Florida Keys News
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Four new resident artists on the island
The Studios' program draws talent nationwide

The Studios of Key West brings in talented artists, musicians and writers from across the nation with its residency program.

The nonprofit is headquartered in the historic Armory, at 600 White St., which was built in 1903.

It was designed to give local artists a place to work and then began formally inviting people from outside the community to stay for a month in its cottages.

Nearly every month, four artists are chosen to temporarily live in paradise. This month they are Jeffrey Vallance, Victoria Reynolds, Amy Chan and Laura van den Berg.

Vallance creates conceptually based projects that involve interactions and travels to discover how everything is interconnected. He has been to Polynesia and Iceland for a project to uncover similarities between the two. His works of art created on that journey comprise writings and drawings.

"You start to see similar symbols and stories, and it all starts to line up into a world view," he said.

Vallance's concepts have set him aside from traditional artists and caught the attention of the "Late Night With David Letterman" show in 1983. He also hosted an MTV program called "The Cutting Edge."

"I'm challenging everything -- belief systems, pop culture, art and politics. I have to get inside and mess with everything," he said. "People have more power than they think they have. I try to do things people might think are impossible."

His wife, Victoria Reynolds, who accompanied him, brings a similar philosophy to her anthropomorphic paintings. She creates works using images of animal flesh.

"I try to challenge traditional Puritan beliefs of how an art piece is visually beautiful," said Reynolds. "The flesh carries an image of stunning complexity and beauty, with its translucent layers and nerve endings."

Reynolds also has "vegetarian" pieces using imagery of Japanese eggplant, hibiscus and coconut cream.

She hopes to get fresh cuts of meat from former Mayor Jimmy Weekley, owner of and butcher at Fausto's, to inspire a new piece while in Key West.

Chan has a completely different style.

Her gouache paintings are pattern-driven, using fragments of objects such as shells, leaves and bark and blending them with unique characters, typography and reoccurring shapes.

She said she is inspired by the landscape surrounding her and travels often to keep creatively fresh. Chan said she's inspired by all the color in Key West and incorporating them in her new works.

"The residency program takes me out of my environment and into an ecosystem I haven't experienced before," Chan said.

Van den Berg, a writer, is working on a novel after finishing up teaching fiction at George Washington University.

Her first two books comprised short stories from a woman's point of view, about the lives of women, deception, mystery and crime.

"What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us," was van den Berg's first book, published in 2009.

Notables such as graffiti artist Momo, artist Sandro Kopp and writer Madison Smartt Bell have all visited The Studios.

The resident artists are required to do a project during their stay. Some of those have included a bicycle tour of cisterns in Key West, a floating "Tourist Crisis Center" performance art piece off Higgs Beach, and 300 handcrafted flowers titled "Invasive Species."

The public is invited to meet the artists and see their work at The Studios' two Ashe Street cottages during the monthly Walk on White, from 6 to 9 p.m. every third Thursday. The next one is July 18.

Alex Press, an intern with The Citizen, is a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

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