The somber, foreboding mood of Mark Messersmith’s paintings contrasts with the ethereal lightness of Gabriel Dawe’s polychrome thread installations in new exhibitions that opened March 9, 2013, at the Zadok Gallery in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.
Messersmith teaches painting at Florida State University. When he moved from St. Louis to Tallahassee, he was struck by the tension between Florida’s wild nature and humanity’s intrusive, destructive presence. His work deals with issues of conservation, overdevelopment, and fragmentation of native ecosystems and their inhabitants Alligators, anhingas, herons, panthers, and other distinctive Florida species populate his paintings against a backdrop of human-influenced landscapes.
For example, Those Left Behind displays an erstwhile forest of severed trunks. In the foreground, a trio of ivory-billed woodpeckers (a bird species that is probably extinct in Florida) clings desperately to one tree that hasn’t yet succumbed to the logger’s chain saw.
Messersmith’s paintings typically consist of three elements – a framed, densely complex oil painting in the middle; a detachable, carved, painted, decorated top panel related to the painting’s subject matter; and a series of dioramic predella panels below that may contain collages, photographs, drawings, paintings, and hand-made or found objects.
Apart from their contemporary issue-oriented subject matter, these works are a stylistic mélange influenced by medieval altar pieces, 19th century romantic landscape painting, and contemporary folk art.
Gabriel Dawe was born in Mexico City. He began working with thread and textiles as an art form after relocating in 2000 to Montreal. Using materials and sewing techniques traditionally associated with women’s handiwork, he employs artistic strategies that consciously challenge and subvert culturally ingrained concepts of masculinity. He is particularly fascinated with embroidery, which boys in Mexico weren’t allowed to learn.
Dawe’s work also reflects his experimentation with color theory and design, an outgrowth of his Master of Fine Arts degree studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.
For the Zadok Gallery exhibition, Dawe made the site-specific installation Plexus no. 22 to occupy the two-story main hall. Soaring 28 feet from floor to ceiling, it creates virtual rainbows of streaming color, revealing the full spectrum of light while defying optical perception.
Plexus no. 22 consists of thousands of silky embroidery strands of Gütermann , 52 miles in all. Dawe spent a total of 65 hours arranging them with geometric precision, separately stretching and securing each individual slender thread. A smaller installation in a separate room, Plexus no. 20, required only 31 miles of Gütermann thread and 30 hours of installation.
When the installations come down after April 30, Dawe will disassemble the strands and gather them into clear acrylic boxes, transforming his temporal prismatic installations into enduring painterly reliquaries.
Zadok Gallery is at 2534 N. Miami Ave.
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