Jacqueline Gopie, Pool Boys, 2017, Acrylic on Canvas, 18" x 24", courtesy of the artist
Jacqueline Gopie: Sweet Summertime
July 8-August 4, 2017
Gallery hours: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10am to 6pm.
Closing Reception: Friday, August 4, 2017, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
University of Miami Art Gallery
2750 NW 3rd Avenue, Suite 4, Miami, FL 33127
By PETRA MASON, JUL. 2017
This summer, there has been no seasonal downtime in Miami's art exhibition line up. Heading over Biscayne Bay to the newish Wynwood Building, "the one that's painted with the black and white stripes" in the 90-plus degree weather, I was quite pleased: the University of Miami Gallery is now in a swanky air-conditioned space, a far cry from its former, more rustic spot in the once wild art hub on the 2nd Avenue "Wynwood Walls" strip.
With Sweet Summertime, the artist Jacqueline Gopie presents a selection of works on canvas made between 2012-2017.
"The first intention of this group of paintings is focusing on that fleeting time in childhood when the long, hot summer is stretched out in front of you--where everything is new and you have nothing to do but play. The second and less obvious intention is to infuse the presence of more black and brown bodies into that homogenized arena called fine art," writes Gopie.
"I consider my style a fusion of realistic figuration and abstract expressionism, characterized by an exuberant use of color and motion with gestural brushwork. I stole that description from somewhere but I think it fits."
Her paintings are refreshingly energetic, unpretentious, and wonderfully well-painted, ranging from over six feet to just under six inches. The artist thinks her work looks best when there are several pieces that present a cohesive narrative. Even so, those "under six inches" pack a punch, resonating with colorful, joyful energy.
With four solo exhibitions under her belt, Gopie wasted no time joining artist ranks. Upon retiring from a 21-year military stint in United States Army, the Miami-based, Kingston, Jamaica-born artist attended the University of Miami where, with military precision, she received her BFA in 2005 and her MFA in painting in 2012, and was a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation 2016 Emerging Artist Grant.
Going beyond the obvious youthful joys of summer, with Sweet Summertime Gopie makes a profound political statement: "By implanting images of black and brown children having a chill time onto your visual cortex I am intentionally contrasting the negative images we are constantly bombarded with by every form of media. The visual cortex learns from experience and self-organizes its structure to process visual input. We need to SEE that we are all the same. We ALL want to play in the sun... we all want a sweet summer."
These days, we're more likely to wake up with a frown than a smile, so pleasing summertime images like Gopie's take on added heft. Her subjects are strangers, tweens, singularly focused children, dark-skinned Dads. The figures cavort in water, seen from the back, from the side, as they jump, play, dressed in canary yellow shorts and flip flops, wearing inner tubes, colorful swim suits, with hands on hips, observing. As spectators, we're part of the action, taking part in the athletic splashing in fountains and constant movement that defines Sweet Summertime.
Jacqueline Gopie is highly eloquent and an engaging conversationalist. She speaks with honesty and insight, sings the praises of working at home in pajamas, and lovingly cites her mentor Professor, the late Walter Darby Bannard, the Color Field painter "whose elegant, severe abstract paintings of the late 1950s and '60s" were the springboard for a "lifetime's exploration of color, form and the physicality of paint" (as his New York Times obituary read in October 2016).
What do you love about paint?
The possibilities. When I'm in an art store I always wonder about all the amazing paintings that are waiting patiently inside the jars and tubes of paint on the shelves.
Could you share one memory of Walter Darby Bannard?
My favorite memory is the day Darby let me and another graduate student, Gerardo Olhovich, work in his studio on his one of his paintings. We had asked him how he set up a painting and he said, "let's just do one." So he talked us through his process, step by step, as we did it. He was completely open and giving. When we did something a little differently than how he would have done it, he was so gracious and said things like "Hmmm... I never thought about doing it that way--that works too." It was amazing! I've never had a teacher do that. From that moment on, both Gerry and I became his studio assistants. Gerry spent much more time with him, as I graduated soon after, but once I moved my studio back home in 2015, which is close to UM, I began helping him in the studio until he passed away in October 2016.
Was Color Field painting an influence at all?
Not specifically, but I think Darby's palette influenced me quite a bit. I took risks with colors I never would have arrived at on my own.
Any wise words from Walter Darby Bannard on image-making you'd like to share?
In my first year in graduate school, I was painting very small, dark oil landscapes and really struggling with just about every aspect of them. During a critique with my committee, of which Darby was the chair, I had some charcoal sketches from my figure drawing class in a corner of my studio. Darby went right over to them instead of the paintings and said, "You should paint figure and paint like you draw." That insight really freed me from this naive notion I had at the time -- which was that paintings shouldn't show line-work and had to be tight with every inch completed. But to be absolutely honest everything I needed to know about painting Darby taught in his undergraduate 102 class -- I just had not painted enough at the time to understand how to use the material. I still use his notes from that class when I'm stuck or I'm having a block about what to do. But his best advice has always been -- just paint.
Besides the joyfulness of your work, there is a sense of longing. Can you elaborate?
I'm so glad you were able to perceive that. I really want to talk more about this in my work, but I'm not quite sure how to explain it just yet. I had a very tough childhood in Jamaica and I think it is probably related to the feeling of never really belonging I had as a child. I am a mix of East Indian, African, and European descent, and in Jamaica that put me in the minority of not black/not white. So I never really fit in. That [feeling], coupled with being reunited with my family that I hadn't lived with since I was about two years old, and thrust into a rough junior high school in Brooklyn, New York in the 1972 really intensified the feeling of being an outsider--it made me wish for something I guess I never really had: that sense of belonging.
You served in the military; where were you stationed?
I was stationed in several places in the continental US (Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, and Washington DC) and my overseas assignments were Alaska and Hawaii.
How has being in the military influenced your work and outlook, if at all?
The discipline and work ethic I developed in the military definitely have an influence on my work. I excelled physically in the Army, and I think that drive to succeed certainly pushes me to work hard and not quit or accept failure. I try to learn from every experience and I want to be self-sustaining. I also think I developed a sense of confidence in taking risks and learning new skills--I got through a lot of difficult Army training by saying to myself, "if that guy can do it, I know I can too."
What do you enjoy most about being a senior student?
I absolutely hated being an older person attending undergraduate classes. Going from being a Master Sergeant at the Pentagon to listening to someone saying "when you get out in the real world" drove me insane! Graduate school was much less condescending, and having Darby was a lifesaver.
Where is your Miami studio?
I now have a studio at home. I am so happy! There is no commute, no extra cost, and I can work in my pajamas.
Do you have a preferred music you work to?
I listen to everything, jazz, rock, reggae, techno, NPR, This American Life, The Moth, TED talks, you name it.
How are you still connected to Jamaica?
I have countless relatives there still--several that I have recently met for the first time. When I immigrated here in 1972, I was 12 years old, and I did not return to Jamaica until around 1995 when I was in my thirties. However, since moving to Miami in 2002, I have returned frequently. One of my secret desires is to spend several months there traveling about the island and painting the people and landscape. WM
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Cultural historian and publisher. Beefcake 100% Rare, All Natural is her first Universe title, Bettie Page Queen of Curves and Bunny Yeager's Darkroom are her Rizzoli titles. Mason edited Fall 2015 Skira/Rizzoli's Imperfect Utopia.