mythology & site deering estate
The Deering Estate
2017 - 2018
Images courtesy of Eli Peck
"Without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama.” - Rothko
Standing in the South Florida wilderness and staring out, Charles Deering must have known he was at the precipice of a disappearing world. Far across the Atlantic was his beloved Spain, already in ruins, but here development had hardly begun. Here was a vision of light that predated war and Spanish galleons and human destruction, delicate as bird-filled air. I like to imagine he stood barefoot in the mud, fortunate enough to catch parting glimpses of sea monsters and demigods, just before the Biscayne Bay currents turned the last dragon bones into salty powder and disappeared. No wonder he had to rebuild them in iron and stone. Nobody would believe him.
The Deering Estate is laden with creatures frozen into marble griffins, miniature unicorns, coiling snakes, lizards and ram horns. They decorate every view, framed in lines of elegant Spanish architecture. Nowadays we call these wild creatures myths, the Greek word for story, and Deering’s mythology is a narrative that describes our connection to this eternal world. It is a romantic path to humanity, casting a spell where nothing is ever really gone.
That old black magic is woven into my artwork as well - creatures from those age-old tales found in history paintings, the wilderness of a bygone era, and the sorcery of the night. They live on in the lush seagrass meadows just below the surface. It’s why I’m standing now in the mangroves, muddy and mosquito-bitten, and feeling as Deering might have, positively medieval. We seek out the places where we can still feel the ancient world’s beating heart.
I have always felt curiously comfortable in Charles Deering’s Stone House. It’s true I can walk into the past more easily than into my own misplaced time, but here it’s because despite the grandeur I still find a home. Walking from room to room the threads of a domestic life remain a century later, and I adore the intimacy of domesticity. I longed to show intimacy in my own work displayed herein, to pull at occult threads that deny the distance of time between us, and meld my life with the Deering family. After all, this is not a gallery, this is a home, filled not just with art but books and furniture and photographs. A place to collect the detritus even, the things not suitable for the critics, secrets and failed projects not meant for the public. I wanted my work to not only to reflect that, but become a part of it. Thus there is a wide range of material going back decades in my own life- including never displayed works from my residency time, works from childhood, and my own family heirlooms.
At times the imagery is direct. Swallows bicker in an archway which is in fact a view of Deering’s Tamarit ruins in Spain. Shells in a display case form a sailor’s valentine like the shells adorning the archway just outside. Stone imagery from the columns turns into graphite on paper as snakes coil around a Renaissance neck and a woman grows rams horns. Despite the scale of even the largest work in the ballroom, within the Stone House there remains an undeniable intimacy to the way it reflects its surroundings. As I ventured deeper, into the room upstairs where the Deering’s slept and bathed, the artwork goes further back into my life. His geographical journey from Spain to here at times becomes mine from Sweden to here. My Swedish grandfather’s handmade desk sits beside Charles’. In a drawing above a bathtub I lay in my own tub. At times dreamy and at others somber, we both ultimately focus on the solemn business of living, in this exact place, forever.