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by ERIK LOPEZ {printed in Art Bureau 9}

Editor's Note: Erik Lopez has become a maverick in the Miami art scene. His formal education brought him to College of Wooster in Ohio, where he specialized in photography and drawing.

As a teaching assistant, he taught drawing and art history classes at The College of Wooster during his undergraduate studies. He was given the distinctive honor of a Copeland Fund Grant, which he used to document the tattoo subculture in Paris during the summer of 1998. In 1999, he returned to Miami to further advance his vision of the lowbrow lifestyle.

In 2004, he founded Miami Art Lab—part gallery, part lounge, with a contemporary spin that's distinctive among his Gables' neighbors.

Sadly, Miami Art Lab closed it's doors in 2005. Erik continues to be involved in the lowbrow lifestyle by being the co-founder of the clothing line Lowbrow Luxury. Here is his story about starting Miami Art Lab and his design company, Art Blur.

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I read an article, in GQ of all places, that prompted me to fulfill a lifelong dream—business ownership. The article had a simple message—control is happiness.

When I was studying art in college, I knew that someday I'd have an art gallery to call my own; a place where I could be surrounded by the best art from around the world. Five years after graduation, I thought about achieving that dream.

For 20 years, my mom has owned and operated her own business. I've seen her struggles and I've seen her successes. After college, I worked at a series of small businesses and experienced the same struggles, and a few successes. When I started working full-time at my mom's business, I was trying to get design gigs and art shows part-time.

When I was student, I never thought about paying rent, electricity, phone, water, insurance, alarm, maintenance, trash disposal fees, city license fees, county license fees, state license fees, federal taxes, sales taxes, attorney fees, accountant fees, advertising and marketing costs, selecting and getting products into a retail establishment, writing contracts, writing press releases, and having to put a smile on my face for clients when I was having a bad day. I never thought about dealing with suppliers, in my case artists, who, on occasion, aren't punctual with getting their work to me in time for a show that I've spent hard-earned money publicizing.

Before I thought, "Oh, you just open the doors and make money." Yeah, no.

It's definitely a struggle. I'm still working at my mom’s shop, continuing my design work (Art Blur), trying to get galleries to sell my paintings and working at my gallery the rest of the time. My wife also works a full-time job and three part-time jobs to help pay the bills.

We are persevering through the struggle, knowing that with our constant effort, we will make a go of it. We will succeed. That's the mentality that a small business owner must have. You gotta have tenacity. That, and a big set of balls.

I've been an artist and designer my whole professional career, and I've been fortunate enough to make a little money at it (seriously, I mean a little). With the saved money, I invested in a small condo in Florida. I fixed it up and gave it that "curb appeal" and then I sold it for a small profit. I repeated the buy property, spruce it up and sell process a couple more times. Then I decided to take the leap—and finally rent.

It's kind of the reverse of what most people do, but I never rented before.

Well, with all the money that I saved and having made a profit from my last condo sale, I had to spend it on something of value. A lot of it went to paying off some credit card debt that my wife and I had accrued from our recent, and quite lovely, wedding. But, the bulk of it went into starting my own gallery—Miami Art Lab.

It costs about five thousand dollars more than whatever you think it's going to cost to open a business. I found this out as time went on, gathering all those licenses, buying furnishings for the space, getting "set-up" to receive money with credit card machines, bank accounts, credit lines and so on. I was truly fortunate to have free help from my friends and family, from painting the gallery, to helping me keep my financial books, and making display cases that feature some of the artists' products. Friends in the community helped me publicize the gallery’s grand opening, and wrote articles about the space and even gave me discounts on things that are important to any business, like light bulbs.

I used to hate asking for help. Now, I know that owning your own business isn’t something that you can do "on your own"— you always need help. I now look forward to returning the favor to everyone that helped me.

Here I am, sitting behind my new computer, with nobody telling me to hurry up, and to take care of my personal business off the company's clock. My new boss is pretty relaxed, and he lets me wear whatever I want to work. It's nice to be in control.

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Tags: Art Blur, Erik Lopez, Lowbrow Luxury, Miami Art Lab

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