Michele Oka Doner: World-Renowned Artist, Native Miamian, Tavern Tastemaker

Behind the Scenes (4)

Miami is a transient place. People come as often as people go. For some, our magic city is just a staging place for a bigger life, for others, arriving in Miami brings the dreams of a new life. For a few of us though, Miami is the magic city where we were born. Michele Oka Doner is one of the latter. Her remarkable talent and awe-inspiring works of art have taken her all over the country and globe, but Michele will always call Miami Beach home. In today’s Tavern Tastemakers episode with Ocean Drive Magazine we get a little bit of insight into what that was like while she cozies up to a lunch at Cypress Tavern with Editor in Chief Jared Shapiro.

Director and editor Gio Gutierrez shooting Jen Massolo as she crafts two drinks for Michele's episode. Visit her tonight behind the Cypress Bar to enjoy them at a special price of $10.

Chat Chow’s Gio Gutierrez shooting Jen Massolo as she crafts two drinks for Michele’s episode. Visit her tonight behind the Cypress Bar to enjoy them at a special price of $10.

The beauty of a childhood spent outdoors amidst the flora and fauna of our tropical paradise shaped the artist that Michele has become. One look at any of her pieces is to witness the glory of the natural world in some form. Miami was not just a backdrop though, the social aspect of a budding city was a part of her world as well. As Michele explains in today’s Tavern Tastemakers episode, when approaching how she might design a piece of work for a city, she looks to the locals, the people who her art will impact, and she goes from there. This because she knows something of transience and she knows the gravity of permanence. A Miami native has seen the makeovers and resurgences that a city goes through, and Michele’s gift is taking that experience and reflecting it back. Her art represents the full spectrum of a city, it’s people, and it’s soul.

Her work The River of Quintessence is a mosaic floor of green glass, mother of pearl and seashells that winds through the U.S. Courthouse in Laredo, Texas just as the Rio Grande snakes through the city’s landscape, creating a sense of comfort in a building  that might not always offer much. A Walk On the Beach at the Miami International Airport channels the Miami beaches of years past, that Michele’s young feet walked upon. Some of these creatures can only be witnessed through art anymore, because of people and time and change. But Michele gives these treasures back to us, under our own feet, in beautifully crafted bronze and mother of pearl, for us to continue to explore year after year.

In this way, Michele is a sort of gatekeeper. She gives us back a bit of the past so that, like the ancient trees on Pine Tree Drive that she speaks of, a little more of her Miami Beach can continue to live on. For this, we are lucky to have her, and for this she is a Tavern Tastemaker.

Visit Michele’s latest Miami installationHow I Caught A Swallow in Mid-Air, at Perez Art Museum. Now until September 11, 2016.

Out of Africa and Into Our Genuine Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.12.54 PMWhether chef, photographer, writer or painter, what defines our art is the story we tell with it. If you let them, the flavors on the tables at our restaurants will take you to Homestead, the Gulf, Italy or India, while the art on the walls of our Private Dining Room at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, will take you to New York City.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 6.51.49 PMBeth O’Donnel’s The Highline Series tells of the various shades of crazy that one sees on any given day from the High Line, a public park built on a rail line elevated above Manhattan’s West Side, but that’s only the first page.

Through layers of encaustic wax she writes the rest of the story, finishing it with black paint that gets wiped away, leaving markings of depth and texture that she can carve into. Just as her life is her work, and her work is her art and they all merge, Beth fell in love with the idea of merging photography and paint and encaustic wax to create these storyboards. On the northern wall of the PDR is a piece titled Kibera Kids which takes us from Miami to the High Line and then through a window into the slums of Nairobi where a smile shines back at us.

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In 1997 Beth traveled to Africa on safari. “I fell in love with it,” she said. She returned in 1998 and then in 1999 she went back again, this time to meet Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, in order to photograph African women for a book about women making a difference at the grass roots level. Ms. Maathai quickly pointed Beth towards the women still rooted within these African communities. “I was able to get out and go to the University of Kansas and get my degree,” she said, “but there are so many amazing women living there in the slums and they’re the ones that should be getting the attention. They represent the thousands and thousands of women doing that kind of work all over the world.” So she took Beth to them, and that day was when she photographed the faces that brighten Kibera Kids.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.06.15 PM“I spent the night in that slum right there,” Beth said pointing to a photo as I flipped through the finished product, Angels in Africa, “as a journalist or photojournalist you have to experience that. I spent months and months and months in that slum and in Kibera, they are the largest slums in the world.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.08.38 PMNow Beth sits on the board of the African Rainforest Conservancy and supports the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group – teaching villagers how to restore the forest, how to plant nurseries, what trees to cut , what trees not to cut so as is quoted by one of the amazing women in the book, “there might one day be trees blanketing these mountains as far as the eye can see.” As there once were. As there should be.

photo (65)Today, Beth’s first Chelsea Art District gallery show opens at the Birnam Wood/ Galleries. We’re proud to be showing her work, and we’re proud of the work that she does, which is why when Tamara Schwartz suggested her art go up at our flagship we jumped at the opportunity. Just as our chefs use ingredients to create, it is with passion that each expression of Beth’s art comes to be. “Live your dream, don’t dream your life,” she said. “It’s got to be like that.” It really does.

Feast Your Eyes: The Razzle of Basel Begins with Artist Karel Fonteyne

A month ago, our MGFD Café was a parking lot outside the Miami Beach Convention Center. Today, some of the finest design houses in the world have put together their finest pieces for a show that we are thrilled to keep espressoed and fed. It is a tense, purposeful silence that floats through the tent above low conversations. Gone are the buzz saws, the drills, and the dust, here is the design. This is Design Miami/.

The international art community has descended upon us for Art Basel, one of its most influential global forums, and back in the Design District Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Harry’s Pizzeria have dressed for the show.  The walls in our flagship’s main dining room shimmer with a new installation by talented artist and our restaurant designer Carl Myers. In the Gallery Room and at Harry’s hang the works of Karel Fonteyne curated by Director Chana Sheldon of our neighborhood art cooperative, Locust Projects. Natural objects are photographed with a technical camera and printed in extremely high resolution in these limited edition, embossed prints. The starkness of a rose branch or a pine needle is seen so vividly it’s felt, and contrasted by the comfort of each piece of nature.

Karel spent his childhood in Belgium. He wandered through the woods drawing inspiration from all that surrounded him. “In photographs I work more like a painter by starting with an idea that I sketch putting the different elements of my emotions together.” Like a recipe, starting with ingredients. Not surprisingly, Karel likes to cook. “It is for me the same as making my photographs, giving the ingredients a twist by putting them together in another way so you create an unexpected taste.” Like food for the eyes.

For forty-five years Karel has taken pictures. He has lived in Italy, New York, Tokyo, Spain, and France. From 1981 to 1994 he worked as a fashion photographer, with images gracing the covers of Vogue Italia and Vogue Japan. “[The photo] has to keep the onlooker awake,” he said, “so it has an impact on his way of thinking.”

Art Basel Week is about finding what is eye-catching, discovering a piece that unearths something within you, stumbling upon a work that causes an impact on you in that moment, and forever. Embrace this inundation of forced thought. Come say hello at Design Miami, and find Karel’s work at Art Miami in booth 16. Happy Basel Miami, it’s showtime.

Interview with Carl Myers, Artist, Architect & Genuine Designer

IMG_0923In a story often told, a steadfast dreamer leaves his Podunk town in search of bigger and brighter things, and in this case, he found them. Carl Myers, the designer of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, both our Miami Design District flagship restaurant and its sister in Grand Cayman, has another story to tell, this one through his portraiture. This Thursday, while we say thanks, eat, nap and then eat some more, the walls of MGFD will undergo an artistic transformation showcasing the newest installation of Carl Myers’ work, just as our Magic city transforms into the contemporary art and design mecca it becomes annually the first week of December. I sat down with Carl last week to catch up since we last connected, and talk art, inspiration, Mennonite heritage and Miami’s evolution.

You’re a Harvard Man turned artist, how’d that happen?

I was just a nerd out of high school, I studied really hard. I came from bum-fuck Virginia, and I never wanted to go back there, so I wanted to go to really good schools. I follow my heart a lot. Literally picking up and moving to another state or country, I closed a 15-person business in a day just because my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

What’s your heritage?

Born in Illinois, and raised in Virginia. My family comes from hearty Mennonite stock. They started out being schoolteachers for Amish children in central Illinois, and then decided to come back east near they’re families, but not too near so they could be more modern and cool. They had a phonograph but they never had martinis after work. My dad was a “Black bumper Mennonite”, he painted all the chrome black. My grandmother wore the traditional clothing until the day she died.

Are you religious?

I used to do a lot of pictures of religious icons. I have a collection of colonial carved statues of saints. I had a crown of thorns made, and I would put it on my friends and take pictures of them. I’m just fascinated by these forms, they are statues that people revere and worship. I’m not conventionally religious, but I find them fascinating. It’s a fascination with how other people treat them.

You’re living right now in a pretty religious place, (Guatemala) do people like it?

They do, but funny enough, I don’t think they buy it because it is religious, I think it’s more because they remind us of a place or time. People have even asked me to lay off Jesus a little bit because I would become a Jesus freak, you know him and his mother. So it became more about portraiture, the feeling of the person in the piece.

I use these religious images as inspiration, in a non-conventional way, but still using.

What else do you use for inspiration?

Love in my life. The people that are really important to me. All the people and things I did in this series are my boyfriend, my car, the dog, the views here. I was feeling mushy, sensitive and emotional. I had taken time off to do some architectural projects, but I decided to take the time and do the pieces and put a collection together for a show.

It was an intention to make them in a way that other people could appreciate and like and find something of their own in it, by things that I was inspired to make.
What I really wanted to do was do a portrait of Michael. I’ve always wanted to do one of him, I did Tamara and the kids in Cayman, but I don’t know why it never came up.

What is your technique for creating these pieces?

My technique is quite simple. I photograph living people and sculptural facsimiles of people. While travelling I also take hundreds of photographs of ancient and contemporary figural statues and busts. Then, I digitally manipulate and modify the photos to create pixilated images. Each image becomes a figure ground study comprised of 10,000 to 30,000 pixels. The final images are ‘constructed’ in a variety of mediums: coins, dice, beads, lead shot, straight pins, paints and metal leaf. I continually search for new materials and methods. I am not attempting to capture an image. I am trying to create images.

With the religious references I want to explore the line between the sacred and profane, the real and unreal. Sometimes I only want to memorialize, and other times I want to manipulate. The result is often an image that is recognizable from afar, but when viewed close-up becomes distorted and indiscernible.

How did you end up in Guatemala?

I was working for a hotel as their design director, traveling like a mad man and working 100 hours a week., so I said I was going to take a month off. Back at Harvard I took Spanish classes, because I’ve always had this pull towards Latin (Spanish) culture. A neighbor took me to Guatemala and to this day all my friends there are still my friends. Then September 11th happened and all my hotel jobs were canceled and so I decided to go to Guatemala and start doing furniture.

Obviously Miami has changed, and you were here for most of that. What was it like?

I think the quality and creativity and design in restaurants in Miami has flourished. There’s a lot more talent in Miami now, there’s this energy to explore, not so much by the book, but to go out of the box and do different things.

I had an art gallery on Lincoln Road with 3,000 square feet of space and $900 and we still couldn’t afford the rent. When that started to change and people got upset, I was so happy. I try not to spend time with people who keep change from happening; I like to roll with the punches.

And things are changing in the Design District now.

Is it working? Are people actually shopping at Cartier?

They are.

It’s good, because for a while Miami was looking pretty bleak.

I moved to Miami in the late eighties when all we did was have so much fun and you could buy a one bedroom in south beach for $8,000. It was so cool. Lincoln Road was like a wasteland. It was a playground.

[All I see are scenes from the Birdcage] Have you exhibited at Art Basel before?

No, I haven’t, I haven’t actually focused on it as much before, as with the last two years. And I’m not exhibiting at Basel, but I’m having a show at Michael’s during Basel. But two years ago during Basel when someone saw some of my pieces at Michael’s was when it really started taking off.

There is this esoteric side of the art world, and that’s really hard for me because I don’t really speak the language. But I try. I use a $10 word every now and then.

Here’s a sneak peak of the new work as Carl and Michael Kump unpack the first crate yesterday!!

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