Out to Sea at “First Light” with Miami-based Surfer and Sculptor Bhakti Baxter

  • Image courtesy of Nina Johnson.

Surfing is governed as much by the moon as the sun, as much by the ebb and flow of tides as by the shifts between day and night. “First Light,” a new Miami show by Bhakti Baxter, pays homage to those rhythms, both on- and offshore.

It’s a topic the artist knows plenty about. A sculptor, painter, and musician, Baxter is also a surfer who was born in Miami, where he still lives and works. It’s hard to miss the parallel: Being a native, and thus being intimately familiar with local topography, is a crucial value for surfers looking to rule the waves. The same could be said for a sculptor trying to artistically capture that same topography.

And Baxter knows the Florida shoreline well, not only from bobbing in the ocean while waiting for the perfect set, but also from a canoe or as a pedestrian taking long walks on the islands of Biscayne Bay. It was during those walks that Baxter collected the mélange of material—driftwood, feathers, coconuts, buoys tangled in fishermen’s traps—that he transformed into his new sculpture series.

In Coco Loco (Adam and Eva) (2016) and Zoid 2 (Happy heart) (2016), those scavenged materials have been shaped by the sea, their edges softened by rushing water and coarse sand. Standing in Nina Johnson’s contemporary gallery space, the constructions are surreal, at turns otherworldly and comical yet still representational of human heads and bodies.

Also included is a series of water-based drawings, including the eerie and sensuous Kissing Donuts (diptych) (2015–16) and Duodenum, Jejunum, Ileum (2015–16), an ethereal ink on Mylar piece that looks like something seen through a microscope. Nevertheless, each work in the show is unmistakably of the sea, a stark emblem of an underwater world brought onto dry land.

“First Light,” in this case, is not just a reference to dawn, to the surfer’s first ride; it’s a specific surf break near Baxter’s home—a ridge in the seabed that, while not visible from shore, shapes a daily reality for beachgoers. While seemingly the least abstract works in the show, the dreamy, vaguely mysterious surfboards pair nicely with Baxter’s sculptures and drawings. That sense of mystery feels right. After all, when drifting out to sea and peering into the deep while waiting for the next wave, what is more mysterious than those dark, watery depths?


—Bridget Gleeson


Bhakti Baxter: First Light” is on view at Nina Johnson, Miami, Nov. 1–26, 2016.

Follow Nina Johnson on Artsy.

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