TAMPA — Love and hate. Comedy and tragedy. Old and young. Count beauty and brutality as things that have to exist for the other to be true.
It's a concept that begs exploration in two exhibitions at Tempus Projects, "Dark and Full of Flowers" and "Guchi: Recent Works by Johanna Keefe."
"Dark and Full of Flowers" is the second installment of a series at the gallery called Sunistra. It specifically explores the dichotomy of Florida's undeniable dark side, juxtaposed with its incredible natural beauty. There is no shortage of examples for the artists in the group exhibition.
Jacoub Reyes looked back to Florida's grim history with his incredible black-and-white woodblock print, Rotten Paradise. It appears to be the aftermath of a battle between the colonizing Spanish conquistadors and the Native Americans. A group of naked figures are splayed out on the shore of a beach, surrounded by lush jungle. They've clearly been massacred. One survivor observes the scene and there's a boat off shore.
Playing with the concept of destruction, Nicholas Kalemba captured the Florida homeowner fear of a house being tented. Titled Pest Control, shadows of abundant trees in the yard dance on the red and blue tent, backed by a cloudless blue sky. The skillful depiction of shadows and light make the painting look like a photograph. It's every Florida house you know — maybe even your own. Could the white picket fence symbolize the American dream, which is slowly decaying?
Unadulterated beauty is fully explored in "Guchi: Recent Works by Johanna Keefe." Presented by Cunsthaus, Tempus Projects' women's collective, the exhibition shows Keefe's drool-worthy ceramic sculptures. Keefe splits her time between Rochester, NY and Augusta, Ga., but graduated from the University of South Florida in 2014. Her work is inspired by the Dutch Old Masters who produced "vanitas," luminous still life paintings that contain symbols of destruction to remind people to be pious. Made in the 17th century, they represented the trade happening in the world. Keefe is interested in the traded objects, things previously only accessible to royalty.
Keefe sees brutality in those objects because the ships that carried them also traded slaves. She also explores the notion that brutality always coincides with beauty, whether it's uncomfortable high heels or the bloodshed that can go along with the sourcing of diamonds.
She isn't against beauty or luxury, but rather indulges herself in making elaborate objects. Upon moving to Europe a few years ago, she began investigating luxury brands and what it means to own extremely valuable things. She made frequent visits to the Gucci factory in Italy. Inspired by the brand's craftsmanship, she created her own luxury brand, Guchi.
Keefe's series of fanciful teapots are the ceramic versions of Gucci bags, painted in the brand's colors and topped with the signature bamboo handles and adorned with gold leaf. She hangs gold nameplate chains around them, emblazons them with GUCHI and fills them with elaborate flower arrangements. At one time in history, both porcelain and tea were incredibly valuable. Now as objects we take for granted, Keefe is imparting value back to them. And as a ceramicist, she's having fun.
The exhibition is vanitas come to life. An Oriental rug hanging on a wall is a backdrop to a vase reminiscent of the blue and white Delft pottery filled with flowers. Lobster claws in vermillion and Delft blue and white are arranged with teapots and vases. In one setting, she placed a dead lizard found in the gallery to add an element of destruction.
One piece in particular crystallizes these notions of beauty and brutality. It's a pot based on Delft ware tobacco jars, called Rappe. Keefe blurred out the second "p" so that it says RAPE. Considering the tobacco trade's horrific history, the title is accurate.
Contact Maggie Duffy at email@example.com. Follow @maggiedalexis.
"Dark and Full of Flowers" and "Guchi"
On display through June 29. The gallery is holding a membership party from 7-9 p.m. Friday with an artists's talk with Johanna Keefe at 7:15 p.m. Free. 4636 N Florida Ave., Tampa. tempus-projects.com.