I started this blog entry in Sept. 9, 2011, and actually now today is December 20, 2011. Sebastian Spreng is not only an accomplished artist but an accomplished music critic as well--I believe I even saw his byline on the Knight Arts Blog. Very pleased that I could review his show at Kelley Roy gallery in Miami for the Sept. 2011 issue of ARTnews. So more about Sebastian soon in this blog post. . . . I have been so busy with writing gigs that actually pay, plus of course with teaching at Miami Dade College, that I just have not had the time to sit down and blog.
As of course everyone in Miami's art community knows, Baselmania is quite exhausting and takes a toll!! Very nice that this year I was hired to give Miami Art Museum docents (now, THERE's a story in what is happening with that museum's name!!) a 45-min tour of blue-chip art at Art Basel Miami Beach this year. It went well, though I must say I was a bit nervous about planning and executing it because I have never done this before. Still, it was nice to make some $$ at the fair this year with the knowledge I had used to earn a living at The Miami Herald for so long. Many Many Thanks to my BFF Rosie Gordon-Wallace for making that gig possible!!!
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami
I missed soo many things this year at Basel Miami. Here is info about just two events I wish I had been able to attend. 1) The Daily Breakfast on Thurs. Dec. 1 at CIFO during which Miralda was featured in a Kreemart program called "Digestible NEWS." I must say that Miralda is surely one of the most charming men on the face of the earth, plus quite a terrific artist. Miralda and I go WAY BACK. For more info about Miralda, pls check my blog archive to see my July 2010 post, "Miralda and Ishmaelita Meet in Miami." 2) "On the Edge of Light"at Maor Gallery, 3030 NE Second Ave, ph. 305-573-9995, www.maormiami.org Tina Spiro, whose painting "Aurora Amada" is featured on the post card announcement, emails me from Jamaica that she was quite pleased with the attention that this group show received during Basel week. (Also in the show: Janet Slom, Fernando Calzadilla, Paul Stoppi, Yasmin Spiro, Prof. Hans Evers, and selected sculpture students of DASH, Design & Architecture Senior High in Miami; curated by Arthur Dunkelman and Tina Spiro) Among the visitors: curator Elvis Fuentes of El Museo de Barrio in New York. Very glad that this show will be on view through Jan. 31, 2012. Also note the upcoming Chanukah celebration Wed. Dec. 21 at this gallery from 7:30 t0 9:30 pm. At this event, you are invited to collaborate in building a Menorah with recycled materials to honor art, light, and unity. What's NOT to like about that??!!
Now, a few words about Miami NOW, AFTER Basel: Look for exhibition of drawings by Ramon Carulla, on view through Jan. 15, at the West Art Gallery, Miami Dade College, West Campus, 3800 NW 115 Ave., Doral, FL. So nice to hear from Ramon again! I have followed his impressive work for years. He emails me this tip about seeing the show: "When you arrive you must check with the Security Guard to get the gallery open."
Adalberto Delgado, another terrific artist I've known for years, emails me that his Little Havana exhibition space, 6th Street Container (www.6thstreetcontainer.com ) recently had its first anniversary of doing a show every month, alternating between older artists and younger ones without representation. Also that it has been mentioned in more than half a dozen publications, including, he says, "my old alma mater," The Miami Herald. This LiHa space is, he notes, an "out of pocket endeavor;" however, HURRAH for Adalberto, because he adds, "It has been very hard work but worth the effort!"
On my calendar for sure: "Miami Dade Community College 1970s Faculty Exhibition" at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space, 12425 NE 13th Ave, #5, North Miami, now through Jan. 29, 2012. Hope I get to catch the free and open to the public Sunday brunch pre-closing reception from noon to 4 pm on Jan. 8. If you miss that, call 305-978-4856 for an appt or email Kristen Thiele at email@example.com This promises to be a fascinating look into the Miami art scene in the 1970s, when very talented artists were working and teaching here--there was, of course, no Basel hoopla and hype to create an infrastucture of galleries to exhibit and sell their work, and of course Miami museums were not really interested in what the artists here were doing. As Robert Thiele told me once for the Herald about those pre-Basel days, he and other artists here "were doing our work but not aiming at a larger audience, when museums. . . .generally had a hands-off policy in terms of the homegrown product." Artists whose work is presented in this exciting historical look back at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space: Duane Hanson, Robert Thiele, Shirley Henderson, Jim Couper, Elmer Craig, David Gossoff, Charles Hashim, Michael Klezmer, John Kokko, Salvatore LaRosa, Mark Lynch, Peter McWhorter, Ron Mitchell, Gary Monroe.
Look for "Fly Over" by totally fab artist Teresa Diehl, now through Jan. 14, at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW 2nd Ave, Miami; ph 305-573-2900 or www.praxis-art.com ; for more info contact Julian Navarro at firstname.lastname@example.org Teresa was born in Lebanon, grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, and now lives and works in Miami. She's shown all over the map, including Mexico and the Czech Republic.
News from another totally fab artist: William Cordova recently emailed me that he received an exceptionally terrific award.Way to go William! Why am I NOT surprised! He is one of 25 to receive the 2011 Painters and Sculptors grants in the amount of $25,000 each from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. For more info, see www.joanmitchellfoundation.org
Today I am going to blog about Sebastian Spreng. This is my March 1995 Miami Herald profile about Sebastian Spreng.
WRITING AND PAINTING ABOUT CHAMBER MUSIC: ARGENTINE ARTIST ONLY BOUND BY WHEELCHAIR by Elisa Turner
In this porous city, swirling with the accents and customs of many cultures, Sebastian Spreng seems especially at home: a man with a porous imagination who moves freely among the worlds of music, painting and language, multicultural in a way most of us never dream of becoming. "Chamber Music," Spreng's show of oil paintings through April 5 [remember, dear readers, that this was in 1995] at the Americas Collection in Coral Gables [he is now represented by Kelley Roy Gallery in Wynwood, 50 NE 29th Street, www.kelleyroygallery.com ], is a splendid example of that rich confluence. His work features atmospheric landscapes with fabulous gardens seen from a distance and shimmering with expanses of water in which a solitary swimmer often floats. They speak of interior worlds where the imagination roams free.
Spreng, who has been confined to a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 14, acknowledges that these swimmers are references to the free movement that eludes him except in the water. But, he is quick to add, the landscapes are meant to be poetic metaphors.
"I paint my interior landscapes. By coincidence, [they are] landscapes I'm living now," he says, referring to Miami's tropical luxuriance and his attraction to its "strange, oneiric" summer nights. "It's like what I have inside."
Even though his work is at times more sweet than compelling, Spreng wields a restrained vocabulary with great sensitivity. And the pieces are, indeed, analogous to the chamber music of the exhibition's title: intimate and subtle with finely etched repetitions and variations.
The parallels highlight Spreng's wide-ranging knowledge of classical music. A native of Buenos Aires who moved to Miami in the late 1980s, Spreng, 38, is the Miami correspondent for the glossy magazine Clasica, published in Buenos Aires by Radio Clasica, S. A. (Florida Philharmonic fans may be already familiar with his paintings, which appear on five of the orchestra's nine playbills this season.)
Even the catalog for the show begins with a poem from James Joyce's youthfully romantic collection, Chamber Music. The opening lines of the first poem--"Strings in the earth and air / Make music sweet"--inspired American composer Samuel Barber's 1935 song, whose title is taken from that line; it was one of many songs Barber set to lyric poetry during his career.
"They are exquisite pieces of music," Spreng says. Making a reference to the lovely, bittersweet quality of the 1935 song, as he does in this show, was a way of putting together music, painting, and literature.
It's a synthesis Spreng deals with daily, spending some eight hours listening to classical music while painting. And, of course, there is his work for Clasica, which includes interviewing visiting musicians such as violinist Pinchas Zucherman and soprano Barbara Hendricks. "It's fascinating," he says of these interviews. "You are in contact with another world. When you by chance mention that you are an artist, that you paint, the whole thing is much more relaxed. I'm not trying to do a critique but to have an interchange of ideas." What's equally fascinating is the way music and water have shaped Spreng's own artistic sensibility. He recalls visiting Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires' turn-of-the-century opera house, as a high schooler.
"We toured the bowels of the theater. It was like Phantom of the Opera," he says. "The orchestra was 10 meters above us, playing Wagner, and the music was like water, falling over us, as if you could touch it.
"My love of music started there," he says. "It was so important in cultivating a sensibility."
If his feelings for music developed during high school, Spreng's longing for marine vistas began much earlier, during his childhood in the Santa Fe province. "I was always fascinated by the ocean, always," he says. "In Argentina I lived in the middle of an ocean of wheat, the pampas." As a child, he drew and painted obsessively, making maps of imaginary countries. There was much time for these solitary pursuits since Spreng had had trouble walking from the age of 3. For years it was thought he had cancer or tuberculosis; it wasn't until he was 14 that the MD diagnosis was made.
Only when pressed will he talk about his disability--and then he recounts, in a thin, tense voice, a harrowing tale of a narrow escape from Argentine police during the turbulent 1970s.
Spreng prefers to talk about his newest work, a group of nine 24-inch-by-24-inch paintings commissioned by Metro-Dade's Art in Public Places program. The works, to be unveiled this fall, will hang in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center as a memorial to George Armitage, a local advocate for the disabled who died in 1991 at the age of 66.
"There will be three levels of three paintings to form a puzzle--like a big painting because I cannot paint big," Spreng says of his serial composition. "This disadvantage gives me an advantage. I try to see my whole life like this. . . .The lower levels are like webs, labyrinths, jails. The figure inside is very dark. In the upper level, you have this magnificent ocean." In the ocean Spreng will paint a swimmer, a reference to the one activity in which he himself can move freely.
He's not concerned that his work will hang in this specific context. "Everybody has some kind of handicap," he says, adding that the series is really about "the path from darkness to light." Vivian Rodriguez, executive director of Art in Public Places, agrees. The commissioned works, she says, will make a poetic statement about "dealing with universal disabilities, whether they are physical or from being an imperfect human being."