Sitting down to write about two of my favorite artists in Miami proved a difficult task.  Sometimes when we go about our daily routines, ones where we function on automatic pilot, we fail to question our actions.  Today, as I started to write, I began to ask myself: why does anyone write about art?  Why do I write about art?  The best I could come up with (because, no, contrary to what many in the art world would have you believe, you don’t need to be told what you love or why) is that there are those of us who wish to share what we’ve seen, and how we see it, with the world.  We hope, down to the very core of our being, that we will convince you to see and to savor art as much as we do.  

The best way we writers communicate is through the written word, in my case, the English language.  But I can assure you, after experiencing beloved art with a humble artist at one’s side, there is no way possible to assign nouns, verbs, or adjectives for what she has to offer.   This is why, dear reader, you must look!  The writer is left a prisoner of her words when it comes to art, but still, this is what I have in my arsenal and this is the weapon for which I reach.  So, if that introduction doesn’t get you out of your chair and over to the Bakehouse Art Complex to see the works of Toa Castellanos and Tina Salvesen, I don’t know what will….don’t make me come over there.

Toa Castellanos is a solo artist but is also a member of one of the few female collectives in Miami, W-10, where her mind and creativity melt and mix unselfishly with the ideas and gifts of other like-minded artists. She is the mother you never had: sweet, articulate, understated, and warm.  So it may come as a bit of a shock to discover that this unassuming Cuban woman creates edgy, fashion-infused collage. But just like a mom, if she is a good one, Castellanos encourages each of us to embrace who we are and to get comfortable in our own bodies; except, she speaks, indirectly, through her art.  If you’re a fashion buff, the use of magazine clippings of designer bags and shoes are visual hooks; however, it’s the disproportionate body parts and lack of continuity within the figures themselves that will stimulate your brain cells to ask: “Wait, where have I seen this before?”  And you have, right here in Miami: at the beach, while you’re having your morning coffee at one of many local cafes, or during the occasional stroll through Bal Harbour.  

Toa Castellanos, The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts (2009), Collage, mixed media, 48 X 36 in.; © Toa Castellanos.

Just like the plastic surgeon down the street, Castellanos peels, dissects, layers, and pastes.  Her work, similar to the cartoon-like women they represent, is a reminder of the pressures faced in a society that has grown to embrace perfection at any cost, even if that result is grotesque. In The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts (2009) from her Faux Perfection series, overblown red lips and coconut shaped breasts function as fresh, glossy substitutes for the aging female form, sketched and left to serve as a backdrop for newer, more eye catching alternatives.  A Louis Vuitton bag stands front and center and overshadows the woman in the middle, disguising a body and person all but forgotten.  Castellanos’s latest body of work, Fashion Dream (2012), is more forceful and makes heavy use of charcoal drawings and photomechanical reproduction to create flat, seamless renditions of modified portraiture in which tiny, taunting cut-out dolls sit atop the shoulders of magnified heads, mostly sketched, waiting to be converted and upgraded to their more ideal, glamorized selves. 

Tina Salvesen, The Flight of Time (2012), Dyes, ink, acrylic, charcoal, and earth on paper buried for seven days, 51 X 50.5 in.; © Tina Salvesen.

Tina Salvesen is, quite possibly, from another dimension.   And if Salvesen and her work are any sign of what is being discussed and created in this other world, then sign me up as the next visitor.   Her pieces are ethereal. Period.  She buries the paper for days, sometimes weeks, and what results, after the artist’s magical touch, are painted works on paper that appear decayed, fragile, delicate, organic, and mystical.   She uses a plethora of symbolism, some of which she has invented herself, to convey her message.  In The Flight of Time (2012), an eerie transformation takes place.  Black ravens support a yellowing skeleton before it vanishes and becomes a cloud of murky nothingness.  Any remnant of flesh has disappeared; however, the sheer white sleeves that adorn the once living remains serve as a cradling support for the figure and hint at the past presence of a woman.  A single leaf is entangled in the left phalanges.  In folklore and mythology the raven is often seen as an omen, as well as a bird representative of birth and death.  It is a shapeshifting creature, one whose force applies the laws of spirituality to the physical plane.  With nothing more than a few figures in place, Salvesen uses the art of the visual to portray a fleeting life while also relaying the constant interplay and exchange of earth, body, and spirit.

Tina Salvesen, Detail of Star Map #3 (2013), Dyes, ink, acrylic, charcoal, and earth on paper buried for two weeks, Dimensions of entire work: 31 X 28 in.; © Tina Salvesen.

The work Salvesen has revisited of late, where she moves from organic forms back to otherworld topography, will certainly have you questioning your existence, so you’ve been warned.  She is currently creating a series of maps, ones where she uses shapes, colors, and her own markings as a guide for souls from here to beyond. Searching for the map’s legend will prove futile, so allow the mind to wonder.   Some, like Star Map #3 (2013), are sparse, with the textures, tones, and alterations of the paper, along with the occasional grouping of symbols, serving as a guide.  In others, she uses wispy and delicate strokes to create lines that weave a webbed network of what might be pulses, energy, or externally transmitted brainwaves.  Salvesen may be channeling her information, but when she speaks of her work, it is grounded and accessible, proving that spirituality need not be esoteric.  This work is a far cry from the over-sized, gaudy, superficial contemporary art of late.  It’s back to basics, making use of a media that is more than a thousand years old, manipulated by a master draftsman, to translate ideas that reach far beyond this life and into another.   

The work of Toa Castellanos and Tina Salvesen can be viewed and purchased at the phenomenal Bakehouse Artist Complex, located at 561 NW 32nd Street, Miami, FL.  Video footage of the artists discussing their work can be seen on YouTube via the following links: 

Toa Castellanos:

Tina Salvesen: