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Jeffrey Kyle
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State's future triggers sly SOS

The artist Kyle doesn't shy away from mixing media to make his point about what greed is costing Florida.

by Philip E. Bishop
Special to the Sentinel
Posted February 6, 2007

The artist Kyle isn't shy about trespassing for the sake of art. For works in his current show at the Crealde School of Art, he carried a miniature house made of plastic pipe onto undeveloped property. By Kyle's account, speaking at the opening, security guards soon arrived and urged him to take his art elsewhere.

The PVC house appears as part of "Close to Home: Constructions and Installations by Kyle," curated by Rima Jabbur of Crealde. The show's dozen mixed-media works protest a different kind of trespass. "My community's identity has been appropriated by theme parks," says Kyle in his statement, and everywhere in this show commerce steadily encroaches on nature.

"Future Site of Everything" reads the sign inscribed on an otherwise uninterrupted bed of artificial green foliage. In "The Fight," a painted forest is gashed by a bulldozed clearing.

Kyle's work crosses all sorts of boundaries -- most important the border between artifice and reality. He mixes media relentlessly -- topographical photographs, film stills, model-railroad greenery and actual painting.

Most of these works hang on the wall like paintings, though many contain diorama insets of small plastic figures, embedded at eye level. In "Wekiva," for instance, the main "canvas" is a huge aerial photograph of the Wekiva River. The inset depicts tiny plastic campers and sunbathers on the river's shores. They frolic against the backdrop of a panoramic photograph of the Wekiva as a Florida vacation paradise.

"Wekiva" wittily mixes images of different scale and character to make its point: From the air the river seems an unspoiled swath of green, but at ground level humans busily use it for their recreational and commercial purposes. The aerial photograph merely records, while the postcard diorama promotes.

Not visible in the photograph is the voracious blob of development that menaces the Wekiva basin. That blob is also the unseen monster of "It Grows," another wall-sized graphic work. It superimposes images of horrified onlookers onto benign construction drawings and developers' maps. The blend of graphic images makes a quite lovely surface; the only instance in this exhibition when the term "beauty" applies. But the loveliness is at odds with the tackiness of the diorama's tiny plastic figure and the B-movie atmosphere of mute horror.

Kyle employs an utterly contemporary idea of artistic materials. Everything is grist for his mill -- images and objects are composed and layered without clear distinction between the conventionally artistic and the merely found.

But much of Kyle's imagery hearkens to the 1950s and the era of the gray flannel suit. In "Scientists of Sudden Death," still photos from Superman episodes reinforce other images of grim scientists pondering nuclear deterrence. The centerpiece of "Evidence" is a labeled photograph of a Cuban missile installation from 1962 -- an age when Florida suburbanites had good reason to fear weapons of mass destruction. In "Evidence," viewers should look carefully at the plastic model parts plastered to the bottom. Is it the giant insect that people are fleeing in "It Grows?"

Even the mammoth floor sculpture titled "Piece of Cake" is a bit ominous. The surface of the cake-shaped slab is decorated with model scenery as a Florida landscape. Visible deep underground is the blue grotto of a Florida spring. One half-expects it to be inhabited by a tiny Weeki Wachee maiden or the creature from the black lagoon.

Growing up in Florida, Kyle must have absorbed the messages and images of those gray-flannel years. Now, in the age of the Internet, he transmits them back to us as a garbled but insistent SOS.

His message says: Look deeper. Don't trust men in suits. Preserve the real Florida from the artifices of greed.

Philip E. Bishop is professor of humanities at Valencia Community College.