A Portrait of the Artist as a Gables Resident

Coral Gables is Known for its Art Galleries, but What About its Artists? In This Feature, we Profile Four Visual Artists who Live and Work in the city and Have Been Featured in its Galleries, Gardens, Universities or Private Collections. All Four Appreciate Coral Gables for its Walkability, Greenery, Cultural Offerings and Diversity. All Work at Least Part-Time From Their Homes. Here are our Conversations With the Four Artists

By Doreen Hemlock // Photography by Jon Braeley

June 2018

We figured it would be easy to find four accomplished artists who live and create inside Coral Gables or on its edge. But the task turned out harder than expected. That’s because the city is relatively expensive, doesn’t have many big studio spaces with high-ceilings, and unlike other places, doesn’t provide subsidized spaces for artists.  

The City Commission now is considering incentives for real-estate developers who offer space for artists to help address that challenge. 

“Artists are the weakest part of the chain in the art market,” laments Cuba-born Ruben Torres Llorca, who lives simply off South LeJeune Avenue in a walk-up apartment that doubles as his studio. 

Venezuela-born Patricia Van Dalen pioneered art installations at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden by planting 100,000 plastic flag markers in red, orange and pink there in 2003. This year, she opened a small studio in the center of Coral Gables. 

“There’s something fresh happening downtown,” said Van Dalen, strolling from her Madeira Street studio to a nearby gallery that exhibits her work. “Before, you saw more suits. Now, you see all ages. You feel new energy.” 

Here are our conversations with the four artists – in their own words, edited for space and clarity. 

Patricia Van Dalen

Ideas on art: “I celebrate colors, lines and forms in space and the infinite ways you can combine them. All my works have a sense of joy behind them – joy that we have colors and can differentiate blue from green from orange, can see lines horizontal and vertical, can distinguish a square from a circle, and we can find this everywhere, all over the world. 

“I’m interested in finding as many ways as possible to create something new from scratch – from a white canvas, white paper, a sheet of aluminum or wood – by combining colors, lines and forms. I’ve been working for more than 35 years in different media and series. I can be working simultaneously large canvases in a very expressive way, with gestures, and small pieces with geometric forms. I use a vocabulary that has common elements. It’s all abstraction.” 

I’m interested in finding as many ways as possible to create something new…

Patricia Van Dalen

Pictured with When in Les Masses 08, 36 inches by 72 inches, acrylic on canvas, $21,000: “This work is part of a series from 2017 after an unexpected trip to a chalet in Switzerland in Les Masses. It holds all the energy and power from that spectacular gift. I never dreamed of being in such a pristine landscape in winter. I fell to my knees it was so beautiful. I was in a state of indescribable joy. 

“The work is an abstraction of the landscape with snow, pines, signs for the skiers and a blue in the sky I’d never seen before, a new blue. It’s very informal, made with gestures, [painted not with brushes but] with my hands only. It’s expressionist like my previous work before I became more geometric.” 

Born: Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1955. 

Education/Teaching: Graphic design at Venezuela’s Instituto de Disen/o Fundacion Neumann; Trained in Paris with kinetic artist Yaacov Agam from 1980-86. Has taught at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. 

Known for: Abstract, often colorful work in painting, collage, site-specific installations and diverse media. Venezuelan works feature a nearly kilometer-long tile mosaic on Prados del Este highway. 

In Coral Gables: Since 2015. Created Data Hall installation at University of Miami’s Center for Computational Science, made from motherboards of a super-computer. Developed Luminous Gardens at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, made with 100,000 plastic marker flags in pink, red and orange.  

Website: www.patriciavandalen.com 

Last exhibit: Abstract Cabinet, with artist Emilio Narciso, at Imago Art in Action in Coral Gables through June; Ride the Rail solo show at ArtMedia Gallery in Wynwood, 2017. 

Pictured with “When in Les Masses 08,” $21,000

Ruben Torres Llorca

Ideas on art: “If you go to the doctor with a pain in your chest, he’ll tell you the cause –  cardio-vascular, muscular – and what medicine to take. I work the same way with what worries me or interests me. The idea tells me how to do the piece. Sometimes, it needs photography, painting or a three-dimensional sculpture. And I follow very strict rules. [American writer] William Faulkner once said in art, ‘You must kill your darlings.’ So, I don’t get married to any craft, no matter how pretty it may be.  

What interests me most is not to tell you my opinion, but just to create a space where we can question together some subjects. It’s like I create this bull arena, I let the bull go out, and you need to deal with it – to the point where sometimes, I don’t recognize a piece I did 15 years ago.” 

Pictured with Better Days Ahead, 86 inches by 86 inches, mixed media, $25,000: “This is a very simple piece. At first glance, it’s very comfortable. I paint it like a 1950s illustrator, sort of Norman Rockwell. (I studied 11 years in a Soviet academy in Cuba to avoid the military.) But at some point, you realize life is not that pretty. So, I tried to create a dramatic arc like in literature, some type of paradox, by saying ‘Better Days Ahead,’ because this one is horrible. They’re running scared, trying to find a better future.  

What interests me most is not to tell you my opinion…

Ruben Torres Llorca

The newspaper in the background is a reference to the crazy amount of information we have – to the point that we get lost in it. The round, floating shapes show this piece is not as solid as you think, art need not be forever, this piece is alive, this is going to change.” 

Another Happy Ending, 72 x 32 inches. 2014

Born: Havana, Cuba in 1957. 

Education: Cuba’s top art schools, Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro from 1972-76 and Instituto Superior de Arte from 1976-81.  

Known for: Painting, drawing, sculpture and collage, often with social commentary and wit. One of Coral Gables’ most recognized artists. 

In Coral Gables: Since 2004. In the US since 1993. Also lived in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. 

Website: www.condecontemporary.com/ruben-torres-llorca-1 

Last exhibit: “New Works: Ruben Torres Llorca” at Conde Contemporary in Coral Gables, 2017. 

Pictured with “Better Days Ahead,” $25,000

Aurora Molina

Ideas on Art: “My dad is a painter, so becoming an artist, I had to find my own identity. I found a voice in fibers and textiles, which have been linked to women’s history, to quilting circles. You can narrate the history of the world through textile trading. I really got engaged in drawing with thread and painting with thread. And with that, I travel around the world, work with artists and learn about cultural heritage. I’ve done projects in India, Indonesia, Morocco and Mexico. For the past three years, I’ve been going to Europe. I’m seeing how colonization has informed other cultures. For example, in Mexico, you get the hand embroidery from the Spanish, when really their tradition was weaving. 

Pictured with Seven Years of Dreams and Nightmares, 60 inches by 55 inches, fiber art, not for sale, similar pieces $9,000: “This piece is about my first seven years adjusting and trying to find comfort in a new place, after we arrived from Cuba. It started with the doodles I made on the first pillow that I got here. Some writings are in Spanish. I made those doodles into embroidery on the pillow I used to sleep on. The spider-web part is the weaving of the dreams, all the connectednessThe chain is crochet of the days in those years – 365 times seven. The burlap is a reference to the fabric you’d find in Cuba for coffee or sugar. I cried every day when I first got here. This is about meeting the end to those years. 

I found a voice in fibers and textiles, which have been linked to women’s history…

Aurora Molina

“All my work in the beginning was trying to detach from my dad. His painting uses a lot of vibrant colors, it’s whimsical and has magic realism. My early work was monochromatic. When I went to Mexico and India, color started to come in, because color there just hits you.” 

Born: Nueva Paz, Cuba in 1984. 

Education/Teaching: Coral Gables High School. Miami-Dade College, Associates in art and photography; Florida International University, BFA; Spain’s Universidad Europea de Madrid, Master in contemporary art in 2009. Also teaches, including workshop this summer at Bakehouse Art Complex, Miami. 

Known for: Fiber art and soft sculpture, often with cultural commentary. 

In Coral Gables: Intermittently since 2001. Also lived in Spain and has done residencies in Mexico, India, Indonesia, Morocco and other nations. 

Website: www.auroramolina.com

Last exhibit: Group shows this summer include Rocking Chair Sessions at Bakehouse, Miami; Solo show The Decline of Rationality in American Politics, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Miami, 2018. 

Pictured with “Seven Years of Dreams and Nightmares,” not for sale

Jacqueline Gopie

Ideas on Art: Having come to art late, I had a long time to think and observe. There’s not a lot of imagery of young, black children simply playing that doesn’t disclose their socio-economic environment. It’s often about kids in the ghetto. And the majority of ways that black people are portrayed in the media are negative.  

“My background in the Army was nursing, so I have some understanding of physiology. The way your visual cortex works is to simplify information, to process it quickly to survive. So, when you see repeated negative images of black people, your response to black people becomes negative.  

“With my art, I’m creating a different image, a counter to the negative. I’m keying into a time in everyone’s life that is pure and innocent – childhood, seaside. What could be more delightful! I want to change the narrative.” 

I’m keying into a time in everyone’s life that is pure and innocent – childhood, seaside…

Jacqueline Gopie

Pictured with Jamaica Day at Port Royal, 72 inches by 36 inches, acrylic on canvas, $8,000: “I went with my sister to Port Royal on Jamaica Day, and all these schoolkids were there, dressed up in shorts and T-shirts in Jamaican flag colors. There had to be 20 busloads of kids running around. This one little group of boys was off to the side of the fort. I usually take photographs of kids from a distance, and I try to get a group, so I can move the images around and paint them later. This group was chasing each other around a tree, and the way the light was hitting them, it looked like they were glowing. What I wanted to capture was the light in their movement. I added a mineral called pearl mica in the paint, which helps create the illusion of light shimmering.” 

“Foot Race,” 78 x 93 inches. 2018

Born: Kingston, Jamaica in 1960. 

Education/Teaching: University of Miami, BFA in 2005 and MFA in 2012. Mentored by late professor Walter Darby Bannard. Has taught at UM. 

Known for: Painting, often using color in broad strokes and portraying black children playing seaside. 

Website: www.jacquelinegopie.com 

In Coral Gables: Since 2002. In the US since 1972. In U.S. Army for 21 years. 

Last exhibit: Pleasure and Play solo show, Wirtz Gallery, South Miami, 2018. 

Pictured with “Jamaica Day at Port Royal,” $8,000