by Tim Gilmore, 11/22/2015
Beautiful faces, Roman noses, almond eyes, pupils uneven when looking to the side, flowers burst from soft brown nests of hair, nudes that build strong and fecund over narrow gulches, dancers built of bones, heads crowned in birds’ nests.
Surely particular geographies breed specific arts. Southern Gothic yields Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy like its churches rise from porno drive-ins, like Christian holidays conveniently fastened on pagan feast days.
In old brick warehouses, where Olivier and Sarah Crooks Flaire first opened their furniture and art studios over 20 years ago, when no restaurant delivered food to North Riverside, now “the corner” extends for several blocks. The Corner of Rosselle and King’s become CoRK, an “arts district,” where more than 70 artists call studios home.
In the best of them, Northeast Florida rises up from the concrete and the sandy soil and the rusted railroad swamp, and says something stunningly relevant and beautiful and poignant to anyone who meets this art face-to-face.
So here’s Jim Draper, whose elegant trees graced the boarded windows and doorways in downtown’s most wonderful abandoned buildings prior to renovation. I still regret that when my 17 year old daughter Emily was a year old and Jim asked me to bring her by his studio space in Five Points so he could trace her face, I never did it. He reminisced about the Mississippi movies, “We called it the picture show,” and how when he cried as toddler, his grandmother gave him a teaspoon of whiskey. A recent piece for the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens’ exhibition “Reflections: Artful Perspectives on the St. Johns River,” called “Reflections from the White Rowboat,” superimposes Draper’s vision on Winslow Homer’s rowboat vision in the river.
So here’s Crystal Floyd’s studio, the whole space one work of art out of which any smaller piece seems randomly but magically of a piece. Crystal’s work reminds me of the art boxes and curios of Joseph Cornell and the contemporary surrealist poet Charles Simic’s tribute to Cornell called Dime-Store Alchemy.
One of Crystal’s boxes contains a wasp nest, three tiny starfish, a jawbone, a crooked little spine, a very slight seed cone, pieces of turquoise, a long-eyed narrow skull.
It’s in Simic’s ode to Cornell that he describes poetry as “three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley.”
In Crystal’s studio, you’ll find apothecary jars, miniature totems, horned masks, an Original Heidelberg printing press.
In the CoRK labs, off the far end of CoRK East, Peter Blunt, former furniture maker, lights pink and purple and blue Florida tree shapes and wooden panel
skyscrapers, and Jeff Luque hangs portraits in stages: half-a-face / outlines of flowers grown from the head / full lush scintillation lit variously from metallic bright background to fallen facial shadow. When he stands among three of his faces each as tall as he is, he becomes as large as all the beauty he’ll ever create.
In Marisa Yow’s CoRK East, Studio 13, the feminine body blossoms fully feminine and fully body. Contemporary Venuses de Willendorf build their bodies of their bodies like Florida does its summers. Women’s bodies curve powerfully and beautifully like gibbous bright gardenia and magnolia blossoms.
In Larry Wilson’s and Laurie Hitzig’s studios, the human form and those of flora and fauna hybridize naturally as they must in extreme climates like Florida’s. A beautiful face, most likely a woman’s, meets us eye-to-eye with but one eye, while beak and wild feathers and wings that perch from her (?) head like antlers face us.
Laurie Hitzig’s “Dancer” stands thin on tall-bird legs in leather shoes, her wings are hipbones, her face sharp and scapular, I’ve fallen in love with her, she is everyone by whom I’ve ever wished I was anyone to be loved.
A wild “Green Man” woman’s face by Wilson looks toward but past me, wears a crown, a crown of bird’s-nest, a young bird looking backward over the nest’s rear wall.
And the largest section of CoRK West belongs to Dolf James, this gentle and undemonstrative man, slumped shoulders, grave waves of parted hair, the vast interwrapped cubes and nested angles of sculptures like the 400-lb aluminum “Equal Point” on the front lawn of Five Points’ Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.
Between CoRK West and CoRK North, my daughters chat across a picnic table in the CoRKyard. Stylized Wanted Ads grace the brick wall behind them and bay doors open on wide rooms with shelves bursting with art books.
Past Robert Leedy’s “Access Denied,” watercolor on Fabriano Artistico, 140 lb. Cold Press paper, and Sally Ann’s 1950s mock-sexy mannequin who stands
akimbo beside an antique sewing machine, I find Jenn Chase, sitting cross-legged and gold-pantalooned in her aJENNda Studio, Jenn who writes in
her treehouse two blocks from my home, (So she appears briefly in my recent book The Mad Atlas of Virginia King.), creating third-gender Timucua Indians for rock operas.
Once again, I’ve returned to Crystal Floyd’s studio, in which various shadow boxes constitute works of art. She curates the boxes as she organizes CoRK’s Open House.
In his book about Joseph Cornell, Charles Simic quotes Rene Magritte: “People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images.”
Then Simic’s Cornell speaks to me of CoRK: “The disorder of the city is sacred. All things are interrelated. As above, so below. We are fragments of an unutterable whole. Meaning is always in search of itself. Unsuspected revelations await us around the next corner.”