Monday, October 11, 2010
Help Me Howard: Tattoo Artist
One man's art is a city's sign. Well, sort of. A tattoo studio painted a mural in a dirty alley behind their Miami Springs studio till the city came in and said, paint over it. Was that tattoo studio wrong? Not according to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When Herlys was young, he liked to draw. As he got older, his canvas became skin.
Herlys Roche, Dharma Tattoos: "Just as a hobby. Tattoo my friends and just to do something to kill time."
As word got out that Herlys was a great artist, his friends flocked to his house to wear his art. Then, one person had a suggestion.
Herlys Roche: "Right there somebody was like, 'Why don't you open your own shop already?' I was like, 'I don't want to open my own shop. To hell with that. I have seen business owners, and they are not happy.'"
But Herlys did open a tattoo studio, choosing this street in Miami Springs to put Dharma Tattoos.
Herlys Roche: "This is my vision. This is my dream. I want to bring something to you that is going to be classy, that is going to be drama-free, that is going to be art-related."
For five years, there was no drama. Then, another friend asked to paint a piece of art on a dirty wall in the alley behind Dharma. Herlys' landlord said, 'Do it.'
Herlys Roche: "I mean, I didn't really try to impress anybody other than myself. I figured that at the end of it, if I was impressed, anybody that looked at it would think it was cool too."
Lots of people were impressed at the artwork that brought a little color and class to a often dirty alley.
Herlys Roche: "We also try to make sure that we didn't put anything that was offensive to no religion or no race by any means."
The Buddha was not offensive to anyone. OK, well there was the City of Miami Springs Code Enforcement that came over to the alley and handed out a citation.
Herlys Roche: "For doing it without a permit. I understand that. I completely understand that."
But Miami Springs refused to give Herlys a permit and then cited him for having a sign in the alley that was too big.
Herlys Roche: "If the only problem you have is the logo, the Dharma Tattoo part, please just allow me to paint over and put some beautiful bamboos on it."
The city refused that. Herlys decided to give up and paint over it.
Herlys Roche: "I am not into politics. I am an artist. That's what I do."
But his friends said, keep fighting. His landlord said, 'Just cover it till we reason with the City of Miami Springs and show them it's not graffiti. We'll paint over the sign so it will just be a piece of art.'
Herlys Roche: "To me, it is a mural. It is a beautiful painting. But it's not a sign. It's a mural."
But Miami Springs city leaders didn't see it that way. Instead of letting Herlys paint over his name so it wouldn't be a sign, they printed up this letter, vowing to fine his landlord $100 a day.
Herlys Roche: "It's aggravating. It's frustrating."
Well Howard, bottom line: is this legal art or an illegal sign in Miami Springs?
Howard Finkelstein: "With the name of the tattoo parlor on the wall, it's an illegal sign, because it's too large. If they take the name off the painting, then it's art, it no longer violates the city's sign ordinance, and it's legal."
When I spoke to the Miami Springs city manager about why they were fining the tattoo studio for not having a permit when Herlys tried to get one, he told me, 'We wouldn't have given him a permit anyway.' When I asked why it would still be a sign if he took his name off it, he told me to call the city attorney.
When we called the city attorney and told him we were calling about the wall, he said, 'I have no comment,' and hung up on us.
Herlys gave up. His landlord painted over the wall.
But Howard says he should not give up.
Howard Finkelstein: "Herlys needs to file a lawsuit against the city. He can do it himself or a lawyer can offer to do it, and when the attorney wins, and I believe he will, the city has to pay his fees. It's unfortunate the city officials are ignoring their own laws and creating this mess."
Herlys' art is gone. Well, gone from the wall. But he did make sure he got a copy for himself.
Herlys Roche: "I frame mine. I am going to keep mine, 'cause to me, it's art."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, if Herlys took the tattoo studio's name off the wall, it would have been art, making it perfectly legal. So can city officials ignore their own laws and ban a piece of art? Yes. And unless someone sues them, city officials can get away with it. But if an attorney does go to court and win, their decision will end up costing the taxpayers of Miami Springs a lot of money."
Painted yourself into a corner? Drawing a blank on a solution? Contact us. Our solution may not be artful, but it will be legal.
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