Islands Original

That Caribbean-colored world framed on the office wall -- it had a prototype, you know

Under blue skies, gabled and pitched roofs top bright symmetric façades, shutter windows are protected by delicate canopies, and spacious verandas and plenty of light and space render the essential building details. Careful distribution of planes and volumes are bounded by nuances of shadows and sunlight. That's Emilio Sanchez's "Works On Canvas,"at Elite Fine Art in Coral Gables.

Since I didn't know about Sanchez, imitators fooled me. After seeing his work I can tell the original from the fake -- that is, the pseudo-vernacular arid style of endless images of Caribbean houses and interiors we find in banks and offices all over Miami. Born to a well-to-do Cuban family in 1921, Emilio Sanchez studied and lived in the United States for most of his life. During the 1940s he attended the Art Students League in New York, and though this was an effervescent time for Abstract Expressionism, Sanchez stuck to a style akin to the naturalist city-landscape explored by artists like Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper.

As a result Sanchez honed this modern ambition for simplicity and essence. His keen eyes engaged New York City's façades, particularly on the East Side, where bohemia and sophistication coexisted. But he was particularly attracted by the colorful, vernacular architecture of the Caribbean and periodically visited the West Indies, St. Croix, Haiti, and Puerto Rico with his book and watercolors.

By the 1950s Sanchez had become well-known and received plenty of commissions from the well-to-do. He stuck to his style and developed it further during the 1960s to become a sort of pan-Caribbean artist.

Sanchez's paintings are excellent examples of how spare use of volume, color, and shadow can enrich the shape of the cityscape. Not unlike the minimal and subtle architecture of Barragán, Sanchez pushes the envelope of hue and shade to develop almost surreal effects. Upstairs Porch is a porch silhouette projected against a bright floor behind a blue space, viewed from a semidark interior. This, like most of Sanchez's paintings, has no people.

"Works on Canvas" addresses Sanchez's later output through the 1990s (he died in 1999), though these works are not much different from the themes he's better known for. Take Orange Houseas exemplar. The painting is a splendid instance of perspective, illusion, and variety: Sanchez simply opens three of the six windows on two different floors, and lets us peek inside the main door through an endless series of doorways to a minute, impossible horizontal end.


"X-Ray Specs" is the latest show at Damien B, featuring the work of Asif Farooq, a young artist living in Miami. With a Pop sensibility, Farooq hangs bright oversized spectacles, X-Ray shades that expose our bodies' frailty. Farooq's work may suggest how selective vision plays tricks on us. Big glasses are fun indeed, but they can also let us look at the line between fantasy and reality. Don't worry, you won't feel guilty, which is Farooq's last laugh.

I preferred Farooq's hanging glasses to his wall pieces (sort of illusion boxes lit from behind with neon spirals), hung up by chains. They are not as effective: The point here is the selection of materials and framing. Fiberglass and metal can match, but only if treated carefully. And framing denotes a "see me I'm special" feature that the glasses already communicate by themselves. Those pieces look a bit heavy and self-aware, instead of "trashy" and relaxed. However, for a first show, Farooq reveals dexterity and promise.


Check out "Intersection," an installation of Odalys Valdivieso, at Locust Projects. A young Venezuelan artist living in Miami, Valdivieso turns car junk into art predicament. Walk through Locust's plastic curtains and you observe two distinct images: a somewhat distant brown outline of piles of car chassis and in the foreground, a 1970s beat-up Buick. I should mention Valdivieso's ingenious hands-off position: These images are digitized and processed and outlined by proxy; the artist then attaches these patterns to the wall.

The setup in the room relates to Michele Saee's novel architectural designs, which illuminate an unstable here and now and, environmentally speaking, a pressing global problem. This is not a representation of a European junkyard, but a Latin-American slum, which Valdivieso differentiates from a modern-looking living interior with plants and coffee table stacked with magazines on a small, linoleum-covered area. Yet something is amiss.

If Valdivieso seeks to parallel interior and exterior, waste and neatness, or even public and private, I needed more conflict to be able to get the point. These are, after all, environmental problems, and Valdivieso relies on the very technology that she may be addressing as problematic, which makes her piece more vulnerable to feeling superficial. Sleekness can turn drama into artifice.

The opening night included a music piece executed by a composer/performer sitting behind a console disguised as a rusted car's muffler. Then, over a pre-established sampled sequence, he would add percussive layers and acoustic instruments. Why the disguise? I couldn't stop comparing this sort of camouflage of a digital device with some unanswered questions from Valdivieso's installation. Was I off course? As I left the gallery and drove back on Miami Avenue on a breezy night, I glimpsed an empty lot filled with big piles of beat-up cars, tires, and industrial waste.

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