For Kelly Breez, if there’s one good thing to come out of the nightmare that is the Trump administration, it’s that she’s fucking fired up again.
"Everything was pretty hunky-dory while Obama was still around,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about politics so much. I was like a sleeping giant.”
Then Trump evolved from a political contender to the Republican nominee and, suddenly, president. Breez — a Miami-based artist whose illustrations detail the seedy side of life found in corner stores, dive bars, and the Oval Office — couldn’t keep quiet. “I became this walking time bomb,” she says. “I'd hold it all in, and then someone would say one thing and I'd lose my shit in public."
Breez had been here before — nine years ago, when Barack Obama was making his first bid for the White House. Back then, as a student at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, she campaigned so hard she lost her voice for months. One day she printed Obama’s face with a bunch of political text onto a stack of newsprint and posted the flyers around the school at night after everyone left.
"It was my little campaign,” she says. "I was just so fired up, and I was trying to get other people fired up too. If you’re in a position in which you can put something on a wall and people will look at it, you better be saying what you want to say and not wasting any time about it.”
After Obama won, Breez left South Florida for San Francisco on a cross-country road trip with her roommates in search of an art scene that resonated more with her illustrative style.
Eight years later, she’s back in Miami, and her platform has graduated from the New School hallways to two of the city’s most prestigious art galleries — Locust and Primary Projects. Her tandem solo shows — “Fake News” and “Fuck It Will Set You Free” — will open this Saturday, March 4.
Though a lot has happened in eight years, a lot has stayed the same.
In “Fuck It Will Set Your Free,” Breez exhibits the influence of her past decade, with a mix of her art-school technicality and illustrative detail she acquired in San Francisco. The show’s title harks back to the carefree mantra she and her friends chanted on their journey out West. Road-trip imagery — such as the black-and-yellow color scheme of two-lane highways — is present throughout her work. "It’s kind of like a homecoming,” she says. "Some of the show brings in a lot of the aesthetics that I picked up in California. 'Fuck It' kind of led me through a series of decisions that brought me back to Miami.”
What ultimately brought her back was a mix of restlessness and an offer from her dad to help restore an old sailboat. "I was literally on a plane two days after he asked me,” she says. "It saved my life. I was so excited.” After working odd jobs to survive in San Francisco, Breez found herself outdoors again, working with wood and complicated marine epoxy, both of which she’s incorporated into her pieces in the exhibition.
Whereas "Fuck It" celebrates a carefree attitude bordering on escapism, "Fake News" has a serious, almost somber mood.
“Fake News" is a kind of political rebirth for Breez, a show through which she reignites the will that pasted Obama’s face across campus. But things are different this time. The hope that Obama promised is gone. Trump is in office.
Adopting the layout of a newspaper and the often-bastardized buzz-phrase “fake news," Breez explores the content and effect of what she calls the "culture of lies” being normalized by the current administration.
Using headlines such as “The Truth Is Finally Irrelevant” and “Everything Is Immediately Way Worse Than We Thought,” Breez confronts the phenomenon with humor and bubbling discontent. But it wasn't easy.
"I love those works,” she says, "but I’m glad I’m done with them, because they were driving me to the brink of insanity.”
President Trump lies — a lot. He lies so much that his administration devised the term "alternative facts." And it's often difficult to discern the truth amid the noise.
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"It all sends you into this state of insanity,” Breez says. "It’s so hard to get a grip on reality, and I don’t think it's a mistake. It's a tactic on this administration’s side."
And Breez is sure she isn’t alone, a sentiment she shares in one of her most insightful — and disturbing — headlines in the show: "Entire Country Feeling Pretty Gaslighted at the Moment.”
“Fuck It Will Set You Free”
Saturday, March 4, through April 8 at Primary Projects, 15 NE 39th St., Miami; primaryprojectspace.com.
Saturday, March 4, through April 15 at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; locustprojects.org.