FLORIDA KEYS — Virtually all aspects of the Florida Keys’ natural world are reflected in the work of the region’s artists and creative spirits. For example, Sugarloaf’s Jim Salem paints graceful birds in their native habitats, while Islamorada’s Michelle Nicole Lowe is known for her vivid images of indigenous fish and sea turtles.
Stephen Frink’s underwater photography depicts the wonders of the continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef, which parallels the island chain and provides endless inspiration to the Key Largo photographer.
Some artists rely on the Keys environment and its denizens not just for inspiration, but also as their medium of expression. The Lower Keys’ Kim Workman, a master of the traditional Oriental art form of gyotaku or fish printing, memorializes the Keys’ finned and gilled population by inking or painting actual fish and pressing handmade paper or canvas on them to create exact replicas.
Key West sculptor Helen Harrison, by contrast, is intrigued by wood, palm fronds and found objects. Carefully and lovingly, she shapes graceful abstract and realistic pieces that reveal the beauty of her materials.
No matter what their medium, many Keys artists have another calling besides creating pieces that chronicle or incorporate their natural surroundings. They also are environmentalists — making subtle yet powerful statements about the need to preserve and protect the region’s unique ecosystems, habitats and their inhabitants.
For example Frink, a strong supporter of Keys marine conservation, feels that viewing the world beneath the sea can be an important motivator in inspiring people to work for reef protection.
Artists’ fascination with the Keys environment is not new. It actually dates back to 1832, when artist and ornithologist John James Audubon visited Key West and the Dry Tortugas. During that visit, he sighted and drew nearly 20 new species for his monumental “Birds of America” folio.
Whether making creative statements about local flora and fauna or celebrating the ocean realm, local artists have embraced the Keys’ diverse ecosystems. They, and the people who collect and value their work, are making environmental awareness an art form all its own.
Florida Keys cultural information: keysarts.com
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Stephen Frink’s underwater photography depicts the wonders of the continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef, which parallels the island chain.
Gyotaku, or fish printing, involves inking or painting an actual fish and pressing handmade paper or canvas on them to create exact replicas.