By Monique Jones
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Jose Iraola's sumptuous depictions of back-yard botany steal the thunder at Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood. Using a broken camera, the Cuban artist offers a bee's-eye view of the beauty, frailty, and enduring allure of flowers. In contrast, two other photographic exhibits never fully bloom.
"Florilegio" includes 13 medium-size works whose vibrant surfaces oscillate with the electric lushness of the plant life in the movie Avatar, and you don't have to be tall and blue to enjoy them. One peek at Iraola's buzzing blossoms is enough to make your inner hortiholic swoon.
From Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh to Georgia O'Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe, artists have long been inspired by flowers. But it is Warhol's ghost that seems to haunt Iraola's subject most.
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The artist, who trained as a painter at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro in Havana during the early '80s, brings a distinctive painterly eye to his photographic experimentations.
For the past several years, he has deployed a damaged camera that causes errors in the prints. The results are fragmented and deformed images whose digitally manipulated quality brings an added richness and freshness to an old subject. These one-of-a-kind images, however, have not been tinkered with digitally, the artist affirms.
"I've been experimenting on this series for five years," Iraola says. "I have been using this bulky old Canon digital camera that has an electronic defect that causes these ethereal effects. At first, I took it to get repaired, but the so-called defect continued, and then I noticed there was this distortion it created that was pictorial in nature and almost looked like a painting."
In Iraola's latest series of untitled pictures, budding roses and hibiscuses shot from his garden exude a 3-D vibe that confuses the senses. Adding to this illusion are the colors of his floral arrangements — incandescent tarantula purples, mango oranges, fleshy pinks, deep pomegranate reds, silky whites, and fiery yellows that shimmer with the intensity of a live wire.
"Most of these flowers I photograph are from my own yard," says the artist, who boasts a cultivated green thumb. "I have also photographed the bouquets of roses and exotics I often display in my home and later take to my studio for these shoots."
Four pictures of hibiscuses arranged on a rear wall echo Warhol's works in the '70s — from the choice of flowers to the way the pictures are displayed.
"That was the idea," Iraola explains. "Warhol is a big influence for all contemporary artists. It's difficult to escape that because his work has been so highly publicized."
Rather than delve into abstractions, Iraola takes a conceptual approach that resonates with an immediacy that is apparent throughout the show.
Like Warhol's famous buds that practically burst off the canvas, Iraola's blooms hover in a supercharged space that invites us to meditate on the ephemeral nature of life while revisiting the potent symbolism that flowers continue to play in culture today.
In an adjacent gallery, Pati Laylle focuses her lens on chaotic patterns found in nature and its manmade versions in "Patterns," an exhibit of 16 book-size snaps of rusty drips, mounds of leaves, coils of garden hoses, and rusty manhole covers, among other things.
Laylle has a keen eye for finding elaborate, eye-catching designs hidden in the mundane. Her abstract depictions of chair backs and exterior tiles exude a nifty, banal vibe, but it is her grittier imagery that snares attention.
Her more compelling photos, which are seamier in nature and possess a sweat-soaked, soiled-mattress veneer, recall a visually poetic Charles Bukowski.
In one image, a pool of curdled milk saturates a strip of rough, tarry asphalt in a phosphorescent glaze. The chalky puddle teems with what looks like glowing worm-like organisms or addled sperm swimming in a daze.
Another picture, featuring a grimy pile of cigarette butts scattered on a tenement floor, captures the lingering hangover of a late-night tear. Along the same lines, yet another image isolates what appears to be blood spatter or drippy urine stains on a flophouse wall.
Two pictures that toy with tresses feature a rusty Brillo-pad coif and a closeup of some tightly coiled curls that appear to be pubic hair.
Perhaps the most poetic of these is an image of a shattered windshield that at first looks more like a silvery spider web refracting the dirty sunlight of dusk.
Laylle has a curious and roaming eye. She would benefit from editing her work tighter and considering printing her pictures at a larger scale for greater impact, even if she risks exposing their flaws, which is how nature evolves.
Camilo Bonilla's "Hidden Time" tills the furrows of the fleeting nature of time in small-format landscapes where storm clouds, rocky beach formations, and the interplay of shadow and light result in pictures of an all too familiar vein. They are bereft of people and eschew life of any form.
Bonilla's landscapes are as simple as corner drug store postcards and convey a sense of unease. It's as if the artist fumbled the lens while searching for the perfect frozen moment in time. This is his first exhibit, and unfortunately, when compared to the other two photographers, it shows.
Iraola is the marquee attraction here. Call it a case of a rhinoceros and two tick birds, and blame the curator, Charo Oquet, for the glaring hiccups. That's what you get for discovering a sprout like Bonilla at Kinko's and planting him last minute into a show.