Paintings by Jefreid Lotti: A dirty job gets the fine art treatment
A different type of oil change went on during lockdown at a mechanic shop in Miami where an artist found a full-time job at the peak of the pandemic outbreak. The resulting 19 oil paintings created among vacuums, tires, and commercial mop buckets now comprise a new exhibition.
A frenzy of colors delivered mostly in impasto style sets up the scene of a sedated machine undergoing a dissection or diagnostic test, in Last Flight. The car spreads its silver doors like a winged alien creature while surgery is performed on it. Lifting equipment aids the procedure, but we have not been made aware of the risks posed by an environment that is clearly far from sterile. Before long, we find ourselves concerned about the fate of this metal box, as if it were a living being. Empathy is a recurrent theme throughout Mechanics: Recent Paintings by Jefreid Lotti.
On view through Sept. 18 at the Coral Gables Museum, the exhibition consists of anecdotal paintings inspired by the daily dynamics of Lotti’s family’s auto repair shop, where he works. Despite the frenetic compositions — all of which are spontaneous, not staged — the pieces are studies on solitude and endurance. They also project the “essential” nature of a mechanic’s job. At the time the pieces were created, most businesses were closed but the shop was fully operational; mechanics literally kept the wheels turning.
That could explain the speed and energy with which the artist produced the works on display. His application of paint is not consistent throughout the show or even the same painting; areas of flat color appear next to impasto and, in some spots, color landed on the canvas straight from the tube.
The industrial landscape filled with tool chests, oil drums, and electric fans is rendered in heavy textures and bright colors. Inanimate objects crowd every inch of the surface overwhelming us at times. No human presence is detected, but the vibe doesn’t exactly spell ghost town. Instead, Lotti has given the objects the lead role in an improvised musical showcasing drilling sounds, loud voices, and pushing-pulling gestures. This imaginary soundtrack and choreography accompany our gallery walk, which is brief and restricted to a narrow hall to the left of the greeting counter.
As seen with Transmission Pump and Vacuum, Lotti zeroes in on particular angles and objects, intentionally cropping peripheral activities to elevate the moment or the machinery to higher realms. That is the case with an untitled piece that anchors an orange folding crane to the center of the picture, giving it the effect of a glossy modern abstract sculpture. These snapshots are somewhat calmer and concentrate on one mundane task at a time.
The Havana-born artist doesn’t spare any details. Although our eyes gravitate toward the yellow Volkswagen Beetle levitating with the help of a crane in Don’t Leave Me Dry, he makes sure to include the Pepsi vending machine and water cooler located in the adjacent room. They are barely visible, but supply those hard at work with crucial substances that keep them going.Lotti moved back to Miami in 2020 after cutting short a teaching residency at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. Shortly after, he started painting in the mechanic shop after closing time.
In a way, Mechanics reflects an artist’s ongoing need for experimentation and transformation. Humans are not excluded from the acts of removal, mending, and replacement of parts. We do ignore our internal computer and postpone the diagnostic test sometimes. Lotti does the opposite, tending to the internal turmoil brewing by examining and treating his immediate surroundings.
Gretel Sarmiento, Palm Beach Arts Paper, August 7, 2022
The Mechanics of the Circumstances and the Secret Language of the Inanimate
For over a decade, Jefreid Lotti (Havana, Cuba, 1989) has been obsessed with interiors, depicting with generous strokes of oil on texturized canvas or handmade paper a blue-collar multiverse of humble rooms packed with personal objects, appliances, artifacts, machinery, remnants of life-infused history and energy. Whether it is a Kendall efficiency or his uncle's auto repair shop—where he found a temporary full-time managing job in 2020 after he had to interrupt his residency at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay and move back to Miami during the worst of the pandemic outbreak, when only "essential business" remained opened—Lotti crops details, collects snapshots, documenting in his visual diary those eerie paused scenes, such as a house abandoned in a hurry during work hours, or a mechanic shop after hours or during a break, unraveling the mesmerizing details of their non-so ordinary life. His is the story of an artist who has always overcome circumstances using them as an incentive and commodity. Being an impetuous colorist who plays with shapes and textures, Lotti has a curious wandering eye, also haunted by the mechanics of the things, the way they work or happens from a reflexive autobiographical POV, which is the very spirit underlying “Mechanics,” a selection of nineteen paintings from his series Essential Work, produced during the last two years, exhibiting in the Frank Lynn Gallery of the Museum of Coral Gables from May 6th, 2022-August 23rd, 2002. There is a suburban domestic intimism, a sort of chaotic balance in Lotti’s compositions, a ramshackle universe almost ready to collapse, in which the human imprint is as eloquent as its absence. In those uninhabited interiors where the trace of human chores is instrumental, as if we were dragged into a crime scene, Lotti represents the omniscience, the witness, the culprit, the scapegoat, and the alibi. All in one. The singular aesthetic ‘mechanism’ that he has developed to express his inner nature, precarious balance, resilience, and despair through his material surroundings might be enough to label his artwork as inscapes, for he attributes the inanimate force, matter, and (e)motion of the living being.
What he calls "observational paintings" are, in a more profound sense, a series of powerful, intimate essays on "becoming resilient through challenges and isolation,” as much as they are visual studies “about cars and formalism,” as he explains; for his empirical approach come along with a natural subversion of the symbols used. As Ricardo Pau-Llosa notably remarked a decade ago, in his profusely symbolistic artwork disguised as observational, all the elements are in constant “rebellion of signified against the signifier," bringing us “into an arena of the unconscious where symbols do battle with their alleged meanings.” As much as his themes are indebted to his personal experiences, the circumstances impact his painting technique. For example, using the shop as a makeshift workshop after hours, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm, contributed to aesthetic decisions such as turning the workshop into the subject of the series, using the white canvas, or the color straight from the tube. Inspired by the impressionist works of Seurat, Monet, and the sorts, Lotti played with the idea of the artists turned into essential workers in a mechanic shop during a global pandemic. Lotti’s series addresses the latent debate about the arts as a work of trivial or paramount importance for the human being and the expandability of the artist whose primary means of subsistence is not in many cases considered essential despite the uttermost impact of the arts in the human existence. Watching the gears and lifting equipment in some of the works of “Mechanics,” mainly those in which the engine cranes play a prominent role, as if we were attending an open-heart surgery in a sort of unfinished anatomy lesson, we realize that what it is essential to the art is not just to bear witness to reality, but to preserve the empathy about themes and circumstances that will fade with the ages. In a more figurative sense, the "Mechanics" are also machinations, mental arabesques of a time the artist spends repairing his—and our—own life.
Joaquin Badajoz, Manhattan, May 4th, 2022