John Brevard is a man possessed. When cosmic forces revealed he was destined to become an artist, he didn't waste any time.
The revelation came to him during a jaunt to the Amazon jungle, where he was initiated into the mysteries of ayahuasca, the "vine of the souls," by Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo, who used the powerful hallucinogenic to put Brevard in contact with his spirit guides.
"It was in Iquitos, Peru, in the rain forest several years ago," Brevard recalls. "It was a powerful experience, and I had to observe a serious regime adhering to a strict diet and abstaining from sex for a week before taking the ayahuasca."
Brevard says the psychedelic brew helped strip him of his ego and put him in direct contact with the hidden forces of the universe. "It peeled the layers of my consciousness away like the skin of an onion, and I left behind my falsified perceptions of reality to experience a sense of nonduality and a transpersonal dialectic where I encountered a spirit that told me I was going to be an artist."
He immediately began a series of skillfully executed black-and-white drawings titled The Death of the False Self, which are on display at his eponymous, freshly minted space in Wynwood. Reflecting his immersion into an altered state of being between 2001 and 2005, the puzzle-like compositions have a surrealist quality, with faces and labyrinths melting into each other in a muddled jumble at times reminiscent of Dali's loopier doodles.
The 27-year-old Brevard is an eighth-generation Florida blue blood. An ancestor founded Brevard County, and his grandfather was Leroy Collins, a former Florida governor. His father founded the Pankey Institute, an incubator for cosmetic dentists for the past four decades.
But Brevard says he is not a trust-fund baby and opened his space on his own steam. Trained as an architect at the University of Florida, he says his design jobs helped launch the sprawling 4,500-square-foot showroom, which would be a better fit in the Design District or Palm Beach rather than on a gritty stretch of Wynwood.
"Those places are too ritzy and frou-frou," he says. "I wanted to be here because this area has a different energy."
The slim, well-heeled, model-handsome artist has never previously shown his work at a gallery and will be the only one exhibiting in his new locale. Local dealers and artists are sure to view him as an arriviste and his gallery as a vanity space. That perspective might be magnified by his over-the-top coming-out party in the edgy arts nabe.
During a recent Wednesday night, Brevards was inaugurated with the fanfare typical of a Tinseltown movie debut. Visitors were greeted with $10 valet parking and a red carpet and velvet ropes snaking down North Miami Avenue. The place swarmed with a mix of business types, impeccably dressed and ridiculously beautiful 20-somethings, and a handful of hipsters and artists whose pictures were snapped as they walked in.
A fashion show, accompanied by the plaintive wails of a solo jazz saxophonist, further swanked up the opening, which offered a free-flowing open bar and a savory buffet of hors d'oeuvres.
On display were many of Brevard's signature works combining petrified wood and steel in a series he calls Merging Economy and Ecology.
The globe-trotting artist — who has traveled all over Europe, Asia, and South America to study indigenous cultures — follows the principles of what he calls sacred geometry. He uses petrified wood that's millions of years old and has been mined by local extractors in Jakarta following ecologically strict guidelines.
Aided by as many as four assistants, Brevard uses the prehistoric wood to forge his designs in a studio in Coral Gables. His sumptuous furniture pieces and distinctive sculptures are immaculately executed and are where Brevard's creative forte is most evident.
He sees the wood and steel used in his functional coffee and dinner tables as a reflection of the connection between man and nature. The pieces range from $20,000 to $30,000, in line with prices one might encounter at high-end design showrooms specializing in rare and exotic materials. "People like to engage with the energy of these pieces because of their spiritual quality," Brevard says. "They sit at my tables and enter a spiritual dialect with each other."
Brevard says he loves the ancient wood for its timeless quality and the spiritual energy it emanates. Visitors exiting his space during the opening were treated to a small piece of the material nestled in a spiffy black gift bag emblazoned with the artist's silver embossed logo.
A set of sculptures, displayed horizontally on a wall, looked like highly burnished dinosaur eggs, refracting the gallery lights to reveal the natural striations of the petrified wood in lovely patterns. The eye-catching piece, titled From Form to Formless, was priced at $22,000.
Morphology, a larger, single-form version of Brevard's dino egg sculptures, nested on what appeared to be a painted wooden plinth and commanded $19,600.
Oddly, for someone so in tune with the sacred forces of nature and the universe, Brevard's official entrée into the art world gives the impression that communion with the spirits can be outrageously costly.
The artist goes as far as mounting the wall captions for his work under glass in silver frames and charges what would be absurd sums for works by an established artist represented by a serious gallery, let alone a confessed tyro. Fine examples are the prices he demands for his initial drawings: $8,000 to $10,000. The lavish displays and exorbitant price tags give the impression Brevard might believe himself to have been anointed by a higher being.
Asked if his prices are too high, the artist quickly notes they are retail figures that don't include a 40 percent discount to designers.
He also bristles when asked if some people might consider his shamanic shtick as a stab at gullible collector checkbooks or that others might view him as a new-age space cadet.
"Screw them," he fumes. "I respect other people's beliefs. I'm selling sustainability and spiritual awareness. If people don't agree with me, I can respect that."
Brevard, who has hired a publicist to promote him, might be better off returning to his roots, sipping some more ayahuasca, and channeling a sober arts entity. Perhaps a more enlightened spirit guide will advise him to stick to making work quietly and develop his art process, which shows promise.