This Miami artist turns trash into art all over the city. If you find it, you can keep it

David Anasagasti swerves through a Miami Beach park on his bike peering at the grass through his paint-splattered sunglasses. It’s sweltering outside, and he’s very chatty.

There’s a lot for him to be excited for. His art project was just commemorated by Miami-Dade County, with more municipalities expected to follow suit. His social media followers clamor to collect his art. His efforts to clean up Miami streets seem to be working. And he’s healthier now than he ever has been.

“It’s mad fulfilling,” the 43-year-old says. Mid-sentence, he slams the brakes. He found treasure: an empty potato chip can wedged in a tree trunk. He hops off his bike, takes out a paint marker from the bag on his handlebars and draws a pair of eyes many Miamians recognize.

On Instagram, Discord, Twitter, Threads and art gallery walls, Anasagasti is known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, a street artist with a two decades-long career who became a local legend by turning trash into art worth picking up.

Though Anasagasti creates traditional paintings on canvas, he’s best known for Geographies of Trash, an art project that encourages people to hunt down the litter he paints on. And it’s all free. Since he started the project with Florida International University’s Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator in 2021, Anasagasti has developed an online community dedicated to finding his scattered works like a county-wide scavenger hunt. Once someone finds one of the artworks, Anasagasti mints the image of the work as an NFT for the collector who found it.

David Anasagasti, more popularly known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, strikes a pose alongside his bike and artwork for sale at Frame Art in Miami, Florida, on Friday, June 30, 2023. D.A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com  Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/visual-arts/article277251058.html#storylink=cpy

D.A. Varela

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Miami Herald

David Anasagasti, more popularly known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, strikes a pose alongside his bike and artwork for sale at Frame Art in Miami, Florida, on Friday, June 30, 2023.

A scroll down his Instagram captures how much random stuff pollutes Miami’s streets, waterways and parks. Tires. Wood palettes. Timberland boots. A baby Nike shoe. Broken refrigerators. Buckets. Flip-flops. Pizza boxes. On a classic green Flanigan’s cup, he painted the phrase, “Hialeah Trash.”

Local politicians have taken notice. In January, the City of North Miami Beach commemorated his project with a proclamation. This month, Miami-Dade County celebrated Anasagasti’s project with an official proclamation naming June 30 “Geographies of Trash Day.”

“This is one of those means of opportunity where we can make art as accessible as possible through David’s work,” said Graham Winick, the County Department of Cultural Affairs Chief of Administration. “It creates a great, fun environment and a terrific conversation about how we approach refuse.”

And the system Anasagasti built for himself works. Every piece of trash he has painted on has been picked up, he said.

“Maybe we’re not making a giant impact as far as like removing a million pieces of trash that you can noticeably see from an airplane,” Anasagasti told the Herald. “But we’re at least getting through to people to let them know that art can be used to incentivize and to get people active to do good s—.”

“Or good stuff,” he said. “My bad.”

Anasagasti takes a break from talking about his life, career, ideas and aspirations whenever he spots trash. At the waterfront park, he looks up from the cartoon face he drew on the can. He sees his next canvas bobbing in the water.

‘HE’S GOT THE TOUCH.’

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the name.

“Ahol” is meant to sound like a word we can’t publish. “Sniffs Glue” is a reference to the song “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” by The Ramones.

Anasagasti agrees, it’s a dumb name.

“I think coming up with a name that didn’t mean anything was pretty interesting and enough to catch people’s attention,” he said. “No turning back though.”

The first generation Cuban-American artist was born and raised in Hialeah with his older brother, Felix. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother worked late shifts to pay the bills. He grew up drawing cartoons with his brother and saving up lunch money to afford CDs, he said. His mother died from breast cancer when he was a teenager.

He came of age in the punk rock scene and played bass for his own band, The Panty Raiders. (Another dumb name, he said.) Though he wasn’t great at music, he loved the do-it-yourself element of the scene and having a creative community. He doubled down on his creativity when a friend introduced him to the world of graffiti. He would sneak around abandoned areas in Cutler Ridge, painting his band logo and little cartoons.

Over the years, Anasagasti started doing art shows and selling his pieces. When he was laid off from his “crappy job” at a diet food store, his friends congratulated him. “Just keep doing the art thing,” his brother said. He’s been a full-time artist for a decade.

“He works hard for his career,” said Alfred Zayden, the owner of Frame Art, Inc. in Brickell. “Seeing how interested people are in his work and all that stuff, I know he is the future. He’s dedicated completely to his work. He’s got the touch.”

A piece of trash drawn on by David Anasagasti, better known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, during Geographies of Trash Day in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Friday, June 30, 2023.

D.A. Varela

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Miami Herald

A piece of trash drawn on by David Anasagasti, better known as Ahol Sniffs Glue, during Geographies of Trash Day in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Friday, June 30, 2023.

For the last four years, Zayden has sold hundreds of Ahol Sniffs Glue’s artworks, ranging in price from $6,000 to $60,000. (And they’re lowballing, Zayden said.) Anasagasti is “the quarterback” of his gallery. “He’s like that guy, Tom Brady,” Zayden said.

Zayden, who has run his gallery and custom frame shop for 47 years, said he’s been in the business long enough to spot the real among the fake, the future among the fads. Before he met Anasagasti, he noticed customers would come into his frame shop carrying artwork of his signature sleepy eyes. He knew Anasagasti was going places, he said, going as far as to call him “the next Warhol.”

In Miami Beach, Anasagasti traipses down a barrier separating a canal from the park and wades into the water to grab a blue, 2-foot-long floating object with a rusted nail poking from the corner. Maybe it fell off a boat. Maybe it was swept away during a storm. Either way, it didn’t belong in the water.

He drags it out, precariously holding onto a small tree for balance and props it against a pole. Thirty seconds later, a pair of green eyes are sprayed onto the trash. He poses the blue thing just right to get a nice photo with the water in the background.

The rest of the process is like clockwork. Sweat drips from his eyelashes as he focuses on his phone. First, he posts the photo on Discord. The caption is a gift emoji. Then he posts it on Instagram. Gift emoji. Twitter. Gift emoji. And now Threads. Gift emoji.

The response is immediate. Discord users comment fire emojis and speculate where the artwork is. “La Playa!” one person commented.

RIDING THE HIGH

Anasagasti only has two addictions these days: nicotine and his bike. He takes a quick puff from a candy colored bar and rides for hours.

“Miami is a town built on vices,” Anasagasti said. “It sucks because it’s so normal.”

Before he got sober, Anasagasti said he abused alcohol, cocaine and Xanax. But in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, he was presented with an opportunity. Rapha, a cycling apparel brand, reached out to Anasagasti to collaborate on jersey designs. Out of curiosity, he asked if he could get on a bike. And he was immediately hooked.

Something in his mind finally clicked, he said. As someone who didn’t come from money, he knew that he had to work hard to build himself a safety net, he said. But doing drugs didn’t fit in that equation anymore.

Collector and Little Havana resident Hector Mesa, 37, holds one of his pieces by David Anasagasti, aka Ahol Sniffs Glue.

D.A. Varela

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Miami Herald

Collector and Little Havana resident Hector Mesa, 37, holds one of his pieces by David Anasagasti, aka Ahol Sniffs Glue.

“I cared so much about everything I did. I cared about how my captions were written, I cared about what I painted, I cared so much about people that buy my stuff being happy,” he said. “But I didn’t care about the person that was making the art.”

For the last three years, he’s been riding the high he gets on his bike. And the more he cycled around Miami, the more trash he noticed. At one point, without thinking much of it, he drew on a piece of litter and posted a photo of it online.

BISCAYNE WORLD

Jacek Kolasinski, an FIU associate professor and the director of The Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator, knew that Anasagasti belonged at the university’s program. The Incubator’s goal is to help students bridge the gap between their creativity and entrepreneurship.

“Dave is a natural entrepreneur,” Kolansinski said.

A couple years ago, when Miami was in the midst of an NFT craze, he invited Anasagasti to his podcast and later offered him an artist residency at The Incubator. Geographies of Trash developed from there, becoming a powerful movement that democratizes access to art and encourages environmental activism, he said.

“David is bringing this position where something is elevated to an artwork from something disposed right in front of your house,” he said. “The county recognizing his efforts as an environmental co-op that is trying to ameliorate some of the most terrifying prospects of our society — that we’re gonna drown in garbage — is a kind of political awakening.”

The project’s online community is especially active on Discord, an instant messaging platform popular with gamers. “Biscayne World,” Anasagasti’s Discord server, has over 2,000 members who are encouraged to help each other find artworks, pick up trash and make friends.

Aleric Constantin, a local chef and Discord member, said he has run out of his restaurant in the middle of service to chase down artwork. Since joining the Discord, he’s collected over 200 artworks and given away about 100 to other members, he even sold one for $600. But his favorite piece is still the first one he’s ever collected.

Constantin, who is Cuban-American, saw that Anasagasti posted a photo on Instagram during the anti-government protests in Cuba. It was a piece of cardboard with the phrase “SOS Cuba” written on it. Constantin rushed to South Beach from Wynwood on his bike to find it. It’s been framed in his living room ever since.

“This community is all on the same page around around Dave’s message,” he said. “That’s kind of cool. I’m not alone. I’m not the only guy collecting trash.”

Johnnie Waxxer, one of the server’s moderators and a friend of Anasagasti, said the online community is meant to be a positive and inclusive space for people to form real friendships. Bullying and hoarding artworks are strictly prohibited. Sharing and helping is the norm. The moderators make no money from managing the Discord. They do it because they believe in Anasagasti’s project, Waxxer said.

“We’re all doing this out of love,” he said. “We all share this one common goal, which is picking up trash, taking care of our area, and we all like Dave’s art.”

On June 30, to celebrate the first “Geographies of Trash Day,” Anasagasti invited his followers to pick up trash from wherever they were and post a photo of their full garbage bags to get a free NFT. The county’s proclamation is “just a piece of paper, but the legitimacy it can do helps,” he said. The more attention the project gets, the more excited collectors get and the cleaner Miami will be. That’s all the motivation he needs, he said.

“It pushes me to keep this s— poppin’, keep it dope, keep it pure.”

He points out The Confidante during a recent bike ride and goes down the side street that leads to the beach walk. A wooden palette too large to carry was propped against the side of the hotel. He asked a worker in Spanish if it was OK for him to use it. Sure, the guy said. It’s trash anyway.

He spent the next five minutes painting a face, taking a photo and posting it online. By the time he hopped back on his bike, the Discord chat was buzzing.

“Anyone know where this is? More details than the beach,” one person commented. Someone else posted a screenshot of the area on Google Maps. “I think it’s one of these alleys.”

Another person zoomed in on 41st Street. “Yeah it’s right here.”

The hunt is on.

To find Ahol Sniffs Glue’s artwork in Miami, follow him on Discord, Twitter, Threads and Instagram. Miami Herald photographer D.A. Varela contributed to this report.

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

Listen to Sundial’s interview with Ahol Sniffs Glue on WLRN on Monday, July 31. Tune in at 12 p.m.

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