It's August and the galleries are mostly closed or operating on short hours. The big-name artists have hightailed it for cooler climes. So how to get your art fix? Try these three off-the-beaten-path geniuses.
In the lavishly landscaped yard behind his Hialeah home, Jose Tonito waves his arms like a symphony conductor while Cuban music plays in the background.
As the plaintive guitar wail sweetens the air, the 53-year-old artist fans colored ink across photo paper. Now and again his fingers skip across the surface to highlight patterns within the emerging forms.
Tonito, who was born in Havana in 1961, moved to Hialeah with his family in 1978 and studied photography at Miami-Dade Community College. After graduating with a BFA from Florida International University, he went on to a long career as a fine-arts photographer who also shot works at local galleries and museums for many years.
But about five years ago, Tonito stumbled upon a process that altered his art practice and got his creative juices bubbling again. "I use blank photographic paper and color inks that I apply with water in a process similar to watercolors," he observes. "The paper is waterproof and registers the movement of water faster than any other kind of paper."
As Tonito moves his fingers dexterously over the paper's surface, strange creatures seem to burst from beneath the shadows of his hands. Some of the patterns give the impression of biological cell structures, while others appear not unlike submerged marine life.
"The movement of the water makes the inks travel on the paper, leaving a physical mark with the same fluidity of nature," Tonito explains. "The result is an image that cannot be re-created by the human hand."
Since he began experimenting with his new media, Tonito has sold thousands of his prints on eBay. He creates up to 25 new works a day. "I've been part of Miami's art scene for the past 30 years, and this was a path I found to go my own way. You can say I have encountered an ajiaco of others' works, and it's given me the confidence and freedom to do my thing."
Photo labs donate the paper, and the ink comes from discarded printer cartridges, he says. "Typically I use a syringe to extract the colored inks left in them."
The artist says that he used to photograph rocks for the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key and that the stones subconsciously affected his work. "I had to photograph hundreds of rocks that looked exactly the same to me. Now when I see some of the pictures of those rocks, I realize how beautiful those strange natural patterns were. They have a lot in common with the paintings I create today."
Tonito pauses for a second over a recent painting and uses a cotton swab to redirect the flow of ink, teasing a cast of plant-like creatures from magenta rivulets.
"When I paint, I fast-forward how nature creates rivers and lakes or visualize how a microorganism behaves under a microscope," he explains. "I like to find a central figure in each painting to attract the attention of the viewer, but in the end, I am more interested in showing the hidden magical worlds within imagination."
To see Jose Tonito's work, visit his studio at 661 West 38th St., Hialeah, or josetonito.com. To make an appointment, call 305-202-2967.
As a teenager, Enrique Machado was captivated by the tactile nature of water. "At the time, I was attending New World School of the Arts and started making these ice sculptures of people that I would hollow out and place a light source inside," the 28-year-old Miami native recollects. "I was interested in working with concepts relating to the transfer of energy."
After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute with a degree in sculpture, Machado found a job working in the art department at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind in Little Havana, where he taught visually impaired adults and children arts and crafts.
"It was the most inspiring few months of my life," he mentions before adding that working with his students to mold pots from wet clay was a sensory-enhancing experience. That was around 2007, and soon he found himself at a local Home Depot, where he was seized by an inspiration.
"It was in the caulking tube section of the store where I noticed that silicone tubes came in a variety of colors," says Machado, who filled a shopping cart with a caulking gun and silicone tubes. "When I drove back to my studio, I instantly fell in love with the process because I was excited to paint all over again."
Since then, Machado has combined his love of the local environment and newfound media to create abstract work. Typically he can be found in his Homestead studio, where he substitutes traditional paint brushes, oils, and acrylics with a caulking gun, directly applying the silicone to his chosen surfaces in a labor-intensive approach that brings to mind a pastry chef squeezing frosting from a piping bag.
"The themes that inspire my work are the ocean and water," says the artist, who creates deeply textured imagery of powerful, crashing waves. "Within these themes I try to convey subjects of life, love, obsessions, and the struggles in it."
To see Enrique Machado's work, visit Gallery 212 Miami, 2407 NW Second Ave., Miami, or www.gallery212miami.com.
Although she was born on an island, Emma Carascon grew up far from South Florida's tropical climes.
"I was born in a very, very, very small village in England, about an hour northwest of London," the 34-year-old, self-taught artist says. "There is literally one road in and out. No shops, no pubs, no traffic lights, but we do have a park and lots of cows, sheep, and horses."
Carascon moved to Florida in 2002 after earning a tourism degree from the University of Derby. She worked at Disney World and often drove to Miami and the Keys to relax with friends. "We would come for minivacations and loved being by the ocean and seeing the sun every day, something we definitely don't see much of in England," she laughs.
Like Tonito and Machado, Carascon is also inspired by South Florida's natural environment. Her deft, visual-pun-filled drawings fuse people, flora, and fauna. Carascon's work is on view at the pet shop and groomers Animal Crackers in downtown Miami, where a menagerie of bizarre characters includes a peg-legged old sea salt resting his wooden stump on an octopus' head and a snaggletoothed shark wearing prison stripes while shackled to a surfboard.
The artist also says she finds inspiration not only in Miami's natural beauty but also in her daily travels around town. "It can be things I see on the Metromover, to things that make my son laugh," she says. "I can be on the bus and see a handsome Brad Pitt look-alike, and even though I may acknowledge he's there, 99 percent of my journey time will be focused on the grumpy-looking guy sitting next to him wearing the "Free Hugs" T-shirt or the lady in her Sunday-best skirt suit with Dora the Explorer slippers on."
She fell in love with art-making as a toddler while drawing with a crayon on the wallpaper in her room. "I don't want to draw something I wouldn't want to have hanging on my wall. It has to stimulate my thought process and make me smile."
What's immediately striking about her drawings is their attention to detail and impeccable execution. No doubt a local art dealer will soon spy her nifty exhibit and display it in Wynwood.
But for now, Carascon is content wowing customers at the shop her husband owns while she struggles to strike a balance between her home life and a budding art career.
"I take a sketchbook with me everywhere. I never know when I will get the chance to draw or have inspiration," she says. "With two dogs, five cats, and a 3-year-old boy, time is a rare currency. The majority of work I do at night, when all the noise in the house stops."
To see Emma Carascon's work, visit Animal Crackers, 280 NE Second St., Miami, or call 305-374-8004.