Tomorrowland: Florida Mining Gallery
Debi Boyette and S. Patricia Patterson
curated by Steve Williams, final show at Florida Mining Gallery, May 2023
as seen by Elaine Slayton Akin
Tomorrowland is a milestone exhibition for Jacksonville-based Florida Mining Gallery—the last it will host in its first home located inside the industrial complex of Harbinger Sign, a national commercial sign fabricator and family business led by President and CEO Steve Williams. A long-time painter himself and champion of the arts in northeast Florida, Williams founded the contemporary art gallery in 2011 with the goal of establishing a playground for media experimentation and professional growth, where emerging and mid-career artists can explore alongside veterans in the field. Williams is committed to cultivating opportunity for those who seek it in his hometown of Jacksonville, often overlooked as an art hub for more “exotic” destinations along the eastern seaboard, such as Miami, Atlanta, or New York.
“We have Charleston, Savannah, and then the hidden Jacksonville,” Williams explained to me when I visited the gallery just after Tomorrowland opened. “I think joining forces with these other cities to develop an art-focused region is important. Pull from our strange and horrible and wonderful shared history and claim our spot on the map to collectors and buyers.”
While the current Harbinger building is for sale, Williams looks ahead to the undetermined future home of the sign business, as well as the gallery. The original intent of the operation will remain through fostering the synergetic spirit among an inclusive slate of artists, but he hopes to gain more square footage to accommodate more works, and thus more exhibitions, at once. Named for the cross street of the current location and for the act of “mining” artists from the region, the way a coal miner scoops out raw, organic material from the depths of the earth, Florida Mining is a rare portal in Jacksonville to understanding the world around us, looking inward to look outward with the artist as our guide.
the middle place is strange
the part between them and the next
is an awakening from how you saw to
how you will see…
– by Rupi Kaur in The Sun and Her Flowers (2017)
Tomorrowland, on view now through May 31, features recent works by multimedia artists Debi Boyette and S. Patricia Patterson. Florida Mining is in the front lobby of the Harbinger building, so when you make the first turn into the gallery, you are immediately stunned by what appear to be clouds floating in the center of the room and encircled by a series of watercolor paintings. In this arrangement, you cannot consider the clouds without the paintings, their contexts permanently intertwined. Where Boyette’s three-dimensional foam sculptures embody lightness with their physical presence, Patterson’s watercolor paintings insert gravity and darkness with their subject matter. This contrast continues throughout the exhibition and manipulates the mind the longer you examine their interplay so that reality is no longer linear, and the layered themes become as swirled together as the watercolor strokes. Still, I deduce an optimistic takeaway, as viewers are inspired to imagine how we can change society for the better when we consider the past, present, and future simultaneously.
To bookend the gallery’s first chapter, Williams sought an artist he had always wanted to work with—Boyette, a Jacksonville native and Seattle resident, and encouraged Atlanta-based friend and former collaborator Patterson to also participate. Tomorrowland is the culmination of both artists’ parallel explorations of the “nuances of memory, nostalgia, and imagination and how they shape our perception of both the present and the future,” according to the exhibition’s artists statement. They identified a retro amusement park or roadside attraction aesthetic in their combined works—big sky atmosphere with fluffy white clouds over colorfully-dressed kids and their whimsies—and circled the concept of Tomorrowland, a futuristic park inside Disneyland styled after the Space Age and particularly representative of Walt Disney’s personal ideology on the grand achievements of “man” and the heirs who benefit—our children.
Boyette’s otherworldly clouds immediately draw you in with a grass-green astroturf-covered bench below, inviting you to sit. The three-dimensional immersion is crucial to the success of Tomorrowland and to fully integrating these two artists’ works into one body. Foam clouds over your head, Patterson’s wall paintings seemingly transcend the present for a higher order of discernment. The clouds offer a transitory nature that, combined with the nostalgic quality of the paintings, enters the magic realism territory of Americana artists such as Carroll Cloar or Andrew Wyeth. Likewise, a sinister message is often lurking just beneath the lively surface.
Patterson has a personal memory of the Tomorrowland park that she depicts in Disney 1982 and sets the tone for other works to come. In the color palette of a faded polaroid, it has all the hallmarks of a happy family souvenir until a closer study reveals early childhood trauma. When she was five, Patterson was nightmarishly separated from her family inside the park for a short time. She transposed a snapshot from the trip, the artist’s first taste of abandonment, into this painting of her and her sister, exhausted and eating Mickey Mouse pops “melting away in terror as they were devoured,” the artist recalled. The sad pops not only become symbols of gross American consumption as they are literally consumed, but also what we’ll sacrifice (money, safety, and time) for the so-called “all-American” experience. Set against Boyette’s clouds, the juxtaposition is as eerie as cotton candy and a sad clown. We all grapple with the reality of uncomfortable memories. Now how do we overcome them?
As you survey the gallery, other recurring techniques and themes emerge. Aqueous and pastel watercolors of people and possessions over bold, colorful background prints are a masterclass in mixed media and seem to illustrate the allegory of time—people come and go, while tradition remains. But the careful watercolor treatment of the people with their feather-delicate features and youthful goodness is the most interesting detail; it’s humanizing and attractive and undeniably loving. Trigger Keeper depicts two toddler-aged boys wearing farm-style flannel shirts and John Deere caps and holding shotguns in front of a vintage TransAm. They pop against a flat plane of blue and white chevron zigzags. Up close, the boys’ eyes are drooping and void of joy, much like the girls’ from Disney, and their guns are distorted to the likeness of harmless inflatables. “A lot of the patterns and setups for my paintings are taken from pop-culture references of the times of my childhood,” Patterson explained. “For instance, Trigger Keeper is a play on words from Trapper Keeper, and Trigger was the name of the car in Smokey and The Bandit. The twins are reminiscent of the ghosts in The Shining, and the floor is designed after the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks.” Patterson also shared that the two boys are inspired by the children of family members, completing the past, present, and future trinity—the centuries-old chevron pattern harkening to ancient Greece (past), the retro car and dress (present for a child of the ‘80s), and the children themselves, innocence personified (future).
It’s also worth mentioning the prominence of cultural appropriation in works such as Little Bighorn and The Great Wall, and of girls in performative roles, wearing scant leotards and forced smiles, in works such as Yankee Doodle and It’s Not Easy Being Green. Patterson’s paintings are the yin to Boyette’s yang, gothic to romantic. Next to Boyette’s clouds, problematic depictions of Native American and Asian costuming, American consumption and capitalism, nationalism, gun culture, and gendered dressing become kindling for revolution. “In some ways I think Debi is the optimist and I am the pessimist, and these emotions vibrate off each other to create a deeper feeling of hope for the future and our ability to fix the past,” said Patterson. “Let’s reflect on the past to build a better future.”
While Patterson has been most influenced by the artists John Currin, Alice Neill, Lucian Freud, Kara Walker, Elizabeth Peyton, and Norman Rockwell, Boyette draws more from nature and the artists Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Robert Rauschenberg. I think that explains the optimism and timelessness of Boyette’s work, because nature always finds a way. Boyette started “foaming,” as she calls it, in 2020 as a way of meditating through a tough time and reflecting on the joy of the past. “Given the circumstances of that year, it doesn’t sound too out of place. With the world so dim, we all had to look within to find a light to help us keep going.” Patterson and Boyette aspire for viewers of Tomorrowland to leave with full hearts and optimistic attitudes about the future, “realizing the oddities in the paintings in order to compare the childhood experiences of Gen Xers versus their children.” In the face of what it was like for children of the ’70s and ’80s, how will we raise today’s children to redeem yesterday for tomorrow’s salvation?
Elaine Slayton Akin has worked in art museums and for artists and has covered arts and culture for publications such as At Home in Arkansas, Arkansas Life, Number: Inc., Burnaway, and Nashville Arts. She first got involved with Number while pursuing her masters in art history at the University of Memphis. She now splits her time between member relations at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and her own vintage interiors business. @elaineakin
Debi Boyette lives and works in Seattle, Washington, and is of American Asian French descent. She was raised in Florida by her father who was deaf and blind and her mother of Chinese Filipino descent. Boyette’s multidisciplinary practice includes works on paper, collages, wall works, freestanding sculptures, wall-mounted works and site-specific installationscc. Regardless of medium, her work produces distorted culturally based works, both mocking and referencing the established forms. @debiboyettestudio
Patricia Patterson uses watercolor and screen printing to reconstruct childhood memories. She works from a collection of personal and found materials to build futuristic yet nostalgic moments through formal portraiture. Patterson received her BFA from Georgia State University and MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. She has exhibited in the United States and resides in Atlanta, Georgia. spatriciapatterson.org