Sea Changes

It's not unusual for the Coral Springs Museum of Art to run three very different shows simultaneously. What is unusual is the way museum director Barbara O'Keefe manages to make the shows flow together so smoothly. On the surface, "Captain Honk and His Funky Florida Fish," "Walford Campbell: Life Within...
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It's not unusual for the Coral Springs Museum of Art to run three very different shows simultaneously. What is unusual is the way museum director Barbara O'Keefe manages to make the shows flow together so smoothly.

On the surface, "Captain Honk and His Funky Florida Fish," "Walford Campbell: Life Within -- Abstractions in Ceramic," and "Edouard Duval Carrié: Painting and Sculpture" seem to have almost nothing in common. Captain Honk (a.k.a. Hollywood artist Thomas Bintz) is a globetrotting character who works with found objects. Walford Campbell is a Miami-based artist, born in Jamaica and educated in England, who turned from commercial ceramics to fine art after a back injury restricted his ability to work. And Edouard Duval Carrié is an internationally known Haitian artist who studied in Paris and Montreal before settling in Miami Beach.

O'Keefe ventures that the only common thread running through the work of these three artists is a link to the sea: Honk's marine media and subject matter, Campbell's and Carrié's Caribbean origins. Perhaps. But their work is even more intriguing because of the dramatic contrasts that, paradoxically, tie the artists and their output together into one big, eclectic exhibition.

Take a left after you enter the museum and you're plunged into a sea of nearly three dozen of Honk's whimsical fish constructions. Head directly forward and you'll be surrounded by nearly 20 examples of Campbell's serene ceramics. Or hang a right to make your way through the several small, interlinked galleries housing a large sampling of Carrié's paintings and sculptures, which are both political and spiritual.

I opted to start with whimsy and was amply rewarded. From a distance, the conglomerations Honk calls his funky Florida fish are amazingly realistic, with coloration and contours clearly modeled after the real thing. Some are life-size, some quite large, some gigantic. Most are wall-mounted, although several pieces are suspended from the ceiling on rusty chains with gigantic fishhooks.

It's only when you get close to these colorful fish that you begin to realize they're assembled from a variety of odds and ends. In his artist's statement, Honk explains: "In making the fish, I begin by collecting all kinds of objects and shapes of assorted materials. Most of these I gather while walking the shoreline and beaches at different times of the year, mainly after storms."

Among the found objects this scavenger artist lists as his source material are "Styrofoam from docks and boats, cork from life jackets, buoys, slabwood, minnow buckets, blown truck tires, etc. I love when people ask me to clean out their garages! Everything I use is recycled." Other items include marbles, rubber gaskets, blown light bulbs, beer cans, fishing floats, dustpans, paintbrushes, flag grommets, license plates, mirror shards, plumbing fixtures, bottle caps, and coins. (I found myself wondering what his studio must look like.)

Honk doesn't just throw this marine detritus together. He carefully shapes and manipulates it into fish forms, then colors it using a variety of paints (again, mostly leftovers): ordinary house paint, aluminum paint, spray paint, enamels, fluorescent paint. And these he applies, he says, with whatever is at hand, from screwdrivers and sticks to paintbrushes.

Part of the fun of taking in this art is reading the ID panels to find out what has been worked into the pieces. Arkansas Blue Catfish (2001), for example, has a body made from a wooden lobster buoy, gills fashioned from fan belts, and antlers for whiskers. Spanish Mackerel aka Spotted Speedster (1994) has a compass for an eyeball. Deer teeth turn up in Porcupinefish (2001), while a human dental partial plate can be seen in the mouth of "Lawton" The Walkin' Catfish (Albino) (2000).

One piece was made especially for this show: School of Grunts aka Key West Pork Chops (2002), a school of nearly a dozen fish mounted on two walls in the corner of an alcove. Look closely and you'll see that the bodies of these various-size fish started out as flip-flops, embellished with paintbrushes for tails, mirror slivers for teeth, and an assortment of items for eyeballs. ("I have wooden boxes full of potential eyeballs," reads one note from Honk.)

Oddly enough, it's not jarring to move from Captain Honk's funky Florida fish into the abstract ceramics of Walford Campbell, who works with a technique labeled "coiled form stoneware." Campbell tends to favor bulbous, rounded forms that in other hands might end up squat and clunky. He acknowledges, in his artist's statement, that he used to cling to the notion "that everything with an opening was a pot, probably due to my training in functional pottery. This has changed...."

Campbell's physical limitations have also made him more methodical, less interested in cranking out pieces. He now works from sketches and models and sometimes takes weeks or even months to complete a piece.

Three samples from his "Mystic" series confirm his transformation from potter to sculptor. They're similar but distinct irregularly shaped forms, each with a different finish. All have open holes that could never be mistaken as mouths for functional pots but rather come across as the hooded heads of the mystics of the titles. The apertures are likewise once removed from function in pieces from the "pod form" series, which have tiny mouthlike openings atop large, speckled green shapes.

A rare figurative piece at the edge of Campbell's territory makes an apt transition from his work to that of Carrié. Black Goddess is a large, thin slab of terra cotta washed with copper and manganese, portraying an elegant, gazelle-necked African woman's face in profile, gazing heavenward.

Not far away is the first of several of Carrié's Vaudou Parthenum bronze heads -- stylized black busts that suggest the African influences on Haiti's multicultural voodoo traditions. They're not masks, exactly, although they have the aura of items used in some sort of ritual.

As his artist's statement makes clear, Carrié is well aware of the historical and cultural baggage still affecting life in his native Haiti, and the social and political turbulence of his homeland makes its way into his work, sometimes in startling ways. Admiral Croc (2000), a caricaturish portrait of a military officer as a crocodile, is heavy-handed, while a large mixed-media piece called Dambalah, situated in its own alcove, is especially resonant.

A big, bald, flame-sprouting red head occupies the center of the image, flanked on the right by a boat filled with tribal people and a group of palm trees. On the left is a city skyline behind a huge warship. In what looks to be a stylized ocean beneath the head, a giant serpent writhes. And four small model planes have been affixed to the sky above the cityscape. Although the piece was created in 2000, it seems eerily, if obliquely, prescient of 9/11, as well as an evocation of the colonialism that is such a large part of Haiti's legacy.

Nearly a dozen similar pleurers (literally "criers"), rendered in acrylic and resin, are more subtly political. Each features a pair of disembodied crying eyes, a downturned mouth, and rune-like forms. The frames are decorated with different patterns, and the surfaces of the pieces have an icy-looking, glazed appearance. Given their context here, these works could be outpourings of grief for all the political tragedies, international and domestic, of our time.

The exhibition begins or ends -- depending upon where you start -- with Le Grand Agowe Taroyo II and La Divine Aizen Velekete II, a pair of mixed-media busts, glowing red from within, on pedestals, artificially aged with a crude white finish. Like so much of Carrié's work, they're grand, dignified, mysterious, even a little unsettling. I thought of a line about the Sphinx from Yeats's "The Second Coming": "A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun."

O'Keefe often says, almost apologetically, that her facility is one of the most conservative in South Florida. But with shows like these three, I think she sells herself and her museum short.

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