Artists have a singular ability to digest the world around them, turning those ruminations into visual archives that offer a window into a particular issue or moment in time. Though hailing from far-stretching corners of the globe, the February cohort of Fountainhead artists share this ability, and have put it at the forefront of their practice. Gili Avissar, Bruno Miguel, and Josh Reames each work in an almost collage-like format, registering images, memories, and experiences and incorporating those relics into a diverse array of works, from painting and sculpture to textile sculptures. “They’re bringing so many references and components into the work, that it’s almost like they’re collaging from their own experiences,” says Fountainhead Residency director Kathryn Mikesell.
Reames, a Dallas-born, New York-based artist, distills what he refers to as a ‘cultural bombardment of images’ into vivid abstract works that incorporate grid-like markings, symbols, and textures. Reames is often inspired by his daily life in New York: Architecture, graffiti scrawls, vanity plates, and city characters, etc often make their way into the work. “The visual meandering is similar to the way I gather my references, rarely seeking them out, but usually through constant observation and an openness that anything could potentially be subject material,” he says. “It’s like when you have a song stuck in your head and you don’t know where it came from, and the only way to get it out is to listen to it. Painting is a way of visually exercising cultural noise”
The resulting works often incorporate bumper stickers, college mascots, barcodes, clip art-like drawings, street signs and vivid splashes of paint. In the tradition of artists like Robert Rauschenberg or Vernon Fisher, Reames mixes his broad cultural references with art historical, and specifically painting, references. He rarely pre-sketches a work, opting instead to let the painting develop in real time. “The struggle in a painting, making mistakes, working with the mistakes, and eventually finding a balance are all things that make painting feel very human.”
At the Fountainhead, Reames is focusing on creating a series of new works for an upcoming exhibition in Mexico City with the Celaya Brothers gallery. While he’s currently focused on producing as much work as possible, he was drawn to the residency as both an opportunity to reflect on his work and forge important relationships.
“By the end of it I think the most beneficial aspects of the residency will be both the studio time without the normal distractions and being able to meet new people based in Miami that I might not be able to meet in NYC” he says.
Hailing from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Bruno Miguel had long fantasized about coming to Miami. “When people see my work, they tell me that it really belongs here,” he laughs. There are, of course, obvious parallels between Miami and his hometown, but Miguel’s work also incorporates some of the less subtle markers of Miami’s North American location. Highlighting rampant consumption and disposability, Miguel often fuses found materials like used water jugs or plastic and glass bottles with decorative objects from his youth. In this way, he says, he’s remixing a memory and telling that story with a new angle.
“There’s a Brazilian phrase that says that memory is an island of edition. It’s this idea that we can reconstruct our memories, and even mix them with others’ memories,” he says. For Miguel, those memories often come up in the form of miniature porcelain sculptures, dolls, branded fast-food icons, or old-world tapestries; he assigns a new meaning to these objects by splattering them with neon paint or assembling them alongside trash and found objects. The works are a meditation on childhood, but they’re also a reflection of the imperialistic influence of the U.S. in Brazil. “I know the U.S. through movies and TV shows that have been exported to us, so I’m thinking a lot about colonialism and how it’s been permeated, and really trying to tell the story from a different perspective,” he says.
Since arriving to the Fountainhead residency, Miguel has spent a vast majority of his time in local thrift stores scouring for objects to include in his newly fabricated works. He’s grateful for the opportunity to pause and reflect within the residency during a particularly difficult moment in his native country, and additionally credits Mikesell for the ample opportunities afforded to him through the experience. “The most important thing for me is that Fountainhead has been making incredible connections with everyone around us, including curators and other artists,” he says. “We’ve received tons of interest around our work. The network is incomparable, I don’t think I’ve ever been in touch with so many people.”
Avissar's work is markedly personal. Based in Tel Aviv, Avissar’s practice is largely textile-based, with each of his sculptural works forming a hybrid of fashion, painting, architecture and performance. Though he initially wanted to go into fashion design, Avissar quickly realized that the medium would suffocate his ability to experiment. “You can very much explore in fashion, but you need to explore and also be very precise,” he says. “I liked the exploration part, but not so much the rigidity.”
Instead, Avissar went to art school, applying costume design principles to sculptural works of art. The vast majority of his works can be worn, as Avissar often does - in this way, the works act as a shield against his own insecurity. “I feel like from a young age I made things I could get inside to make a new me, an alter ego,” he says. “I think my work really talks about my identity as a queer person, who didn’t find himself when he was young and free. I put the work on and I become a new personality. It’s like armor.”
Though the works might act like a costume for Avissar, they’re hardly able to be missed: Defined by their bright bursts of color, attention to detail and exceptional execution, Avissar’s works defy narrative structure or form. Instead, they’re very much inspired by the materials Avissar has come across over the years. He rarely works with new materials, choosing instead to recycle materials from older works or installations. “As I finish one piece I immediately recycle it. Nothing stays the same if its going back to my studio,” he says. At the Fountainhead for example, Avissar is recycling several kilometers of cord that he used for a prior installation in Israel. Originally built as a site specific installation, those cords breathe new life as corsets, masks, and chest adornments.
Like Miguel and Reames, Avissar notes that the Fountainhead Residency experience feels much more intimate than your typical residency, and offers ample opportunity to connect one-on-one with people we wouldn’t normally be able to access. “For me this is the best one I’ve done because it’s so personal,” he says. “We’re being introduced to new people and it’s excellent practice for talking about your work.”
Though these artists are truly working across diverse mediums and cultural backgrounds, they’re united in their ability to collage their experiences into the work. At Fountainhead, they’re not only enriching their own practices but additionally cultivating critical skills necessary to flourish as a professional artist. “A successful art career is built entirely on the network of relationships you foster,” says Reames. “The long history of this program opens the door to meeting new people in a variety of roles in the art world, and you never know where that might lead.”
By Nicole Martinez, Culture Conductor