Occasionally we cross paths with others whose energy and nature is unfathomable.  How many people can we say live in pure alignment, fully devoted to the very essence from which they came and not deviating from this truth?   Look around. There are few.  For them their commitment to love isn’t a crusade, it’s a way of being that they’ve chosen never to ignore.  On the other hand, for many of us, understanding who we are and who we want to be can take decades.  I know that I fell into the latter, so being invited into the home of a man whose very being has been art from before he could speak was nothing short of a gift.  An even greater gift was being shown that there are true, open, trusting people who are willing to share their stories and a part of themselves with no reservation.  This is how I came to know Mark T. Smith, an artist whose process knows no bounds and a man whose creativity could be likened to a horn of plenty, bearing unpredictable fruit never in short supply.

Mark T. Smith in the living room of his home.  Works by the artist from left to right: Guilt on Parade, 2010, mixed media on canvas, 30 X 30 in.; Bull, 2010, ink on paper, 22 X 30 in.; Flesh and Blood Builds an Empire, 2010, acrylic, charcoal, graphite, ink, color pencil, and paint pen on canvas, 36 X 48 in.; © Mark T. Smith/ Photo by Seanica Howe.

Smith grew up in the Northeastern United States and spent much of his life, including his training, in New York.  The city’s liveliness is reflected in all of his work but most notably in his paintings, where Smith packs every nook and cranny of his canvases with heavy strokes of bold color anchored with blacks and whites.   The highly active rhythm of most all his creations are reminiscent of the overwhelming sensations of experiencing Times Square for the first time, before one has learned to tune out the zingy noise of the streets and its people, or the intensity of a lightshow or fireworks in the dead of night.   Early in his career he created video games and graphics, so the quick movement and robotic features of those interests are present.  Signs and religious icons have crept in as well.  Madonna, the bull, and the rabbit are frequently seen in his creations and often function as central figures, serving as a point of entry or the assigned guide for grounding each piece and placating the mind while it explores each detail and chapter of the pictorial novel Smith densely construes.  

Mark T. Smith, Surreal Madonna with Rabbit, Part 2, 2010, acrylic paint, oil bar, color pencil, graphite, charcoal, and spray paint on canvas, 36 X 60 in.; © Mark T. Smith/Courtesy of the artist’s studio, Miami.

Like many great artists who came a lifetime before him, the lifeblood of all that Smith creates has been a consequence of the figure.  His version of abstract surrealism may fail to so much as resemble the body from which Smith studied, but without its complete understanding he could not exorcise its demons, capture its meaning from within and without, toil with its existence, and force his viewer to delve into the supernatural.  His paintings and drawings are laden with symbols and invite the audience to contemplate for hours, or maybe a lifetime, the underpinnings and meaning behind the fragmented visual storyboards he creates.  Smith himself says that once he truly understands a painting, its value is lost.  It’s the work’s ability to challenge the viewer, to consistently function as a riddle never to be understood, that tests its validity and sustainability as art.  

Mark T. Smith, Charlatan Map with Lesson, 2010, mixed media on paper, 43 X 58 in.; © Mark T. Smith/Courtesy of the artist’s studio, Miami.

There’s something wild and frustrating about Smith’s work and this is what lends it power, like Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the cubism of Pablo Picasso, or the mysterious language of Jean-Michel Basquiat.  As a viewer, instinctively one knows that somehow, someway, the chaos that’s been created makes sense, and you wait for it to lock into place, like the final twist of a Rubik’s Cube.  But oddly, it never does.  It leaves you wanting and searching for more.  His drawings and works in mixed media, like Charlatan Map with Lesson (2010), where Smith begs to question the current financial exploitation of the medical arts, follow the same notion but mercifully guide the viewer with words and signals, helping them down a more decipherable, less camouflaged road for understanding his message. 

                             Mark T. Smith, Magnetic, 2009, cast parian, 37 X 29 X 1.5 in.; © Mark T. Smith/Courtesy of the artist’s studio, Miami.

Oddly, the symbology Smith chooses is also the most accurate representation of his life and work.  Fertility is often associated with the hard-nosed bull and the leaping rabbit, animals that leave abundance in their wake.  Smith has entered into new endeavors over and over, watching them grow and then exiting when they become mundane and adequately structured, allowing himself to evolve and flow.  His life experiences are too numerous to mention but his innovative mind has reached into poster design for Walt Disney, the Olympics, and the U.S. Open, just to name a few.  And in 1996 his work was chosen for the highly coveted Absolute Vodka campaign.  His academic teaching roster runs up and down the East Coast, from Parsons School of Design and Pratt to as far south as the Miami Ad School.   And just as one media is abandoned, another is worked.  He jumps from painting to printmaking to sculpture and back again, never satisfied and ever searching for a way to properly explore his thoughts, questions, and visions. 

Truth be told, I’ve never met anyone quite like Smith.  Sure, I’ve known lots of people who say they are artists of one kind or another, but I’ve never met a being whose very motive is to get to the heart of his process---an exhaustive effort to peel the onion.   It’s reflected in every move he makes in his journey through life and it manifests in his physical creations.  The deeper the quest, the more densely layered he and his work become.  And when going deeper isn’t an option, a new direction is taken.  It’s an insatiable drive for process that owns him.  It IS him.  Sometimes it beats like a faint staccato on a snare drum.  On other days, it’s the loud, deliberate thud of a bass.  Either way, it beats---always in rhythm, never stopping.  The composition is infinite. We should all be so fearless.

Mark T. Smith is currently based in Miami, Fl, where he also teaches.  For more information about the artist and his work visit http://www.marktsmith.com.
As many are aware, I do my fair share of traveling: a few jaunts to Europe every year, flights to and from New York City are too numerous to count, and Chicago and Los Angeles are favorites too.  So I suppose I feel myself a bit of an authority on places to visit.  If you have never been to The Standard in Miami then you're missing out.  It is by far one of my favorite places on earth.  One of the secrets this delectable hotel and spa isn’t letting you in on is that a major reason it exudes breezy cool isn’t the wind coming in from Biscayne Bay.  It's from the people who work there.  While its guests are bathing in the sun and overindulging in signature drinks, artists of all kinds are circling.  So you may want to look around, get a name, and grab a pen before taking the first sip of that mojito.  I wouldn’t want you to miss out on an autograph and bragging to your friends in the future about how you “knew him way back when.”  Enter Marcello Ibanez and Nick Hyland, Standard employees.  One is a pool server, the other, a pool and wellness manager.  You might want to sit down.  When it comes to these two, there is much more than meets the eye.

Marcello Ibanez overseeing one of his chalkboard drawings from 2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Marcello Ibanez is a genuine character.  He is a bit of an icon at The Standard, and I consider myself one of his biggest fans.  He has that “je ne sais quoi” of a star.  Always sporting bold sunglasses and creating an air of South American zest wherever he goes, Ibanez has a way of flipping his external environment on its head, twirling and swirling words and images as if he spent hours behind the desk of a leading ad agency.  Except Ibanez doesn’t have a team of creative people behind him.  He's a one-man show.  And he freely shares his art, as well as his infectious personality, with vacationers and hangers-on at The Standard.   His chalkboard designs playfully announce the daily happenings of the hotel infusing humor and Miami flair. But before you assume this is another guy playing with chalk at a hip hotel, think again.  

Marcello Ibanez. A recent chalkboard design and announcement for The Standard, Miami;
 Photo by Seanica Howe.

Ibanez’s childlike perspective highlights the ridiculous.  His work organically vacillates between painterly illustration and the esthetic of Keith Haring.   Cartoon-like characters drawn with bold lines and bright colors take on local personality and send subtle messages about animal rights and the superficial nuances, ones we all love to hate, of Miami.  You might see a funky (literally) chicken frying up some eggs for breakfast, a sexy, leggy grape eyeing a jar of jelly in horror, or a puffy-lipped vixen balancing footballs on her chest in preparation for the Super Bowl.   What’s the greatest thing about Ibanez’s art and his creations?  It's all in good fun.  Just as he prods and pokes at the silliness of humanity, his art embraces its beauty and differences, encouraging us to go with the flow and have a ball.  Outside of The Standard his playful animal and doll photographs get widespread attention, and his art has been used for big name promotions like Evian water and Ford Motor Company.  Not bad for a guy taking your lunch order.

Seanica Howe and Nick Hyland in Page Two designs; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Do you know those people that just exude coolness?  Johnny Depp immediately comes to mind.  You know who I’m talking about…like if they walked around in a paper sack and talked about nothing but the sun, you would still be finding a way to hang with them.  That is Nick Hyland.   Blond ponytail, tattoos, ray-bans, and easily relatable, he captures your attention for hours and makes you feel at home.   He is an Arizona guy, from the school of hard-knocks, and is a total inspiration.  And lucky for us, he has found his way to Miami and is taking his eye for style to the streets with his clothing line apparel.  

A design from the Page Two 2013 collection; © Nick Hyland/Courtesy Nick Hyland and 
Page Two apparel, Miami.  

Hyland’s lifestyle brand, Page Two, infuses street art with his own personal images and is a reminder of how the most challenging moments in life can show us what we’re made of, spurring us to great things, if we let them.    The Page Two logo and its accompanying tagline, “on two the next one,” aren’t just catchy ways to encourage its wearers to move forward and grow.  “Page two” is used in the criminal justice system as a recall for those on their way out and can result in additional time.  It is proof that the cold and dark can ignite creativity and be the hunger behind the desire for beauty.  

Hyland’s brand is the fashion equivalent of the worlds he has inhabited, both past and present.  And it is the perfect integration of pop culture, urban gritty, and provocative femininity.  Faces and silhouettes of smoldering women sprinkled with a bit of Miami spice or delectable fruit mish-mash in and around Hyland’s trademark keyholes, reminiscent of the early Playboy covers.  I think if we could ask him, Eduardo Paolozzi, a major player in the formation of British Pop Art, would have been proud.  Paolozzi’s collaged blend of found images and magazine cut-outs may be in the Tate, but I wonder if he could have combined those with delicious fabrics that, in any size, flawlessly frame the body? I doubt it, and Hyland has mastered it.

One of the most beautiful things about life is that it is full of surprises.  What you see isn’t always what you get and often we are fooled by the external, taking it as the whole truth.  What lies behind a door and below the surface can be the most deserving of our attention.  I could just write about fine art, but what fun would that be?  Art is everywhere.  It's in our streets, galleries, and inside the people we meet.  All we have to do is pause to see it.  When we are brave enough to take a risk and even share ourselves, the world becomes a very different place.  The guy at the pool is no longer the one bringing you a towel; he is now a man with a brand, contributing to the creative conscious, fashion, and design.    The one behind him, waiting with your next drink, actually holds an inner child capable of transforming the way you see your environment, all with a simple piece of chalk.  And, if you walk in and look closer, the little hotel away from the well-worn streets of Miami becomes an oasis…and a haven for those with a dream.

The Standard hotel and spa is located at 40 Island Avenue, Miami Beach, FL.  For more images and bio information on Marcello Ibanez, go to www.marcelloibanez.com. The designs of Nick Hyland can be purchased at The Standard boutique on premises.  For access to more of Hyland’s designs visit www.pagetwoapparel.com.

Bonus video footage of these artists speaking with the author can be accessed on YouTube via the following links: 
Ibanez on the evolution of his first Standard chalkboard   
Hyland discussing the Page Two logo and the use of his wife’s image for some of his creations 


If there’s anything I’ve learned from seeing art and writing about it, it is that visual pleasure is best shared with friends (and occasionally lovers).  For a while now, I’ve lived and traveled between two cities, primarily New York and Miami, and, despite the exhaustion it sometimes brings, being a nomad definitely has its perks.  The best one of all is the people I’ve met and relationships I’ve built along the way.  Just like the places in which they reside, those I know and love in New York and Miami couldn’t be more different. Each possesses unique flavor and perspective.  New York is smart, sophisticated, and edgy.  Miami is warm and breezy with a hint of exotic. But whatever your preference, there’s never a dull moment in either; and this past weekend, in the city that never sleeps, was no exception.  

From Left to Right:  Sandra Enns-Arnell, Claire Shegog, and Seanica Howe with artwork from Aureus Contemporary’s “Victorious;” Photo by Seanica Howe.

The long weekend began with a trip to Chelsea with Cherise Gordon, entrepreneur and director of the newly forming Nu-Garde Gallery.   Watch for Cherise to be one of the leading dealers in new media and emerging artists.   She and I traveled to 520 W. 27th Street for the opening night of the pop-up exhibition, “Victorious,” curated by Kevin Havelton and Klaus-Peter Saltzmann of Aureus Contemporary.   While at “Victorious,” you can pick your poison: wily and devilishly handsome gallery director or art that ranges from new perspectives in painting to detailed intricacies in mixed media.  Aureus is full of secrets and surprises, so keep a third eye open at all times, you never know what you will hear or see and that’s only half the fun.   Claire Shegog, one of Aureus’s stars and whose work is one of the show’s many highlights, was in attendance and, lucky for me, I was allowed insight into the life, mind, and career of this wildly clever and down to earth artist.   Claire is often seen at one of the gallery’s many trips to a variety of art fairs, so if you happen to spot her don’t pass on a chance to meet.  You won’t be disappointed.  

Claire Shegog, Detail of Busby’s Chandelier, 2012, mixed media on mirror glass (framed), 16 X 16 in.; © Claire Shegog/Courtesy Aureus Contemporary, Providence.

Shegog is an artist with an intense curiosity for life and a fascinating background that has extended from a stint as a florist in Paris to house painting and design in the northeastern U.S.  The combination of her love for beauty and all things girly with an obsession for materials and attention to detail has translated into art that embodies basic femininity.   Whether it is the little ballerina you may have witnessed twirling in your jewelry box, the antique ceramics you coveted, or the unforgettable day you played dress-up with your best friend, this is art that is a cognizant reminder of the dreamy worlds that play in the minds of little girls, some boys, and women everywhere, where dolls, ball-gowns, and a desire for everything shiny border on mental insanity.   Tiny female figures, each identical in form and created with the machine-like precision of Shegog’s hand, are purposefully arranged to dance with the eye like dominos on a mirrored stage, where the slightest movement could topple the troupe.  Much like the woman who sits knitting for hours or the dressmaker who sews and ripples, Shegog uses methodical repetition to explore patterns and rhythmic arrangements that are dazzling, much like their creator.

From Left to Right: Paulette Tavormina and Clara Rodriguez with artwork by Tavormina; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Friday began with one of three trips to the AIPAD Photography Show at the Park Avenue Armory, the last of which I attended with Clara Rodriguez, former executive director of Art for Change, where we chatted it up with Amanda Langer, photography connoisseur and gallery assistant to Robert Mann.   The AIPAD would make a picture lover out of anyone, but it was Paulette Tavormina who stole the show. 

Paulette Tavormina. Peaches and Morning Glories, after G.G., 2010; Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston.

Tavormina is beautiful and elegant and her photographs are the same.  At AIPAD, her creations were shown by Boston based Robert Klein Gallery.  At first glance, it is difficult to tell if her photographs are created with a camera or a brush because the idea of anything looking this perfectly staged, colored, and lit without being retouched is hard to fathom.  Her images are reminiscent of 17th century Old Master still life paintings, but are anything but static.  They take on a life of their own, capturing the exact moment when the new becomes old or the rare point in time when all is in balance: sweet with sour, life with death, full with empty.  Tavormina carefully crafts each composition by scouring markets, streets, and beaches for the exact item to fill her camera’s lens.   They are vibrant and exquisite. Straight photography doesn’t get any better than this.

Cartwheels in David Zwirner featuring works by Thomas Ruff; © Thomas Ruff/Photo by Seanica Howe.

Saturday was a fast-paced blur that started with gymnastics in the colossal David Zwirner where giant size photographs, some of which require 3D glasses, by Thomas Ruff are currently on display.  My friend Kirsten Nichols and I decided that the giant space Zwirner built should in no way be limited to merely showcasing works of art.  Who said art lovers are elitist and no fun?  We decided that Zwirner’s massive cube is surely designed for cartwheels and good times, so Kirsten took to the concrete to demonstrate her skills.  We’re not sure if the people at Zwirner agree that the art mogul’s monstrosity should be treated as a playground, but I’m sure anyone can appreciate a pic so I’ve included one here.   Our personal tour through Chelsea included the following highlights that warrant a taxi ride and being snubbed by the gallerists manning the desks: Gladstone Gallery’s Miroslaw Balka’s The Order of Things, an installation of steel vats, streaming colored water, and all-around Zen goodness; Mike Weiss Gallery’s “Another Shit Show,” Will Kurtz’s paper mache puppy party complete with (you guessed it) shit; and Sonnebend Gallery’s current solo show of Rona Pondick’s metallic sculptures that morph from anemic tree to creepy human head. 

Vittorio Calabrese of Bosi Contemporary pictured with works by Chuck Kelton from his series Night after Night; © Chuck Kelton/Photo by Seanica Howe.  

Next stop was 48 Orchard Street in LES to see Vittorio Calabrese at Bosi Contemporary where “New Photogenic Drawings” by Chuck Kelton and Eric William Carroll are being shown until April 21st.  The exhibition is curated by Allison Bradley and creates an engaging dialogue between very different and unlikely forms of photography, diazotype and photogram.  Vittorio, too, is an art form all his own, so a visit to his gallery will certainly insure an enlightening conversation with one of the most lovely and interesting Italians you will ever meet.  But be forewarned, after hearing Vittorio poetically speak about the art and artists at Bosi, you likely won’t leave empty handed so invite your art handler to accompany you.  

My weekend ended with a Mexican dinner and mango margaritas with Paddle8 auction manager, Gabriel Butu.  Ladies, Gabriel is smart, gorgeous, AND British.  I would post a photo here but I don’t have time to manage the requests for his phone number.  This was followed by a morning jaunt to Brooklyn after a last minute invite to the studio of the hugely talented Miriam Cabessa.  I may have been having an out of body experience at Cabessa’s…hopefully she didn’t notice.  While being in the presence of greatness, it’s difficult to keep one’s feet on the ground.

It’s a rough life hanging with beautiful and talented people and seeing art in the greatest city in the world, but, hey, somebody’s gotta do it.  I’m just grateful that some of the most spectacular creatures on this planet indulge me and share their air. Oh, and also that I'm permitted to return to Miami to digest the weekend’s happenings in the warm sun while drowning in Cuban coffee.  Ciao New York…until we meet again. 

Recently, I overheard a good friend of mine say: “There’s no need to look for love;  the perfect one is always right in front of your face.”  Do you know why people say such things?  Because they are true…in life, in love, and in art.   Here in Miami we have one of the greatest art collections in the universe.  Yes, I just wrote universe, because that’s how good it is.  And when the most fabulous contemporary art currently known to man is just outside your door, there is no longer an excuse not to see it.  I had been to the Rubell Family Collection a few years ago, but what’s going on in that inconspicuous, vine-covered warehouse at this very moment is nothing short of mind blowing.  Someone go get the curator and give him a big kiss, because I just found yet another reason to be in Miami.

Charles Ray, Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley… (1992), Eight painted cast fiberglass mannequins with wigs, 72 X 180 X 180 in. (182.9 X 457.2 X 457.2 cm), Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Charles Ray, Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Did I also mention there is something a bit seedy, dark, and, dare I say, sexual going on with this exhibition that makes it almost impossible to leave?   Apparently, the Rubells have been sneaking around their privately owned space setting up highbrow visual playgrounds for adults, so unless you are planning on explaining why artist Charles Ray is giving himself fellatio and sucking his own toes, I think it best you leave the kids at home.   After that teaser, I know you don’t need another reason to go to the Rubell’s current show, “Alone Together,” but I’ve got two more big ones: Jason Rhoades and Ryan Trecartin.

Jason Rhoades. Untitled (Chandelier) and Untitled (Chandelier) (2004), Glass, wire, neon, Plexiglas, fabric and plastic,
Variable dimensions,
Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Jason Rhoades.  Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Rhoades’s dancing installation of dual Chandelier(s) from 2004, on display on the first floor, screams of all that is wrong (or right, depending who you are) in the world we live in.  It’s messy, complicated, and downright nasty.  Wagon wheels levitate, suspended in midair by a streaming maze of orange electrical cords that weave like spaghetti, lending support to a nest of brightly illuminating neon words.  It’s a red-light district of linguistic proportions exploded, condensed, and then reworked by Rhoades’s discombobulated and imaginative brain. 

Jason Rhoades. Detail of Untitled (Chandelier) (2004), Glass, wire, neon, Plexiglas, fabric and plastic,
Variable dimensions,
Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Jason Rhoades.  Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Phallic vegetables dripping in a white semen-like substance sit perched atop the circles of wood like vultures, peering indulgently over dangling twisted metaphors and lace that stream from below.   The frenetic work is grounded by a neatly, isolated bundle of linens wrapped in goo.  The words that surge and entice are not meaningless phrases or randomly chosen from Rhoades’s personal dictionary, but are synonymous for one of the most powerful words known to man and representative of female genitalia.  However derogatory, the humor and irony isn’t lost in this installation. Designed by a white male, one who places the representative womanly forms in electrically charged power positions that command the space and hover over lifeless and muted fabric left soiled by limp vegetation, is feminism at its best.  Yes, that's right, I just called Jason Rhoades a feminist, and I’m never taking it back.

Ryan Trecartin, General Park (2010), Mixed media and video installation, Variable dimensions, Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Ryan Trecartin. Photo courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection.

I have a beautiful, very brilliant friend who wrote her master’s thesis on Trecartin.  She would go on for hours…something about him being one of the most important artists of all time, or was it “our” time? The details escape me.  I would sit smiling, pretending to listen and occasionally yawning, secretly wondering where she had lost her mind.  I could never, for the life of me, understand her obsession with this over-the-top, in-your-face, cartoon-like video artist….until now.    Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t just video art.  This is your teenager and twenty-something on societally induced, self-centered crack.  This is their deranged, freaky, egocentric worlds colliding at warp-like speeds.  This is the Internet, Skype, and Facebook reincarnated into strange characters you’ve likely never seen but who you’re certain you know. This is drug culture, media hype, and celebrity obsession all colorfully wrapped into one and, at Rubell, it’s all staged in a run-down beach scene complete with heat-lamps and sand, known as General Park (2010), that could be Miami but probably isn’t.

How does he do it?  According to Trecartin, very carefully.  The characters he creates, along with another well-known video artist, Lizze Fitch, are scripted and directed down to the very last hand gesture, hair-flip and eye-roll.   In Rubell, Trecartin’s Tril-ogy Comp (2009) features a group of three videos called Sibling Topics, K-Corea INC. K, and Popular S.ky.  They are a series of scenes ranging from close-up car make-outs and transgendered bedroom conversation to boy talk between girlfriends that captivate and render transfixed all who watch.   I dare you to look away. 

The show doesn’t stop there.  The ultimate art world prankster, Maurizio Cattelan, has silly little pigeons stooped on the rafters and Yoshitomo Nara has…well, you get the drift, it’s great.

“Alone Together” is currently on view at the Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th Street, Miami, Fl., until August, 2, 2013.  Go see it.