Bursting out in contemporary baroque

Arts / Article

A lush, beautiful, ornate, strange world awaits at Praxis International Art. Imagine towering portraits — Or are they really landscapes? — with layers of photographs as the base; they are then decorated, as there is no better word for it, with found jewelry, porcelain birds, buttons, textiles, lace and coated in resin. You will start to get a feel for this fairytale world of Nina Surel.

But it’s not just the materials that make these works so layered and detailed. Set out in the forest or woods, a direct reference to the Romantics and to those fairytales, the figures are self-portraits of Argentine-born Surel (an artist in residence at ArtCenter/South Florida, a Knight Arts grantee, for four years). But they are at times androgynous, at other times twins or doppelgangers. After superimposing them, Surel then painted her skin with actual make-up, giving it an intense glow and unreal female coloring. After that, the application begins, with the resulting explosion of color, texture and emotion.

Harking back to those centuries-old tales of what happens in the deep woods, sensual, forbidden acts, each piece — given lots of space in the Praxis gallery — tells its own story. The women faint and die. Dressed in either male or female attire, the facial portraits above the bodies are expressionless. It’s very unsettling. In one absolutely gorgeous and sorrowful piece, the woman’s hair is made from actual birds’ nests.

After moving through the tale, starting from the right side, you end up at the project room, the end of the story. The two works in the darkened room are freaky and trippy, and the glowing, sparkling red mushrooms sprouting up in this forest let us know that this is intentional; if Alice were draped in over-the-top Spanish baroque, this is what she might look, and feel, like.

Called “Understory,” the exhibit plays with female fears and desires, dramatized in an Old-World, fanciful setting. But unlike most products of that Old World, these contemporary stories are created by a woman, which adds the ultimate twist.

“Understory” will run through Oct. 22 at Praxis International Art, 2219 N.W. Second Ave., Wynwood; www.praxis-art.com.