partner Books Bishof. Originally it was just five or six walls. Me and my graffiti crew had been painting Wynwood since the late 90’s. So when Darrin approached me about the project I gave him a couple of my walls. At the time I put him onto a couple of other artist who were coming to town. It was just an organic process. It all started out of the love to create art. From that point it has blossomed into what it is now… The largest event parallel to Art Basel with its own gravitational force.
WIT: Lets make it a bit more transparent for those people not familiar with PF. PF isn’t inside?
CO: No Primary Flight is actually the umbrella term for everything we do. Really, Primary Society is our umbrella company, Primary Projects is our gallery space and Primary Flight is our mural programing. That’s what Primary Flight is. It’s urban modification and beautification. Primary Projects is more of our gallery projects.
We are definitely more known for Primary Flight do to all the street art projects we have done through out the city and around the world. We do have that stigma. As supposed to Primary Projects were we do show some street art but we have given different identities by showing more contemporary art. That’s how we’ve given them different identities for their purpose
WIT: Primary Flight’s took it upon your selfs to beatify an area which was a bit neglected by the city to show your art…
CO: Yeah. At the time we had the Wynwood Art District who was struggling to have an identity and wasn’t able to get fast results with their vision of Wynwood.
We naturally farmed that area do to the heavy commercial industrial zoning. It was just a neglected area where no one cared. Back then it was one of the only places we could find walls… Then as more galleries started popping up in the general vicinity it kind of made sense to stay there. We wanted to really turn Wynwood into an “Arts District” and by doing our programming with the murals, we successfully activated the area into a thriving Arts district. What we never planned on was us being a catalyst for gentrification. I guess our project was to successful…
WIT: Where is Primary Flight heading now? Whats in the near future?
CO: We are coming up on our fifth year anniversary. At Primary Flight we have always been about bettering the neighborhood. Even though it can become a catch twenty-two.
We were part of the Wynwood Art District development but it kind of happened too fast. It has become something that people just come not only for the art but to enjoy the night life which has evolved since the globally known Art Basel.
In turn this has become something great for the property developers who have also taken full advantage of the beatification process of the neighborhood. With that being said Primary Flight will be scaling down and at the same time making it bigger… Less murals but bigger murals by bigger artists. .
Because of it will will have a lot less artists in town. Last year was crazy. We had way too many artist in town and we were spread to thin… Lesson learned so now we will go bigger and better… Besides our programing here at the gallery we will be expanding to South Korea, Japan and other countries.
We are taking our Primary Flight motto which has proven to work and are going to apply it in other places. We have gained interest of other city’s who want to do similar things. Our initiative really did help the neighborhood to race an incredible amount of revenue. Because of that experience we can take our blue print and apply it to other city’s to get similar results… So now that we have created that awareness other municipalities and city’s could see the benefit of doing similar projects. It could be exercised world wide!
Although our funding and backing has been dramatically reduced do to our economic state. It feel great to see how our blue print, motto can be used to help our city and other countries even at times like this. It’s a great feeling to know that this can help others how it has helped our city… Wynwood and the Design District are the only two areas of Miami that actually saw growth during the economic downturn. I guess this is the reason that city planners and councilman always look to me for advice.
WIT: Oh man, that sounds pretty amazing…
CO: Ultimately it’s about putting art in public places to all kinds of different people have access to it and are able to enjoy it. We do it for the streets. For real. Its not just a rap line. We live this shit and we really do it for the streets and people in those communities.
Wynwood was an is an ideal place because it was a lower income and those are the areas who need the most positive influences. Risking to sound to riches or political; we know that lower income areas have the mentality that you either “ have a sick jump shot or sell crack rock” to get out so if we can cause a change on a few minds to see art as a way out, that’s a huge success.
Must likely a young person has never thought about art as a career and if they have they can’t afford the materials; however, they do have spray cans in their garage or other materials which don’t cost as much. At the end of the day if that’s their way into art, so be it. That will be something positive which will keep them from walking the wrong path…
WIT: You have created a system that’s duplicatable?
CO: Sort off, I mean there have been a lot of unique circumstances which have made Primary Flight possible to position our selves from our art background to our relationship with other artist, etc. The time frame that we set about doing this whole project was a crazy time were street art and graffiti started to gain respect amongst the art world.
I cant say it was some proverbial alignment of the stars or anything like that but it happened and that made Primary Flight possible. It was a perfect scenario.
WIT: I feel it’s a great thing you did it from here in Miami…
CO: I think it’s absolutely important to represent your own city! It’s easy to go to somewhere like New York and become or be absorbent to an existing culture but once you define the culture in your own city and help define it and drive it… It’s something that has always been important to me and it’s something that becomes part of your legacy. I’m not religious or have dreams of grander but if I can help inspire someone to take become an artist then we all win.
WIT: Some times we need something bigger than our selves to keep us going, would you say this is your big thing?
CO: I don’t look at it like that cause my life has been this natural progression of bigger and better. I have been able to pursue the things that have grown as i have grown. It has been a total growth process. It just happens as I keep moving forward…
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to pursue my passions as a profession. I think that’s one of the most important things in life!
WIT: Is change important? How important is it not to be rigid in life?
CO: Change is a constant. It’s the one thing you can always count happening so you have to not only welcome it but in my case I find it refreshing.
I don’t want to see the same thing over and over again. Change, it can be negative or it could be positive. Not matter how you like at it; it’s how you adapt to it… That’s evolution.. Just how well you can adapt to change. I don’t know, change has become this fad term used by politicians so much that has kind of lost its meaning to the point that I really don’t understand it any more.
WIT: For anyone being a little apprehensive about coming out to the galleries or just being exposed to art what advice do you have?
CO: Primary Flight’s ultimate goal has alway been to educate the public. We wanted to be that lowest common denominator or that influence which makes you explore the galleries or the fine arts. Street art is a great “gateway’ art, similar to how they say “marijuana” is a “gateway” drug.
I don’t know how many people have told me that they had never been to the art district in Miami but seeing that SONI “Boom Box” on the side of I-95 has giving them a door into Wynwood and now they’ve become a part of the art scene…
I’m all about the growth of the art scene and the enlightenment of people into the art scene. That’s basically what has been all about…
WIT: Is it really that pretentious?
CO: Well, you’re dealing with people who are used to a level of exclusivity not only with their intelligence and taste but also what they pursue, follow and their interests… It’s kind of like an elitist thing but it doesn’t mean you have to stop pursuing it or try to get involved into the arts because of that reason. What we do is the paint truth. It’s not pretentious. It’s on the streets for everybody to enjoy for free.
I mean, it might seem like a huge hurtle at first but it’s not really hard to break into it… Specially with what street art is in the world today. I think is more welcoming than any other art form. Which makes it a great time for people to get into art…
Art and high art has to be taken for what it is, Art. The message can’t be taken literaly… If you see a painting of a swastika or Hitler don’t think right away that the artist is pro-nazi or Hitler. Some times you have to know the concept behind the work to understand the message the artist was trying to communicate.
There are usually multiple layers to an artist’s work. Sometimes we need to research to understand…
WIT: Would we ever see another Culture Kings Store?
CO: Probably not… I mean I’ve done sneaker collabos, I’ve done G-Shocks, I’ve don’e New Era’s and all the collabos I ever wanted to do. My taste has grown outside of street wear. Although I have an undying love for street wear; I come from that culture. I’ll always love a graphic but I think I’ve grown more into lifestyle. I love to design but now that I’ve traveled a bit more I’ve gotten to enjoy different seasons and I kind of reflect that… It’s GROWTH. That has been my main story…
The more I do, the more of a legacy i leave. The more of a legacy I leave the more people I influence and live on. Thats how I fight mortality! I have to be an agent of change or else i feel that my time on this earth was wasted.~ Chris Oh