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Lost & Found

Mico Fuentes’ repurposed art livens up the airport

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Jacksonville printmaker and visual artist Mico Fuentes challenges his viewer’s concepts of perception and presence in his playful, imaginative creations. But he also invites audiences to see a bit of themselves in his work.

“I really approach my work with concepts first,” Fuentes explains, “I think about the world and where we’re at in place and time, and I try to put it all in context.”

Fuentes, who holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Jacksonville University, has participated in more than 30 shows regionally.

One of his most eye-catching creations is Descent of the Purple Martins.

“The purple martin piece is an abstract illustration of birds—the black print on the plexi—that’s a real local piece. The purple martins are these really cool little sparrows that migrate from Canada all the way down to Brazil,” Fuentes says. “They swarm in the thousands. Last year, around July, the purple martins came to Jacksonville. There were 10,000 birds on probably half a dozen trees behind the symphony, roosting for a week. There’s a big, mirrored building across the street from the symphony and every day they’d come from every corner at dusk. They would ascend on top of the building and then flock down in the thousands. It was such a beautiful sight. I guess the last time they stopped in Jacksonville was in the 1940s.”

A selection of Fuentes’ work is currently exhibited in the Jacksonville International Airport Connector Bridge. The Jacksonville Airport Arts Commission has showcased some 50 professional and emerging local artists in more than 20 years of advocacy. Thousands of travelers will pass by the works artwork through December. Fuentes is excited for the opportunity to showcase Jacksonville’s unique cultural vibe.

Shell-encrusted rocks, sourced from a friend’s farm in Lake City, rest at the base of an artwork. It’s a reminder that Florida was underwater in the not-too-distant past. LED light adds intrigue to the piece.

“Those lights are kind of like man’s civilizations with those birds flying around it, with this prehistoric matter right beneath us,” Fuentes explains. “It gives reference to the fact that this world that we’re living in is kind of constantly changing, and we’re all migrating between it. I think we’re in a really neat time of change—weather change, land change. A couple of months after the purple martin migration, that whole area was flooded. It just makes me think, in a local kind of way, how delicate and subject to change all of this is.”

Fuentes tackles these serious topics in an unexpected manner, using a combination of screenprints, plexiglass and LED tubes to create a world within a world.

“I approach my work as being experiential,” the artist says. “I want somebody to walk up to it and explore it and kind of take their own adventure in it. That’s what I really want them to take away. I want them to think about just as much of their own thoughts as the work. That’s when I think a work is successful, when they’re putting as much imagination into it as I have.”

RGB is crafted from red, green and blue LED tubes. The work challenges viewers to think about perception. These colors are in everything we perceive as information, especially through our electronic devices. The artist laughs when asked if the artwork is composed of light sabers.

“I think it’s just as much about RGB—how we perceive light going into our eyes—as much as it is about us looking out in the world,” Fuentes says. “On a microscale, it’s about how we look at our phones and how we perceive the world through our phones. Then, on a macroscale, it’s about looking out at what the Hubble Space Telescope is sending back to us. The background has been manipulated to reference the images I’m seeing coming back from the Hubble. It’s amazing what that has done to society’s mind, to see things outside our little, local bubble. RGB is about perception. It’s about us perceiving red, green and blue using our sense. It’s about us being present. You see space and time as a stamp of where we’re at.”

Fuentes’ use of found items in his art is a statement on consumerism.

“I find them from junkyards,” he says, “and I try to bring new life and concept to these defeated materials. I try to apply value to found objects the world’s given up on. For me, making something out of nothing is as close to reincarnation as I can get. The trash we’re creating, and this existence, is not sustainable.”

Trained by his artist grandmother in New Orleans, Fuentes developed a unique worldview growing up all over the United States. The experience shaped him.

Today, Fuentes focuses on his artwork full-time. He lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Rebecca Levy, who is one of the founding members and the artistic director of Jacksonville Dance Theatre. Together, they play an active role in Jacksonville’s burgeoning cultural scene. Fuentes sees Jacksonville as a city whose cultural identity is still being formed and one with a lot of potential.

“Jacksonville has a great opportunity to be more than it is, and has done so much to get beyond its racist past and its small town mentality. I think it has tremendous opportunity.”

Fuentes is honored to have his work on display at Jacksonville International Airport.

“I think if people have the opportunity to get outside their bubble and review some of my art,” he suggests, “they’ll see it’s just as much about them as it is about the world itself. That’s really why I work with reflecting and defeated materials. My work doesn’t always meet the expected standards and criteria of what art is supposed to be, so I’m trying to push the concept and make people think about themselves just as much as the work. I think everybody can find a piece of themselves in it. I want people to ask what this work is trying to say about the world all around us.”

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