Sunday, September 6, 2015

There Are No Other Everglades in the World: Jim Couper at the Frost

Like so many places on our continent -- Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Badlands -- Florida likewise has its own unique geographic features, one of them being the object of an art exhibition that will be opening at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU. The show, titled There Are No Other Everglades in the World,  features oil paintings by Jim Couper, professor emeritus in the Department of Art and Art History at Florida International University, and the founding director of the Art Museum at FIU. The Florida Everglades are the artist's favorite place to paint but over the course of a lifetime he has witnessed the Everglades' decline.

According to museum director Dr. Jordana Pomeroy, "Jim Couper’s vision is expansive. What appear to be straightforward depictions of sky and water are, in fact, complex statements about the stability and fragility of the natural world. The intricate Everglades ecology exists nowhere else in the world. Couper’s approach to painting the landscape is not that of scientific documentarian but a personal expression of awe and respect — like a spiritual revelation: that which has been is that which shall be."

What follows is a brief insight into Jim Couper's roots and other insights.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in art as a career?

Jim Couper: When I was very young (sub teen), I lived next door to a professional artist who was married to my first cousin. Bill (Hendricks) was a terrific artist and a very kind and generous man.He allowed me in his studio and showed me a few techniques. I remember being awestruck by what I was able to do. I felt like art was magic. No subsequent experience had the same effect on me. That is true today. From that early age, I knew that (despite strong parental resistance) my career would be in visual art.

EN: When did you begin making conservation of the Everglades an important part of your life mission?

JC: My first visit to the Everglades was in 1955 when a friend of mine and I came to Miami from Atlanta on Spring break. In addition to the usual spring break misbehaving, Ken and I visited the Everglades. I had never seen anything like it. The seed was planted. In 1963, I finished graduate school at FSU and moved to Miami. My son was born here in 1970. He (Max) and I spent a lot of time in the Everglades fishing, exploring and generally hanging out. The initial seed began to grow rapidly, and before I knew it, so did my concern for its protection. Since then, this concern has been a fundamental component of my paintings.

EN: What are some unique features of the Everglades that most people are unaware of?

JC: The Everglades is frequently an acquired taste. Many visitors are initially unimpressed by its flatness, its monotony of vast expanses of sawgrass, its countless waterways, etc. It requires a lot of time and patience to experience the fantastic light changes, the night skies offering perfect displays of astronomical wonders and its system of changes in water depths, which influence what, how and where things grow and change.

EN: What media do you work in and what is the appeal for you in this?

JC: I paint with oil on canvas. I have tried most other media and found that nothing compares to the richness and sensuality that oil provides. It is the perfect medium for landscape painting with its bold forms, rich surfaces and infinite atmospheric variations. It is ideal for working wet into wet, a very specific method of blending.

EN: Do you have a website where people can see more of your work?

JC: No, and this is by choice. As I have gotten older, I have realized how precious time is. I try to minimize my time for tending to everyday chores and maximize my time for my work.

* * * *

The title of the show is drawn from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas' classic book The Everglades: River of Grass begins with the statement, "There are no other Everglades in the world." Couper has written, "These eight words not only express the singularity of her subject, they also imply a warning about the fragility of this unique treasure."

The opening reception for its fall artists from 4-7 p.m. The show features Carlos Estevez: Celestial Traveler, Jim Couper: There Are No Other Everglades in the World and Rufina Santana: Cartographies of the Sea. All their work is very exciting.

For more information on the Frost Art Museum visit

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