Elisabeth Werp’s Haunting Paintings

“I have painted into each piece,” says Elisabeth Werp, the Norwegian painter showcasing her latest exhibition at Rostad Edwards Fine Art. “A puzzle… a little something that will not, or might not, be noticeable at first sight.”

The hushed crowd, slowly aerating wine in perfectly slim, crystalline glasses, hung on to her every word at the exhibit’s opening on a humid Thursday evening in Wynwood. If there was a textbook definition of an artist, it would not be too far fetched to imagine Werp herself, her tall Scandinavian frame a lithe figure drawn from one of her own paintings. Her hand movements as deliberate as strokes on canvas.

“These pieces,” she waves her hands towards the fine paintings before surrendering them to her heart again, “Are meant to be gently discovered. They are meant to live in a family, in a home, for a long time, and with each glance, with each bit of attention that you give it, you are meant to discover something new, something that wasn’t quite there before, and now it is. Why? Because you are a different person from the last time you saw it.”

Elisabeth Werp

Elisabeth Werp

 

Faraway Nearby is an apt description of her pieces, and of the artist herself. At first sight, the paintings remind the viewer of a place they have once been to, whether in dreams or in a deeply embedded, long forgotten memory, perhaps in a past life. There’s the grand piano, untouched except at Thanksgiving, standing masterfully in the great hall of a grandparent’s colonial. There is the grandiose chandelier looming over the theater, sparkling in dim yellows that soften the theatergoers’ pensive faces. Like white sails on the horizon, there’s the ship leaving the dock, its sails blowing mildly against a northeastern wind. One can almost hear a tune from long ago playing on a gramophone as spirits of the past move their dancing bodies in a now defunct town hall.

The paintings feel like home even though Werp explains that destruction is an integral part of her process. She paints in the same manner that the Renaissance greats used to paint, but in reverse. Each layer of paint has a little less oil than the previous layer, resulting in a cracked effect. Months into each painting, she destroys her work with whatever medium closest to her, whether it’s sandpaper or a sharp tool. Even if it is something beautiful that she loves, she runs the risk of never being able to re-create it, and losing it forever.

“It’s the same in life,” she says. Werp discusses her childhood, moments of sadness and solitude that seem to never fully leave her, as anyone who has ever experienced a significant loss can attest to. It’s a universal thematic, loving and losing family and loved ones, their ghosts continuously haunting. Werp’s paintings are haunting to say the least, conversation pieces in any home. The kind of art that draws you in at first sight and begs to strip one’s façade.

 

Elisabeth Werp’s Faraway Nearby is currently on display at the Rostad Edwards Fine Art in Wynwood through May 22.

 

Artificial Intelligence

It starts out with a bang. As any proper Miamian will say, literally. Thunder rolls ominously from beyond. In many ways, it is the perfect backdrop to the setting: late afternoon, Miami City Cemetery. The horde huddles in thin yellow ponchos provided to us graciously by Galiya, of Remote Miami. We wait for Mother Nature to bless us once more with our livelihood: thee, blessed sun. As any proper Miamian can testify, it is only a matter of minutes before the temperamental weather passes overhead. Heather, our AI (artificial intelligence) guide, waits patiently, too.

The concept behind Remote Miami is an exciting one; it’s an “interactive, pedestrian-based live art play experience.” In short, it’s a walking tour of the city with a theatrical and technological twist. Each group is comprised of no more than 50 participants. There is a human guide, Galiya, who for the most part is another participant like the rest of the group, and an artificial one, Heather.

Heather is the conductor of the orchestra. Each participant wears headphones through which she speaks. It is both a shared experience and a very individual one, and one that has also played out in other cities across the world: Berlin, Milano, São Paulo, Moscow, Paris. Miami is their latest venue. By “their” I mean the creative forces behind Remote Miami: Rimini Protokoll (Kaegi/Karrenbauer) and Questalive Productions.

Earlier when I wrote “Heather waits patiently” is of course, to personify. She is, after all, just a voice. She matter-of-factly explains at the beginning of the experience, that she has no mouth, no lips, no tongue, and no body. She will also have us trust her. And we do, at least I do, because I am smart enough to know that her words echo the words of the creators of the spectacle (I use the word spectacle purposely, and you will find out later why). And if the creators want Remote Miami to take off, killing off your participants is bad business, by all accounts.

Needless to say, I will not trust blindly.

Heather asks us to take in our surroundings at the cemetery and pay close attention to nature. Trees, bushes, shrubbery, grass, birds perched on tree branches, weeds growing all over, roots breaking ground, cracking tombstones. She tells us that all this “nature” is there by design, and by that, she means human design. There is nothing natural about it, she argues.

  • She argues. I catch myself wincing. Uncanny valley?
  • Is it that deeply embedded fear and repulsion towards that, which pretends to be human, and isn’t, nor will ever be?

I think about the dust that was once bones that once comprised a human body that once housed a soul. I think about the ritual around death. We do not simply throw the dead out on the river, to rot, without ceremony. We dress them up, lay them on silken sheets wearing their best attire, and choose a spot for eternal solitude. There are various ways, of course, but there’s always something sacred about it. Does it matter if human hands place trees, shrubberies, and bushes over them, if not to honor them, and offer a bit of shade as the mourner mourns?

I wonder much. I trust the voice behind Heather.

Remote Miami is a unique human experience. It is a metaphor for some important truth; perhaps that technology has permeated our society so thoroughly, the next stage of human interaction simplyhas to happen via technology. Movie theaters are scarcely packed as they once were; moving from our couches when we have the delight of streaming media, makes the task monumental at times.It is apparent everywhere the eye can see: people with earphones tucked safely in, eyes unmoving, watching a woman with a Chewbacca mask laugh infectiously, or stalking someone via Instagram.

The sky can rip above us, Zeus himself can make a cameo from Mt. Olympus, and cafecito cubano can drip deliciously from the heavens, yet people would notice it only through the lens of their cameraphone.

The ancient Grecian actors have been long dead, after all, silence filling their stages.

As our group snakes through Miami’s underbelly, we perform all kinds of activities whereby the laymen regard us with certain trepidation. They are apprehensive at first, then amused, then effectively over it. They watch us bop our heads to the beat of a lifting song, and sigh in relief as we literally jump out of the MetroMover. Our eyes scan the heavy Miami sky. Heather says nothing, and our hearts ache forour smartphones, where they are burning a hole through our pockets. There is a glitch in the system; we are not allowed.

The significance behind Remote Miami could then be to re-focus humanity on what is truly substantial. There, in front of us, each other, passing the other by without saying hello. There, in front of us, the sidewalk. Did you ever notice the way weed grows defiantly in the concrete wild? There, in front of us, life. Did you realize you are a very gifted actor yourself?

We walk across a field of grass, which no one has ever traversed probably, and stop at a house covered top to bottom in black and white photographs of people with an index finger over their lips. They seem familiar but not of them are.

Which one would you like to be friends with? Heather inquires. I frown. The question I would ask is, “Why ask to remain in silence? Were we not given vocal cords if not to use them?”

I am sometimes awed by Heather, at other times frustrated by her, and yet other times, I appreciate what she is trying to accomplish. Miami is a wonderful city to explore, and I would say there was a lot more that could be done to make Remote Miami stand out even more. It seemed too safe to walk on the sidewalk, after all, since that is what it is made for. What about having us perform a song in front of everyone? What about taking us to a café and ordering a latte for someone else? What about something truly, well, crazy?

I hoped for more in Remote Miami. It could have been the limiting script. Miami is fun, and its people tend to be fun, too. But it’s definitely a good start. It’s definitely a step in the right direction to have us open our eyes to the live action happening right in front of us.

 

Remote Miami shows run on a weekly schedule every Saturday through June 25. General admission tickets are $32 and student tickets are $22 (valid Student I.D. must be shown at event on-site registration). Participants are encouraged to interact on social pages including Facebook (@RemoteMiami), Instagram(@RemoteMiami) and Twitter (@RemoteMiami) using the hashtags #RemoteMiami #AItakeover

Let’s Get Hammered

In the age of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, where binge watching is not wholly unexpected (just one/two/ten more episode(s) before bed), what’s a mere nine hours of spellbinding, raw theatrics? The House Theatre of Chicago’s Nathan Allen and Chris Mathew’s The Hammer Trinity, now at the Arsht Center, seemingly has it all. It is three plays that encourage the audience to settle into their seats for about nine hours, save a few breaks for snacks, dinner and interacting with the actors. There’s a nice little stretching routine halfway through that is usually lead by one of the actors.

There are model planes, pirates, a human iron stag; there are gun shots, chase sequences, bombs, fog and flashes of light, a bit of Old West (and Old World) nostalgia, all set against a confined yet intimate setting that both draws the audience into the scene, and effectively keeps them out.

Juxtaposed by this Old World feeling, the cast brings youth and freshness. They are walking, fighting, jousting advertisements for Abercrombie & Fitch, refined yet casual, approachable yet sleek enough to command attention. Boots, jeans, and buttoned-down shirts are the staple. For the characters of the upper echelon, the booties are adorned with lace and frills, and a fine brocade outfit found deep in the trenches of a costume designer’s trunk, over the casual ware.

And the plot is certainly thought provoking, leaving the viewer with many questions long after the dragons have crept back into their lairs.

The question becomes, can you commit to ten hours without asking yourself if the characters’ stories are important enough and compelling enough to keep you there?

Young, soft, and model-esque Casper Kent is the hero. He is the forbidden lovechild whose existence alone threatens to throw off the balance of “The Hand,” a legion of five leaders that govern the republic. There are two storytellers: the magician, Hap the Golden, and the comically fearsome dragon, Irek Obsidian. Hap, a capable chess player, crafts a story where Casper is the only one who, like King Arthur himself, can lift the magical Hammer, thus uniting the land under a purported happily ever after, as the righteous heir to the throne. Irek orchestrates a competing story, one in which the responsibility of the republic is carried by a band of leaders.

Hap is ruthless in his delivery. “You’re special,” he tells young Kent early in the first installment.

Kent, though smart, is an ingénue. Who wouldn’t believe the sneaking suspicion most have that we are, well,just a little different from the rest? You know a little smarter, better, braver, kinder, a bit more good looking, than the rest? Kent is not a victim; he is a willing participant in Hap’s story, and thus our tale unfolds.

Patriarchy and matriarchy stand on opposing sides of the ring, one supporting the story of a male leader, and the other a young, barefoot naiveté: July of the 7 foxes (and Casper’s love interest), who spins her own tale to save the day.

“Story save us all.”

This is the phrase uttered by all the characters of The Hammer Trinity at some point or other, usually before or during some pivotal point in the convoluted plot. At first it’s a phrase; then it’s a chant. Before the audience can absorb the irony of antagonizing the rich “villain” who pushes for a republic instead of one tyrannical king, the phrase becomes so embedded in the psyche that it must be accepted.

It plays perfectly to the play’s theme, of free will versus pre-destination, of religion pitted against a godless nation, of a republic versus birthright kingship. How many times have we heard, “God save the queen!” or “God save us” or “Lord save us all?” The words are ritualistic. Certainly the title of the play isn’t a suggestion; it’s a commentary, suggesting something religious, spiritual and maybe even transcendental, about life itself.

And it’s important. The play wants you to believe it’s important. The storytellers beg viewers to become willing participants and believe a story that suggests something truthful about life. The nugget of truth cannot be denied, and it’s this: every person is responsible for his or her own destiny. While some of us may have been coddled in silken sheets in houses of gold, the rest of us, cradled in the arms of a loving and poor mother, are just as equally responsible in writing our stories as the bees are in pollinating the land. And all, for the greater good.

To be sure, there is no true precedence to a performance like The Hammer Trinity. It is comprised of three separate but undivided plays: The Iron Stag King, The Crownless King, and the concluding chapter, The Excelsior King.

The Arsht and Chicago’s House Theatre initially were determined to have viewers commit to the full three series show in one long day of binge watching, but recently in the run, they’ve accommodated those who’d rather see one of the plays individually.

Throughout the play, the audience is completely enraptured by the action, because there is plenty of it. Young romance, after all, is a beacon of hope for a better tomorrow; from it, a new story is woven. The characters suddenly become self-aware as the audience forgets themselves. Curiosity to know how the path of this tale fuels the viewer to wait a little longer, sit a little longer, because the point will surely be known.

That we must all sacrifice blood for the greater good. That there are opposing storylines, and sometimes it’s better to just write our own. That there is no true hero; we belong to ourselves. That there is no special and no ordinary; it’s just us. That violence repeats itself, though sometimes blood must be sacrificed for the greater good. That love is our only hope in a faceless society. That the character is more important than the story.

I cannot say that I loved the execution of The Hammer Trinity. Anachronistic elements diverted from the story (Kaelan Wayne’s modern mansion vs. a hut in the middle of a forest where Kent grew up; Wayne and Kent’s post modern suits versus shamanistic cloaks, and pirate gear donned by whiskey wielding crusty folk who man the seas; flying machines and refined weaponry for fighting dragons vs. bow and arrow archery; electricity vs. torches; a clear photograph of Kent hanging on the wall vs. the “photo contraption” seen early on in the play). “Where are we?  When are we? How did we get here? ”  These are not purposeful questions.

What I did embrace, however, is that long after the civil war ends, long after our hero lays down the magic hammer that as it turns out, anyone can lift (even a woman, as seen by Queen Rienne who is able to lift the hammer when she tries to get rid of it), long after the villains die, the story remains, and it’s yours for interpretation.

As the story goes, we each write our own plot and with it, our very own conclusions.

Keyhole to Wynwood’s ‘Secret Doors’

The concept of fine art accessible to children is a novel one. A simple idea was borne from a moment of brief introspection, artist Christine Lyall, who one day during an art exhibition noticed a child standing on tippy toes struggling to view her painting. His tiny stature barely registered over the bottom frame of the canvas. As Lyall watched across the room, the seedling of an idea shot up and flourished.

“It was an ‘a-ha’ moment,” she recalls. “I thought, oh my gosh, that could be a whole show! Have adult art, like fine adult art not childish art, not juvenile art but fine art and just lower it a few inches so that everyone could see it.”

Lyall pitched the idea to a few like-minded people and two arduous years later, JustMyHeight Art Shows became a reality. The organization creates exhibits where fine art is displayed at a child’s level. That’s just 36 inches off the ground, instead of the standard 52 inches (“center line”).

On Friday, April 8, it will present its most recent gallery event, Secret Doors, in collaboration with Talking Off the Wall magazine and The Warehouse Project at Wynwood. Painter and sculptor Danilo Gonzalez will donate warehouse space that will be transformed into a lofty art gallery featuring the best of street artists and muralists, specifically for adults and their respective mini-me’s.

The concept is an appealing one. At times, art galleries seem like a stoic environment. No longer bound by height restrictions, this concept allows the young to be curious and expressive, and learn from the anti-establishment masters (street-art, after all, can be seen that way). In turn, the long-forgotten world of childhood dreams and imaginative things, eluding adults since bills, jobs and responsibilities have taken precedence, are once again within reach.

Adds Lyall, “(The parents) see the art through the children’s eyes. When the kids express what they see, the parents are often like, ‘oh wow, you’re right! I didn’t even see that!’ Kids just see things that we don’t see.”

It enthused others to participate in this exhibit, including Miami-based photographer Pascal Doytier, founder of Talking Off the Wall.

“As soon as ( Christine ) mentioned her idea of the show, what she was doing, I was like ‘Okay, I want to work with you. I definitely want to work with you!’ It’s an exciting project; it’s very, very new. I’ve been to many, many art shows and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Secret Door features 15 of South Florida’s most legendary and gifted street artists:

  • 8Bit Lexicon
  • Aquarela
  • Luis Barros
  • DaveL
  • Nate Dee
  • G.G.
  • Kazilla
  • Monique Lassooij
  • Ernesto Maranje
  • Miguel Parades
  • Jenny Perez
  • REMOTE
  • SURGE
  • Ruben Ubiera
  • Derek Wilson

All paintings at Secret Doors are original works and were commissioned by Doytier and Lyall. The artists were given very little instruction, simply told that it must speak to the concept “Secret Doors” in some way.

Gonzalez asks the three of us,  Lyall, Doytier, and me, who are congregated on a round table on location at The Warehouse Project for an interview about the project, what we would say to an artist who believes he or she has integrated the concept into his or her artwork.

After a bit of a heated debate, Gonzalez shrugs.

“Art…it’s the purest form of expression,” he reasons, his gorgeous black and white oil canvas behind him suddenly coming into focus. We all agree.

Doytier was the liaison to the artists, having acquired quite a rapport with many local (and non-local) virtuosos through his magazine. During its almost three-year run, the publication supported Miami’s street art community, from those who painted fine art on the walls, to (sometimes illegal) graffiti artists.

The evening will include adult refreshments for the older folk courtesy of Peroni and activities for the kids in addition to the art. This will include spray-painting, a scavenger hunt, a pop-up gallery, and arts and crafts. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the non-profit organization, ArtCares for Kids, and specifically the children at Jackson Memorial Holtz Children’s Hospital and Baptist Children’s Hospital. Kids will be encouraged to create get-well cards for the children at Jackson Memorial Holtz Children’s Hospital and Baptist Children’s Hospital.

Coloring books, featuring the paintings from the show, will be produced by Talking Off the Wall and JustMyHeight, will be sold at the event. Copies will be donated to children benefited by ArtCares.

Secret Doors opens on Friday, April 8  from 6 to 10 p.m. and will be on display through Sunday, April 17 at the Wynwood Warehouse Project located at 450 NW 27th Street, Miami, FL 33127.Adult admission is $15 when purchased ahead of the event, and $20 at the door. Children admitted free.