“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately”
On March 23, equipped with only a fresh sketchbook and pencils and rations of food, Bradenton-based contemporary artist Jake Fernandez will enter a 9’ X 14’ studio at The Maitland Art Center in Maitland, FL. He will remain inside that studio for 7 days and 16 hours with no external stimulation. There will be no clock or sunlight, nor phone or internet—no contact from the outside world. No distractions—And the last parts of this list are key, because, although the project’s title is Seven Days and Sixteen Hours at Parchman Farm, and the whole thing has taken on many prison-like undertones, the point is not incarceration. Jake will not be barring himself from anything, rather, he will be keeping everything away from him. He will operate un-inflicted for 184 hours, to explore his mind and to see what might come out of it.
The public will be able to view Fernandez while he works via webcam, which will stream live 24/7. This is good for many reasons, but chiefly, it will act as a kind of security deposit for The Maitland Art & History Association—because if the poor bastard loses his mind and stabs himself in the neck, or bashes his head repeatedly against the concrete walls, with the webcam, the paramedics will be able to get to Jake before things turn ugly, which would be best for everyone.
Then again, if he holds it together and produces, examining whatever the circumstances yield or don’t yield will be fascinating and no doubt the footage substantial. But we won’t know until it’s over.
“I might not draw anything,” Jake told me at his studio one afternoon back in December. “It might be that 10-hours or 2-days go by and I become catatonic, and they have to wheel me out.”
He said this with a grin, but also with the knowledge that such an outcome is entirely possible. Though, it will probably be fine—It will probably be fine, and Jake will probably make something wonderful. But there’s really no way to tell. I would be worried for him, but I know better, and explorers have always been risk takers, and it’s interesting, and we’re talking about Art here, so safety be damned. This is the kind of kamikaze action the world needs, and we’ll all be better for it.
And furthermore, if anybody is going to go crazy live on the internet during a weeklong performance-installation involving sensory depravation in the name of Art, it should be Jake Fernandez—because I know in my heart that he would want it that way.
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“Jake Fernandez is a contemporary artist with a unique translation of pictorial structure and approach to the depiction of light and space. Dealing largely with landscape imagery, his paintings, drawings and photo-collages are at once accessible and mysterious. The viewer's perspective shifts position from distant observer to inhabitant of his constructed worlds. Drawings, paintings and photo-collages range from small to large in scale.” —Point Pleasant Studios
Three weeks ago Jake invited me to ride with him to visit the Maitland Art Center, where Seven Days and Sixteen Hours at Parchman Farm will take place and where his Constructed Landscapes exhibition is currently on view. He had to tie up a few loose ends there, and the museum’s curator needed to take his picture, for promotional reasons.
It was hot that day, but I brought a sports jacket along with me anyway because I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I did know that guitarist Pat DeLeon from Miami would be coming as well, and that he and Jake were old friends and that Jake had asked Pat to provide a musical accompaniment for the project. The nature of Pat’s contribution had yet to be determined, but it was hoped that such would work itself out during the trip.
Like Jake, as a boy Pat DeLeon emigrated to Miami from Cuba during the Revolution. They both grew up in Miami, and it was my understanding that, during their formative years, Jake and Pat both came to develop an unconventional approach to things in general. In short: They are a pair of old hippies, who are still going.
Jake Fernandez started this trip a long time ago; you can tell by looking at his portfolio, which spans 34 years.
During those years, Fernandez stayed on the course he set, and made a successful career as an artist without ever selling out or even really playing the game. He earned a B.F.A. from UF in 1976 and M.F.A. from USF in ‘79; and for Jake, the 1980’s were total New York City bohemia. He made art and lived wherever and somehow it all worked out and he used to eat lunch with Joey Ramone. Then, when their son was born, Jake and his wife artist Linda Chapman moved the family to Bradenton, where they’ve chosen to live and work at their Point Pleasant Studios for 26 years.
Despite the large gap between him and the Art World, Jake Fernandez has earned representation from the prominent ACA Galleries in NYC and his artwork is included in ten permanent collections throughout Florida, New York, North Carolina and Chicago.
The plan was to meet at Jake’s house downtown, where the studio is, and gear up for the drive to Maitland. On my way over, Jake texted me that he was running a quick errand and that Pat would let me in. I parked my car in a lot behind the big house and went and knocked on the door. The door opened and Pat DeLeon popped into the day like a jack-in-the-box, so exited—he’d just made the drive from Miami and was going on no sleep but was charging, enthused about everything, telling me ideas for songs to go with Parchman Farm and grabbing an acoustic guitar and playing them for me in the studio and then out to the back porch because I wanted to smoke, and the whole time Pat exploring further conversationally the beauty of the whole thing. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, he said, because there was something inside of him that he’d thought was gone and Parchman Farm brought it back with a big new energy. It all made perfect sense to him and he was pleased to be there, and was pleased that I was there too.
Jake arrived and we weren’t ready to leave. He met us on the porch and handed Pat a small novelty bag that was among a bunch made with material that Jake’s seamstress had leftover after finishing his Seven Days and Sixteen Hours outfit, which she’d fashioned from antique cotton pickers’ sacks that he’d provided.
Jake bought the huge sacks online and took them to the old Spanish seamstress and explained the project, and what he needed, but gave very little instruction and left much to her judgement. The outfit turned out like a priest’s, though there is nothing holy about it. Jake will wear it throughout the installation.
On the road it was fun and pleasant with good conversation and stories. It was a fast drive, with Jake and Pat talking about old Miami days or discussing American Mafia history, and other things, like a performance art rock band that Jake played guitar for as a teenager. At every show, he said, they made a point of it to not be invited back—they would deliberately taunt the audience with offensive antics like playing the same riff for thirty minutes without ever breaking into the song. A riot would ensue, and they’d run for their lives.
Hearing this was hilarious—we all laughed very hard—but it was not at all surprising. Because beneath Jake’s soft spoken suburban exterior is a well-hidden anarchist. His approach to painting involves a process of deliberate demolition and reconstruction, in which he makes chaos from order and turns it into something brand new. It is a subversive concept, that I won’t take the time to discuss here; but I’ve no doubt that the devilish influence in Jake’s modus operandi pushed him to Parchman Farm.
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“... and whosoever was not found written into the book of life
was cast into the lake of fire ...” — Revelations 20:15
We arrived in Maitland and checked in at the museum before going to lunch at a nearby cafe. Jake spoke briefly with curator Rebecca Larson, who was coordinating the installation and had been instrumental in bringing it to fruition, and Pat and I inspected Jake’s Constructed Landscapes exhibition which was housed in the main gallery. We moved quickly through the rooms and stopped at each piece multiple times and went back through them again the same way. Before leaving the gallery I stopped and asked the young receptionist what she thought of 7 Days and 16 Hours at Parchman Farm.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s very ‘New York’ and we don’t usually host this kind of thing. Everyone’s excited.”
At lunch, Jake ordered sausage and Pat and I both had salmon. It was a good meal. The Maitland Art Center is a beautiful place—founded as an art colony in 1937 by American artist and architect Andre Smith, it is now a registered historical landmark and is among the few surviving examples of the Mayan Revivalism movement in architecture of the 1920’s and 30s.
The design gives the Maitland Art Center the feeling of an intimate fortress. The grounds are surrounded by a white cement wall and there are many small studios where different artists work. The studios are all connected by winding sidewalks that turn in and out around well kept yards and trees and flowers and sculptures and in the yard there is a fountain and pond. The grass was very green and it was refreshing. I thought it would be a good place to work.
Across the street from the studios is a chapel and courtyard constructed in the Mayan fashion even more dramatically. Pat and I walked around digging all of this, taking pictures and goofing. In the courtyard I remember saying something like “This is where Juliette killed Romeo” and Pat agreed.
Every artist or employee we came upon seemed to be unsure how to accept us. We were a pair of foreign invaders who they had to be polite to, and we had a good time exploiting the relationship. We somehow became separated and when I finally found Pat again he was at the car with Jake unloading his guitar. I asked Jake what was the vibe. He laughed and said, “She said she didn’t know I was bringing a crew along with me.”
“Wrecking-crew’s more like it,” I said.
Pat had his guitar case and camera bag and sunglasses on and his hair was all spiked out and the three of us walked to an office where Rebecca Larson and three or four other staff members were waiting at desks and chairs. They were all young women and they were nervous in a polite kind of way. Everyone faced Pat who sat on a plastic chair in the middle of the room and was getting set up with his guitar and harmonica, rapping jokes and easing into the show.
“This is what ya get after spendin’ time in the box,” Pat said, smiling, and strumming the guitar. The nervous smiles lit up around the room and eyebrows raised over the smiles and somebody laughed. Jake leaned against the back wall and smiled, I stood by the door and dropped my tape recorder in my pocket to catch the song.
Coming Soon: 7 Days and 16 Hours at Parchman Farm, Part-Two
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