Swamp Treat

Clyde Butcher's love affair with the Everglades is visual bliss

Step inside the freshly hatched Center for Visual Communication in Wynwood, and you might find yourself transported from the tangle of building sites and boom cranes honeycombing the area to a pristine vision of Florida far from the construction din.

The space has popped its cork with "Majestic Florida," an exhibition of large-format photographs by Clyde Butcher that poetically conveys a sense of our vanishing wilderness as few have had a chance to experience it.

Butcher, who lives on a thirteen-acre spread in the Big Cypress National Preserve, and works in the million acres that comprise his back yard, has been compared to Ansel Adams for his stunning vistas of the state's primordial habitats.

Butcher's Indian Key #5
clyde butcher
Butcher's Indian Key #5

Details

"Majestic Florida"
Through March 6. Center For Visual Communication, 541 NW 27th St, Miami. 305-571-1415; www.visual.org

"Con Flecos"
Through March 10. Ambrosino Gallery, 2628 NW 2nd Ave, Miami. 305-572-0700; www.ambrosinogallery.com

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"His photos of the Everglades have been an incredible source of inspiration for environmentalists and lawmakers alike, many of whom look at Clyde's work before voting on environmental issues," says Barry Fellman, the center's director. "Many of our state and federal officials have his work hanging in their office and you just know it makes a difference."

Although the majority of the thirteen photographs on exhibit were originally taken in the Eighties and Nineties and are among Butcher's best-known pictures, what makes these new prints of them much more compelling are their scale and crisp tonalities.

In Butcher's expansive new prints, the landscape photographer has amped up the traditional darkroom process with digital tools, allowing him to achieve more nuanced details that buttonhole spectators into feeling as if they are at the scene.

His black-and-white photographs of twisted mangroves, dreamy cloud formations, and lush thickets of vegetation mirrored in rippling pools seem to vibrate with a dramatic inner light and a palpable intensity.

Indian Key #5, originally snapped in 1997, depicts a closeup of what appears to be a giant knot of driftwood washed up on a grainy strip of land. Its brambles snake out like an abstract version of Medusa's coif, the twisting limbs haloed by clouds that seem to be curling like cigarette smoke into a graying sky.

Another breathtaking shot is Moonrise, from 1986. The photograph depicts a field of sawgrass and swamp scrub under a puffy mass of cotton ball clouds, crowned by a luminous moon.

In Skillet Strand, taken in 1991, and by far the largest photo in the show at a whopping five by eight feet, dozens of egrets roost against a wall of impenetrable foliage, sunning themselves and wading in the glittering brackish water.

The only setback here is that in an effort to spotlight Butcher's work, the curator may have shoehorned too many works into an exhibit that feels somewhat claustrophobic in a modest space.

Regardless of the cramped vibe, the show delivers a stirring account of Butcher's love affair with the swamp, and reflects a sensitive and passionate chronicler's eye for a Florida wilderness sadly receding further into memory with each passing day.


In his solo show "Con Flecos," at the Ambrosino Gallery, Raymond Saa continues his exploration of tropical floral imagery as a metaphor for the cultural displacement many immigrants experience in a foreign place.

A first-generation Cuban-American, raised here by his exiled mother and grandparents, Saa tills the furrows of his experiences growing up in a home where the family's struggle to maintain its Cuban roots was often in conflict with his life outside.

The exhibit, featuring large-scale paintings, drawings, and mixed-media installations, marks a departure from the artist's black-silhouette-on-white-background works, typical of his production in recent years.

In Untitled (Green), a beach-towel-size, acrylic-and-collage-on-wood-panel work, leafy red plants appear to bubble toward the surface atop a pasty whitewash in the background. A swirl of leaves, suggested in varying muddied green shades, skitters across the composition as if propelled by a leaf blower. At the upper right corner, what appears to be a bilelike bean dip impasto mucks up the picture. The dreary smear conveys an atmospheric moodiness suggesting that the brighter batch of leaves is being drained of color by the converging darkness. The artist seems to hint at the weedy stubbornness of transplanted cultures.

Speaking of nostalgia, Untitled (Autumn), a large diptych suffused with oranges, reds, and yellows that bring the darkly silhouetted organic shapes to the surface, is weirdly reminiscent of those grade school projects where students pressed fall leaves between sheets of wax paper, then ironed them for preservation.

A painting that stands out by comparison is Untitled (Gold). The monochromatic piece is set off by a detonation of shimmering yellow leaves cascading across a chalk-white field that appears dappled by sunlight. The work achieves a substance contrasting with its stingy subject matter, and is evocative in its simplicity.

Saa's quirkiest work is a large wall installation of white painted wooden shingles, trimmed in the red fringe (flecos) from which his show takes its name.

Those familiar with the Santería altars common in many Cuban homes might recognize the stuff often used to decorate an orisha's ritual implements.

Although some might think the piece references Shangó, the Afro-Cuban deity of fire and lightning, the artist scoffs when asked if the piece is a tribute to his mixed heritage, or a goof on clapboard homogeny.

What the work conveys is that Saa is far more interested in rooting about the edges of a reality where the facts fall short of adding up, much like they can for anyone living in this multiculti fabada we all call home.

 
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