At the age of 29, artist Gustavo Oviedo decided he needed a new adventure, so he bought his first boat. Though he knew very little about watercraft, he'd been confined to his bed by debilitating sciatica and felt he needed some fresh air. Soon, his boat became a workspace. Just as he moved his work to the waves, says Oviedo, now 38, "I adapted my art to my new studio."
He heavily researched the history of areas he visited on his vessel, learned to dive, photographed and recorded everything he saw. He collected trash tangled in mangroves and floating in the waves to create sculptures that reflect how humanity interacts with the ocean and the land. "Little by little, my art habits of documenting and looking for patterns and little things within my environment started to kick in," Oviedo tells New Times. "It was really an unknown world, and that was the attraction."
Oviedo's ten years on the water have taken him from Miami to the Dry Tortugas. In Stiltsville, he collected bottles left behind by visitors and covered them in resin. He documented Islandia, one of the upper keys in Biscayne National Park, in a volume bearing the same title. Now Oviedo's works inspired by salty South Florida are showcased in an upcoming solo exhibition, "No Rush," curated by his friend and fellow artist Jane Hart at Miami Art Society.
Oviedo is a Parisian-born Miamian who was also brought up in Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico. He had his first show at 18, and earned a master's degree in visual effects and animation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
He has always engrossed himself in what he finds.
During a residency at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood, his studio was next to the garbage cans. So he collected other artists' trash and made art from it. The result, "Nothing Goes to Waste," a 2014 exhibition at the former Art Center South Florida, included a video that featured balloons Oviedo had found floating on the water. A viewer told him she was glad he was making a commentary on how trash thrown into the water gets consumed by sea creatures, to their detriment. Though it hadn't been his intention, he welcomed the interpretation.
"I can't claim that I'm an environmentalist, but I'm very conscious of the problems, and my art is indirectly influenced by the things that I see," Oviedo explains. But it is by design that the work reveals the unsavory ways in which humans interact with their environment. By documenting the world as it is, Oviedo captures the early stages of the effects of advancing climate change. "I'm very aware of how dystopian it is in comparison to 20 years ago. The video I'm capturing is a time capsule of what it looks like now. Because in 10, 20 years from now I'll go back to the same places and they'll be a lot worse," he says.
Oviedo met Jane Hart in 2014. Hart, who held the position of curator of exhibitions at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood from 2006 until 2015, invited him to her family's home in Key Largo, and a friendship blossomed.
"Seeing my process, what I'm about with the boat, she understands very well what I'm doing and appreciates it. It's not that common that people support you," Oviedo says of the closeness he shares with his fellow artist, who relocated to upstate New York late last year.
"No Rush" marks Hart's first curatorial endeavor in Miami this year.
"I felt like I did all that I wanted to do in Miami, but when Gustavo reached out and asked me what I wanted to do with this project, I was more than happy to because I love his work," she says. "I have a unique connection with him and think his work is important."
“No Rush” is a combination of old and new work, touching on the years Oviedo spent making murals, as well as the time on his boat. "When a piece to me feels timeless, that's when it's done," he says. "I feel that this show has a lot of that kind of work."
He says he plans to continue his aquatic journey of discovery; he's shopping for a new boat (it'll be his fourth) to explore the Bahamas, another area where warming waters are causing drastic transformations. In the meantime, as climate change creeps its way into our minds (and, soon, our homes), this upcoming exhibition serves to reflect our anxieties — regardless of whether that was the artist's intention.
"No Rush." Opening reception 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, November 2, at Miami Art Society, 6300 NW Second Ave., Miami; 786-525-3898. Show runs through November 22.
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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.