On a recent visit to Faktura Gallery, the place looked more like a punching bag than the toast of the town.
Located on a garbage-strewn dead-end street in Little Haiti, its gritty façade was pocked by concrete bruises doctored in a jalapeño green coat of paint. A ratty car seat, a carpet of cigarette butts, and dozens of empty beer cans and broken bottles littered the area.
But during the opening of "Here I Sit," which features 30 toilet seats painted and collaged by two dozen mostly unknown artists, hundreds of spectators slogged through the rain-flooded gallery to catch the show. Cynics might squawk that the promise of free beer drew the crowds I tripped over two empty kegs propping the door open as I walked in but the fact is Faktura has become a haven for South Florida's lowbrow art scene. Although most local alternative spaces have folded their tents, this raw outpost in the St. Mary's Art District is making noise.
Owner and operator Jacquelyn Jackson Johnston opened Faktura one year ago. In addition to the gallery, Johnston and her partner formed a nonprofit organization that rescues stray neighborhood dogs, and inside the large space a couple of mutts Newcastle and Mortimer the Prince of Darkness wagged their tails inside a makeshift enclosure as they waited for homes. An industrial electric fan sitting on the floor nearby perfumed the premises with eau de damp dog.
Curated by local graffiti artists Aholsniffsglue, Typoe, and DS363, "Here I Sit" pokes fun at the commodification of graffiti by the contemporary art world while riffing on the primal urge to leave one's mark on a public bathroom stall. Most of the gallery's walls are covered with graffiti and smatterings of shit-house poetry as a backdrop to the snazzy toilet seats. While some of the commode covers delve into political protest, others veer toward titillation with varying doses of street funk.
In Land of the Free, a mixed-media work by Disem, the toilet seat's cover has been wrapped in electrical tape. On the inside of its lid, the artist has created a collage in the shape of the Statue of Liberty using what appear to be blood-stained dollar bills. Scrawled on the wall next to it is the sentiment: "My pinga is bigger than yours." Another wall features an untitled work by Erasmo Garcia. The seat reads, "Pretty girls don't poo." On the inside of the lid, a perky-breasted nude brunet lies on her back with her legs parted to reveal her shaved, pierced labia. One of the more unusual confections is Andrew the Sociopath's Mommie's Little Monster. The seat is painted in white and blue stripes. A misshapen cast of characters is rendered on the inner lid as if posing for a family portrait. The unsightly trio has been framed in a spectacular halo of gilded rigatoni.
Walking around Faktura, I could not help but chuckle at the odd strain of humor with which many of the artists laced their works. Lapsed Catholic Angela Roell calls her piece, Holy Shit, an "exploration of repression." She collaged pages from a children's prayer book onto her toilet seat. Under the lid, a closeup of a priest's hands is shown in the act of snapping a Communion wafer in half. A work by Aeon depicts a hybrid of an Abrams battle tank and a parasite painted on the lid. Assorted pharmaceuticals have been scrawled onto the seat, underneath which a bandolier full of hypodermic syringes crisscrosses.
Level 3 is an artist who opted for an old-school approach for his ode to the commode. Using a fine-point permanent marker, he created a simple drawing titled Super Pube. The deftly scribbled cartoon looks somewhat like a bird's nest wearing a flowing cape and a Speedo. The toilet seat gives the illusion it is covered in loose strands of pubic hair. Of all the works in the show, this was by far the likeliest one to be encountered in a public latrine.
Although many spaces in town call themselves edgy, Faktura is among the rare few that delivers. I can't imagine another local gallery exhibiting any of this work and that's a damn shame. Certain pieces might be dismissed as crap and believe me, they are but these artists put their asses on the line without taking themselves too seriously, and like a fancy urinal cake found in classier loos that freshens the air.
Downwind at the David Castillo Gallery, Melissa Diaz has curated "I Used to Believe." The group show features the works of twelve emerging artists who explore the realm of adolescent creativity and how it has influenced their adult careers. The exhibit encompasses a wide range of media video, installation, drawings, photography, painting and exudes a light-hearted, playful feel.
One of the most striking pieces is a wood-panel-and-string installation by Chris Duncan. He created a shoulder-high, six-inch-square-wide column of wood panels capped by pink tape that gives it the look of a giant matchstick. Colored string shoots from its top in a 360-degree arc almost across the entire breadth of the gallery's ceiling. The fiery orange, pink, red, blue, and yellow hues of the strings cast a prismatic vibe. When appreciated from a distance, it seems the matchstick is lit with the soaring strings, conveying a sense of the match catching flame.
Candace Briceño's delicate wall sculptures fashioned from hand-dyed felt and wire hoops evoke mysteriously magical life forms rather than plants or flowers one might tear from a garden and stuff in a vase. Her delightful landscapes contain sudsy dandelions, lush green stalks tipped by fleshy tulips, and wild tufts of crabgrass.
In Godamnbats!, a large thread-on-vinyl and collage piece, Luis Alonzo-Barkigia flaunts a glam vision of childhood. A black vinyl panda has been sewn onto a shimmering gold fabric, and a flock of bats and owls hovers above the fabulous animal's head. A lawn gnome topples over near the lower section of the composition, while the Hindenburg zeppelin sputters above. Images of Tinkertoy sets, Oreo cookies, and LifeSavers candies are scattered pell-mell across the surface.
A pair of watercolors by BJ Barbee captures Winnie the Pooh's Cristopher Robin in a series of misadventures. In one of the panels, a frightful crone points toward an abyss where the boy and his playmates tumble into a void.
A series of impeccably crafted light boxes by Jay Oré zapped me like thunderbolts. Oré created these works using a tarry black surface he pierced with hundreds of holes that, when illuminated from behind, convey a sense of vast constellations aligned in deep space to form images. In Pizza Forever, a skeleton rears its head back and dangles a slice of pepperoni pie over its gob. So Much depicts a tearful eyeball trailing its ganglia like a comet's tail as it rips through the heavens. In She Sounds Like, Oré plops down a blue jay in front of a karaoke machine where it is seen twittering into the microphone.
For those who feel as if you wake up to the smell of napalm and are weary of the sting of adulthood on the soul, this show might transport you to a time when frittering away your life in a sandbox was worth risking getting sent to bed without supper.
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