One man freed his soul from the prisons of Italian master painters four years ago. One man paints in ribbons and straws and paces by the phases of the moon. One man hijacks Los Angeles billboards to challenge the inane system.
All three are featured in an exhibit that made its debut last night at Unix Fine Art in Wynwood. Attendees who made the rounds at Art Basel's last edition surely recognized several of the pieces, including fabric-like portraits and gooey-looking oversized Blow Pops, among the works that lit up the walls and floors of the intimate gallery space.
Artists Andrea Sampaolo of Italy, Alexi Torres of Atlanta, and Desire Obtain Cherish of Los Angeles were all present at the private preview last night. We had a chance to chat with each to get a sense of their creative processes and intentions.
Sampaolo is a lively Italian who was among the only guests to bust a move to the DJ's house grooves on the gallery floor. He interacts with his canvasses by blowing, throwing, and shaking color at them. Brushes and traditional tools are not in his artistic vocabulary. His orange glasses and expressive gestures and faces communicated lots, even if we couldn't understand what he was saying. We got a translator so we could grasp the finer points of his message.
We stood in front of a florid abstract piece he created four years ago, which upon first glance appeared to feature a bird-like creature with a sunny-side up egg at the top of the canvas. But Sampaolo explained that the content was actually much more vital than that.
"That's his soul," conveyed his translator, pointing to the greenish creature leaning its alien form at the suggestion of a box. "It's mocking him and telling him to go out of the cage."
They jointly explained that the box is representative of the pressures he feels as an Italian painter to echo the dogmatic styles of his country's master painters.
So since the creation of that work, has he broken free from the cage?
The artist's face lit up at the question. We moved to a neighboring work, which featured the same bird-like creature, now appearing fully formed and dominating the entire canvas.
"Si, claro," Sampaolo said. His translator explained the rest. "His soul and his self are one. It has the features of an African mask. He has a connection with his higher self. He is kicking a can to say, 'no problem!'"
Other motifs of the artist's work include running with fire and beasts. He says his painting is never fueled by thinking, but always by music: jazz, classical, and other genres.
Atlanta-based painter Alexi Torres is a Cuban-American who creates intricate pieces that look like they're composed of woven fabric or hay. He always begins and completes them on the waning moon.
"I give birth to them. It is poetry. It's like planting a seed and then harvesting that seed. It's based on natural, raw, and universal forces," the artist said, explaining that his aesthetic stems from his upbringing in a small town in Cuba. There, his family worked in the fields without the use of high-powered machinery.
At first, we had a little trouble locating LA artist Desire Obtain Cherish in the gallery because we had no idea what he looked like. We checked out his website before the opening, but there were no photos of him to be seen. Turns out there's a reason for that.
"My work consists of a lot of illegal activity," he said. One such project he engaged in involved the "hijacking" of an LA billboard.
He and a crew plastered the message "Is This Illegal?" over an existing billboard to draw attention to the fact that many corporate entities get away with creating illegal billboards in the city, whereas graffiti artists who do the same are often brought up on felony charges.
Keeping this project in mind and then taking a look around his work in the gallery, which ranged from a sculpture of a suicidal Damien Hirst to portraits composed of pop icons created entirely out of Adderall pills, we were compelled to ask the artist how he is able to create in such a variety of styles.
"To me it's not really a variety. It all falls under the same umbrella," he said. "Rome is falling, but let's play in the street and have some fun and take a look at how dangerously decadent we are. Let's talk about things and smile, even though we dropped our candy and we dropped our toys."