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How South Florida street artist Atomik made his smiling orange a symbol for Miami

Jessica Bakeman
Adam Vargas, or Atomik, is the graffiti artist behind the smiling oranges you see all around South Florida. He was photographed by WLRN in 2019 while finishing a mural in downtown Miami.

You can’t drive far down a Miami street without being greeted by a smiling orange painted on a building.

Or a railroad car. Or a street sign. Signed at the bottom of each is Atomik.

The Miami artist Adam Vargas found fame in his signature — and his signature creation.

Adam’s been tagging and creating street art in Miami for decades. He’s a trained graphic artist who’s painted other work, including the mural greeting visitors to Little Havana.

But it’s his guerilla street art and iconic orange that cemented his fame. It was born from the day the Orange Bowl met the wrecking ball.

You can now find Atomik’s Miami orange around the world, from Argentina to Australia. But in Miami, some of the buildings he tagged with his iconic orange have been turned to dust — as Miami continues to remake itself.

You can almost count the disappearing oranges.

His nights as an under-cover artist have turned into a day job as a commissioned painter with a studio in Wynwood. Full circle for a guy who grew up tagging on warehouses there in the middle of the night.

On the June 7 episode of Sundial, Vargas joined us to talk about the evolution of the orange.

On Sundial's previous episode, Professor Marvin Dunnjoined us to talk about his own history. The history Florida won’t allow in classrooms.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.

Carlos Frías is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is a former associate producer for Sundial.
Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.