When he was younger, artist Magnus Sodamin used to try to find ways to sneak into Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The sprawling bayside grounds in Coral Gables are a magical 83 acres of rare plants. Trekking through the back forests of Matheson Hammock Park, which borders the historic gardens to the north, he and his companions found an old boat that was washed up by Hurricane Andrew. The image stuck with him.
"Sometimes seeing remnants of human traces is mesmerizing," he says of the memory that contrasts natural growth with an artificial vessel. "You can sometimes dream into past experiences of objects... I feel you can do the same with art. You can endow life upon objects."
He's coming full circle with his latest show, “Impressions of Our Landscape," his third solo exhibition at Primary Projects. In it, Sodamin explores the concept of man's effect on nature through paintings based on scenes at Fairchild Garden. He recently wrapped up two residencies — Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) and one at the Deering Estate — so lately he's been thoroughly exploring the Florida landscape through art.
The paintings in this show, he explains, are more focused and smaller than his usual large-scale works but still capture that same emotional quality, color, and texture. "My work is always surrounding nature in its theme," he says. "I always think of light as a medium. That’s the most important thing in my work."
These landscapes are, for him, impressions. Referring to Monet's Haystacks series, for which the impressionist spent a year painting the same rural landscape at different times of day, Sodamin says, "I did the same thing... I worked with the landscape as a reference, but I totally imagined everything else. I think that the beauty in that is the fleeting moment of the day; there’s this fleeting moment of beauty. I'm kind of capturing myself in that moment, and my work is capturing that moment.”
Teenage memories weren't the only reason he revisited Fairchild. He was also interested in the plants there that are not native to the area.
"Fairchild is already a curated garden. It’s like a curated sculpture park in a way. It’s very human. It’s superclose to Biscayne Bay and got wrecked by Hurricane Irma. As waters rise, the first things to go are things made by humans," he explains. "These paintings I made, you won’t see those landscapes 100 years from now. I was trying to capture, maybe not the natural environment, but more of the human-curated part of it. It’s beautiful. David Fairchild went around the world getting these plants. That was his passion. You can create harmony between different plants, but I was hinting that this is a part of Miami that will be challenged in the future."
Therefore, “Impressions of Our Landscape" is a show very much about the Florida we live in and not the Florida that humans originally found. "The 'Our' [in the title] is necessary. It places it in the realm of control, in our responsibility. It’s more important now than ever to take responsibility for our natural ecosystem, especially the Everglades."
In other words, the work is a commentary on climate change. "I think being based in Miami, you experience climate change in a real way — the days are hotter, and waiting for winter is always extended. Our proximity to water is so tangible. I spend a lot of my time on the water and in the Everglades, and my experience of nature is that it is fleeting, that I know my grandchildren will not look at this landscape in the same way I will look at it. I guess there is beauty in that, the experience in the now, but it's happening too fast. I'm not too optimistic," he laments.
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"I think it’s funny to see how fast nature moves around us," he continues. "The fish and birds have already adapted to areas where it takes humans longer to adapt. We’re a little messier. As humans, we should be socially conscious about adaptation and having specific places to adapt. We haven’t achieved that yet. We should be more fluid. I think that’s why nature is such a theme for me. It already knows what to do; it’s fluid."
Appropriately enough, the show's early-September opening date was pushed back because of Hurricane Irma. It's now on view at Primary Projects, as humans struggle to react to the enormity of this year's storm season.
Sodamin, meanwhile, plans to devote more time to traveling, camping, and fishing after spending a Miami summer in a studio struggling with A/C. He's still trying to find a balance, just like Mother Nature.
"Impressions of Our Landscape." Through January 15 at Primary Projects, 15 NE 39th St., Miami; 954-296-1675; primaryprojectspace.com. Sunday through Tuesday by appointment, Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday noon to 4 p.m.