Have you ever walked along the beach, looking at all the things laying on the sand and thought, “hmm, what could I do with those?” “Can I make art with things I find on the beach?” Well, this week I was at an opening from the local artist Bhakti Baxter and he is working with detritus found at the beaches here in South Florida. I was certain that question like “Ok, but is this really art?” would come up. This is a difficult question to answer and there are already many books written about this subject. But I would like to take a closer look at this artist because his art is unconventional.
Bhakti Baxter lives and works in Miami, where he was born in 1979. He has been a leading figure in Miami’s contemporary art scene since the late 1990s. Baxter is known for his wall-sculptures, installations and paintings shown in different mediums in the region. His interest in anthropology and organic processes and materials is a constant in his work. Day-to-day items take on new roles that no longer conform to the purpose of their design but rather the materials of these objects. Coco locos, handcrafted surfboards and water-based drawings are now featured in the third solo exhibition First Light from Bhakti Baxter in Miami. The exhibition title First Light captures the moment with the best conditions to surf in Florida, and the vision of the sunrise over the Atlantic coast.
Water and humor are the artist’s central themes in this exhibition. “Snorkeling, surfing, jumping off bridges, canoeing… These were the things we did. Being in the water, and surfing in particular, is the activity I most enjoy” said Baxter. The unifying theme in the exhibition is water, an element whose impact on life in Miami is hard to overstate. The displayed sculptures are made from materials gathered on canoe trips and walks around the islands on the Bay (coconuts, rubber balls, driftwood, pilings and buoys). All of these items have been in the sea and have been reshaped by it; assembled together they awaken as living characters. The surfboards, all hand-crafted by Bhakti Baxter, are functional objects that trace their own lines in the water. Cocos locos are character sculptures created with detritus that he found during canoe trips on Biscayne Bay. The third medium in the exhibition is ink on Mylar made by letting wet ink follow its natural course on the page.
I especially liked the Cocos Locos sculptures. They are a way of embracing the landscape and are made with things that are immediately available in the artist’s environment. It is trash, some natural and some from humans. The artist adds as little as possible to give them a personality. They all have names and the expressions on their faces are funny and raw. We can laugh when we look at them and maybe even see a little bit of ourselves in them.
I support the idea that those sculptures are art because the artist shows so much creativity, authenticity and tries to bring some humor and emotion to his audience. He can bring art into everybody’s life because he combines familiar objects into a work of art, and in doing so, we are able to relate to his work and the world he is drawing from. Every sculpture is different and Bhakti Baxter shows a lot of variety while building those characters. He picks up things which are trash to us and he gives all of those items a new purpose. What you see in those sculptures always depends on you, your experiences and how you feel. Let me know what you think about it!