The first work of art based on the American flag that I saw at Art Wynwood 2016 caught my eye for its artistic qualities. When a second piece of flag art appeared a few minutes later, I discerned a trend. Ultimately, I found a total of four. Later in the weekend, at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival (CGAF), I came upon an artist who showed me two more such works.
I don’t recall having seen so many manifestations of flag art in past shows. Why here? Why now? Chalk it up to an election year, or to a wellspring of patriotism in these troubled times of foreign aggression and domestic terrorism. Or, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
Whatever the reason, this focus on the flag seems apropos for a show on Presidents Day weekend. When you go to Art Wynwood and CGAF, watch for these works – and keep your eyes open to see whether I missed any others,
Front and center
British artist Bernie Taupin’s multimedia work Sleeping Beauty graces the front of the show map and half of the centerfold in the VIP program. It’s also at the entrance to the show. When you walk in the front door, you can’t miss it.
Made of fabric and twine on canvas, it’s both instantly recognizable and disturbingly enigmatic. The twine crisscrosses the flag at all angles like a spider’s web, forming junctions of stars atop the red and white stripes, and turning the blue field with its crisp white stars into a cloudy sky. Just as the flag itself stands for a clearly defined set of national values, when viewed in this context both the flag and its values seem to struggle for clarity.
Taupin is best known for his “day job” as Elton John’s lyricist; the visual arts are a second career. Taupin maintains, however, that the two are really one. “Music and art is an inevitable collision,” he says. “I’ve always maintained that music is sonic art for the ears and that artwork is visual music for the eyes, it’s ridiculous to assume that the two can’t exist in the same vortex.”
Waterhouse & Dodd of New York and London brought this 2014 work to the show.
The surface is scarcely dry on Maurizio Romeo’s 2016 work Broken Flag Rising. Made of polyurethane and steel, it depicts an American flag set in an ashen-hued background, crumpled and trodden upon, yet more or less intact and preparing to unfurl. Nothing about the image speaks directly of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, yet it evoked for me that initial visceral reaction.
White Dot Gallery in Miami, which brought Broken Flag Rising to the show, says this about Romeo http://www.whitedotgallery.com/about-1.html on its Web site:
“Maurizio Romeo’s artistic message is realized through the use of unusual materials and absolutely contrasting appearance, weight and texture.
“Geometry and stiffness set in convoluted matter.
“Polyurethane and beams steel treated with enamels and mixed with national flags.
“The mix of materials as ‘opposites’ gives life to works with a strong emotional impact that speak directly to the observer’s belly before being metabolized rationally.”
At first glance, Ondeando para Siempre (Waving For Ever), a 2014 work by Cuban artist Miguel Florido, looks like a rumpled paper flag hung vertically in a frame. Take a closer look. It’s actually an oil painting on canvas. The rumpled effect is artistry, not happenstance.
A self-taught artist, Florido was born in 1980 in Havana, where he still lives. He has won awards and honorable mentions for young Cuban talent at the provincial and national levels. Much of his work consists of still life images with creative titles, and abstract works reminiscent of Wilfredo Lam’s work.
Cernuda Arte in Coral Gables, FL, represents Florido and brought this flag image to Art Wynwood 2016.
Beneath the surface
David Datuna’s American flag is a mixed-media wall sculpture shaped like a box, with Swarovski crystal lenses on its front face. Inside are miniature photographs of rock musicians. To see them, you peer through the crystal exterior lenses, which provide different degrees of magnification suggesting different emotional and philosophical perspectives.
Entitled Music Series: You Rock, this 2016 creation is just one example of a growing body of work that has earned Datuna wide acclaim as a leader in contemporary art. Born in 1974 in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia, he now lives in New York City.
Datuna is self-taught. Before becoming an artist, he worked in an optometry shop, and says fitting his customers with glasses helped to change the way they saw the world.
Contessa Gallery in Cleveland, OH, brought Music Series: You Rock, to the show.
A Statement of Strength
Maryann Schmidt of Galway, NY, brought two flag paintings, Ripples and Fly and Be Free, to the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. She agrees with my assessment of a trend in flag art, though she has been creating it for a long time.
“I stopped for a while after 9-11,” she said, describing the profound sadness she felt in the wake of the event. Then, she said, she returned to flag art as “a statement of strength” because not painting the flag again would have given the terrorists a victory.
Schmidt describes herself as “a contemporary tenebrist.” Her painting style emphasizes shadows that create “a sculptural effect on a two-dimensional surface. There is a sense that one can reach out and touch the fabric, folds, and ripples in my images.” She says viewers often respond emotionally to her work.
When and where
Art Wynwood 2016 is located in a huge tent at NE 1st Avenue and NW 30th Street in Midtown Miami. It is open to the public February 12 through 15 at 11 a.m. It closes each evening at 7 p.m. except on February 15, when closing time is 6 p.m.
The Coconut Grove Arts Festival is located along McFarlane Road, South Bayshore Drive, and Pan American Drive. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. February 13 through 15.