Here is my profile of Gavin Perry and Beatriz Monteavaro from The Miami Herald, April 2002.
PROFILES IN COLLECTING
Collecting art and other things is among the most consuming of passions. Even making art doesn’t make you immune from such obsessions–from Rembrandt to Matta to Matta to Warhol, artists themselves have frequently been struck with the curse of the collector.
“Possession Obsession: Objects from Andy Warhol’s Personal Collection,” a new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, showcases the artist’s wide-ranging taste, from folk art to costume jewelry to cookie jars. It’s a particularly daunting example of how an artist’s prized possessions can guide us to insights about sources and ideas within his or her work.
In South Florida, artists who have gathered distinctive collections include Cuban-born Jose Bedia, whose home resembles a museum gallery showcasing a rich assortment of African and Native American masks, carvings, and dozens of other artifacts. On one wall is an African mask once owned by Latin American master Wifredo Lam; the mask’s stark profile often appears in Bedia’s figurative drawings which spring from Afro-Cuban religious rituals.
Other area collctions are more quirky, blurring the line between artful artifacts and emblems of popular culture. Bruce Helander’s surreal collages, for example, owe much to his stash of vintage sheet music and Bakelite radios. And a barely thirty-something artist couple, Beatriz Monteavaro and Gavin Perry, are amassing a vivid collection of toys–chiefly action figures and miniature low-rider cars–that has shaped their adventurous art.
Collecting “builds your repertoire, the visual language that you are using to build your work. You pull a part from there, you pull a part from here,” says Perry, standing in his ArtCenter/South Florida studio next to a table of some 70 gem-bright toy cars awash in lurid pinks, purples, and shades of green the color of Astro Turf.
“I’m really trying to find cars that fit that California mode rather than a Detroit mentality,” Perry says. “It’s not about how a car goes, but how it looks.”
Picking up a bronze and gold model of a 1969 Impala, he says he’s intrigued by the aesthetics of what’s “predominantly a ghetto culture, or more an urban subversive culture now being marketed to suburban kids.”
Many of Perry’s models sport the down-to-earth profiles of Chicano low-rider cars and feature “chop tops”–roofs lowered for a more streamlined effect. A gaudy model Chevelle boasts a hot pink interior and a black body that dazzles with pink, silver, and aqua glitter.
“This is insane. You’d think this is only found on a Matchbox car, but no, they actually make paint like that,” Perry says, producing one of several books on customized auto bodies he culls for techniques on how to produce the “fetish finish” gleam of his abstract paintings, which are layered with the sheen of auto-body paint and the meticulously lean trails of color pinstriping.
In a stroke of off-hand poetry, the book identifies the paint as a “rainbow metallic flake base.”
Perry’s canvases have become shinier this year, thanks to an industrial-strength paint gun. And those paintings’ garish glow has caught the eye of Montreal dealer Fabrice Marcolini, who saw them at Art Miami in January.
“What hit us most about his work is that it walks this dangerous path,” says the Artcore gallery’s Marcolini, who will show Perry’s art next fall or spring. “It translates something that is kitsch into something that is fresh. That takes talent.”
Monteavaro’s burgeoning collection of plastic super-hero and -heroine action figures has also influenced her art. Her interest in the figures began during her childhood in Hialeah, where she was the youngest of four children. She devised solitary games about battling good and bad guys, preferring even the scant ranks of female superheroes such as Wonder Woman to “eternally boring” pink tea sets and Barbies.
“The only fun thing I remember girls ever played was Charlie’s Angels,” she says. “Even today in toy stores the boys’ section is full of color, with intricate robots. The girls’ section is all pink and purple, and the most exciting thing you’ll find is a Barbie that tans. There’s no action.”
Teased for playing with boys’ toys in the second grade, she admits that “I stopped playing with them too early, which is why I think I collect them now–it’s like taking back part of my childhood.”
Even early on, there was an urge to manipulate these pop culture artifacts, though the 7-year-old Betty, as friends call her, wouldn’t have put it that way. These days she freely modifies her collection by customizing figures for her deliberately cheesy videos about bested muscle-bound villains and her surprisingly elegant drawings, examples of which are on view at North Miami’s Ambrosino Gallery through Tuesday.
While the video has a funny, grainy crudeness that makes us look twice at cheap designs that are less familiar than we’d expect, her drawings are the real stars of the show. Her adapted characters bristle with crisply composed details.
Collecting is “a way to make your work your work, and not a generic overview of everybody else’s,” says Monteavaro, wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt and standing in her ArtCenter/South Florida studio, where squads of action figures cluster in neat rows on industrial shelving, like crowds of stars and extras come to life from old comic books and corny cartoons.
There’s a clutch of lizards shaped like bloated, mutant pickles that she identifies as “Godzilla and his family of villains and friends.” There’s a pack of Disney witches gleaned from fast-food lunches, a tiny doll of Gene Hackman in Lex Luther’s purple tights, and Flash Gordon with sidekicks.
TIARA AND BOOTS
Nearby, a vintage Wonder Woman picked up from e-Bay is clad in a golden tiara and red boots. Sandals would have been the historically correct gear, Monteavaro explains, though she approves of the error as it jibes with the kind of license she takes with plots and protagonists.
“I don’t really think sandals are for superheroes,” she says. “It seems to me like her feet would hurt.”
Museum of Contemporary Art director Bonnie Clearwater, who included Monteavaro’s work in “Making Art in Miami: Travels in Hyperreality” in late 2000, believes the artist’s alterations give her work a maturing edge.
“She alters the figures so that they take on new characters, not just what some toy company has determined, and she animates them the way a child would so that they can act out stories of good and evil,” Clearwater says. “But she makes us question our own beliefs.”
In her solo show at Ambrosino, Clearwater says, “the story lines have interesting parables for today, and I think her draftsmanship is quite astonishing. There’s a considerable strength and maturity.”
With recent shows at galleries in Geneva, Chicago, and Madrid, Monteavaro’s career is moving forward. Still, she and Perry must find work here doing installation jobs for museums, and she also teaches classes at the ArtCenter to make ends meet.
In a way, Monteavaro’s collection has become more than simply a source of ideas for art, but also for the artist’s personal experience. As a result, this assortment of action figures offers both artistic and personal subsenance.
“I think a lot of things are parallel to superhero and Star Wars stories,” Monteavaro says. “There’s the hero that goes through the struggle, and nine times out of ten they come out winning. This isn’t just myth, it’s life–we are our own heroes, we go through struggles, and we either wither away or keep going.”