Artist Nina Surel Gets Lost in a Forest in "Understory" at Praxis

Nina Surel's enigmatic and ornately collaged suite of paintings at Praxis on view as part of her solo "Understory," is certified eye candy. I was tempted to rub my fingers all over her lushly impregnated surfaces. Covered by layers of photography, lace and velvets, rows of buttons and costume jewelry, protruding bits of Capodimonte porcelain and even broken pieces of furniture, her use of materials reminded me of the detritus collected from the fallout of a grenade lobbed through an antique shop's storefront window, but in a good way.

Surel, who obviously hoards materials like a squirrel stashing nuts for the winter, definitely has a keen eye for employing sundry items of fabric and gilded bits and pieces of ornamental stuff to create works of a labor-intensive, sumptuous character.

Nina Surel Sweets to the Sweet
Courtesy of Praxis International

Surel gives imaginative depth to exploring her interest in her own childhood, fairytales, Romanticism, and early feminist literature.

Surel's paintings are basically self portraits depicted in primeval forest settings.Through them, she invites the viewer to contemplate her exchanges with nature as a path to questioning the perception of our surroundings as something wondrous amidst the technological chaos distancing humans from the environment.In works such as Amanita Muscaria, named after the magic mushroom famed for its hallucinogenic properties, Surel's painting conveys the notion of how the fungus induces euphoria, delirium, or visual distortion upon ingestion.

In it, the Argentine artist appears standing in front of a dense copse of trees in a woodland clearing while intently gazing at the spectator. She is decked out in what looks like a Flamenco dancer's regalia. Every crease and fold of her red flowing gown is accentuated three-dimensionally in the picture which also depicts an image of a magic mushroom, sprouting from the earth near the artist's feet at the lower left corner of the striking composition.

To further suggest the notion of depth in the picture, Surel has added a lavish bouquet of porcelain flowers to the upper section of her bodice. Her hair is powdered in a combination of scarlet and cotton-candy pink hues heightening the trippy vibe of the image and giving the impression her skull is about to catch fire.

Nina Surel Nectar
Courtesy of Praxis International

In some of her other large-scale paintings, gussied up swains, swaddled in 18th century period garb, swoon visibly as if besotted.

In all of her pieces, she sports an ironic mien as if privileged to some secret knowledge of unconscious realms both sacred and profane where nature and the flesh collide to become a sort of homage to the spirit.

But despite her impeccable execution and command of her subject matter the innate vanity of Surel's proposal fails to transport viewers to a vision one can connect to universally. For all the drama and prettiness of her paintings, some will leave Surel's exhibit surely impressed with her technique but somehow feeling detached and with thoughts of a Harlequin romance novel addling their noggins.

See "Understory" through October 22 at Praxis International Art (2219 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami.) Call 305-573-2700 or visit praxis-art.com.

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