By Laura Durston, Inside Out
Artist Jeff Koons referred to the gallery as “the arena of representation,” and in the modern world the definition of these arenas is delightfully smudged.
Art is not confined to buildings designed specifically for it; instead it is found in the very design of buildings. Installations presented in hotels, restaurants, parks and other public spaces, allow this art to be enjoyed by a large number of people.
In Cayman, the new Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa provides yet another arena for some fortuitous and well-deserving artists to display their work.
Numerous local artists are featured in the hotel, using a variety of media, from the sculptures by Horacio Esteban and Shervin Rankin, to the photography of Heidi Bassett Blair, and the catboat masterpiece of Capt. Kem Jackson. InsideOut takes a look at some of the artists featured.
Visitors to the 4,000-square-foot, two-bedroom penthouse presidential suite or hotel spa will enjoy three pieces by artist Kaitlyn Elphinstone, an interdisciplinary artist who has worked with photography and digital art, as well as natural materials.
“I tend to favor creating work that speaks to our relationship with the natural environment,” she says.
Adorning the walls of the presidential suite, two pieces entitled “Wrapped Seed Pods 1” and “Wrapped Seed Pods II”, feature seed pods wrapped in vibrant threads, beautifully framed and mounted on a crisp white background.
Kaitlyn says she has always been interested in the human relationship with the natural environment and creating beautiful images that speak to this relationship.
“At first glance, the wrapped seedpods could be seen as a striking, delicate, perhaps feminine image,” she says. “After further consideration the viewer may begin to think about how these pods, full of seeds, have been wrapped, framed, put behind glass – and the potential for germination has been lost. For me, the work illustrates our very human desire to control and contain our natural environment.”
Filling a large space in the spa is a sea fan artwork by Kaitlyn, entitled “Woven Sea Fan”, which consists of 15 sea fans woven together with natural fibers.
In the future, Kaitlyn hopes to create a new body of work based on the history of silver thatch and rope making, and has been in contact with the Cayman Islands National Museum with the hope of making this collection a reality.
Many may be familiar with Shervin’s remarkable tale of his 180-degree maneuver from a career in finance to the life of a master furniture-maker, and his post as a top volleyball player. As well as furniture, he has also turned his hand to making sculptures from natural materials.
Shervin has been creating art for as long as he can remember. “Being artistic is in my blood and runs in the family,” he says. “My family has a long tradition of carpenters and creative builders.”
‘The Seafire commissioned quite a few pieces from Shervin, and showcases four wattle-and-daub sculptures stretching the width of one wall in the elevator lobby, two at basement level and six in the private bungalows.
“They were familiar with my work and thought I would be a good fit to bring the pieces to life,” he explains.
Principal hotel designers, Ted Berner and Dayna Lee of Powerstrip Studio, designed the pieces and brought Shervin on board to bring their vision to fruition in a process that took three months. “I enjoy a challenge and welcomed the opportunity to display one of my many hidden talents,” he says.
The Seafire also features a driftwood applique (sea grape tree sculpture) with microfiber leaves and grapes created by Horacio Esteban and inspired by his research on driftwood artists around the world. The piece, which took six weeks to complete, is 10-feet tall by 12-feet wide, and is installed on a curved wall in the hotel’s kids room.
Esteban began his artistic journey as a child in Cayman Brac, starting with drawing, painting and carving cedar before moving on to sculpting coral, limestone and Caymanite, as well as studying lost wax bronzing in Italy. With regards to a preference between all the media he has dealt with, Esteban says: “It’s hard to choose a favorite because each medium has its own spiritual journey attached. It’s a toss-up between stone sculpting or bronze work, but I must admit there’s an incredible sense of pleasure in the randomness of driftwood sculpting.”
Esteban is currently creating a line of driftwood-style cedar sculptures, functional art, lighting accessories and wall mounts which are accented with Caymanite embellishments, as well as some overseas projects.
While Esteban finds inspiration in too many artists to mention, he says: “I find a great sense of satisfaction in Renaissance art, Egyptian art, pre-Colombian/Indian etc… their sense of accomplishment with minimal tools truly offers a glimpse into man’s creative genius.”
Hanging above the living room area of the Seafire’s lobby is Miss Ola, a striking Cayman catboat, lovingly restored by master boat builder Capt. Kem Jackson, who is also vice president of the Cayman Catboat Club.
Catboats are an important symbol of Cayman’s seafaring history, having been used for travel, transporting goods, turtling and fishing. According to Capt. Kem, there are only about seven original catboats left, so protecting them is vitally important.
Miss Ola began life as Blew Bayou, built in the early 1990s by Elford Dilbert from the Brac.
After a career as a fishing vessel, and some time spent dormant and unused, she was modified to a racing boat by Rommell Ebanks before Dart Real Estate purchased her in 2015 and passed her on to Capt. Kem for restoration.
Capt. Kem spent nine months, and a total of 300 hours, restoring the catboat – a job he says he nearly refused due to the vessel’s bad condition. However, he decided to take on the challenge. A man of many talents, Capt. Kem jokes that the only things he can’t fix are broken hearts and empty pocket books.
He stripped the boat, removing paint, rotten wood and screws, before restoring the vessel to her former glory for a new life as an important cultural installation, now named after Capt. Kem’s wife Miss Ola.
The Seafire isn’t quite finished with his unique talents just yet, and has also commissioned 13 to-scale mini catboats for its apartments.
Heidi’s photograph “I would rather be in New York”, from her Plastic in Paradise series, is featured in the Kimpton Seafire’s lobby. The photograph depicts a young girl in a swimsuit holding a Vogue coffee table book entitled ‘The Editor’s Eye,” while standing at the end of a dock with cruise ships behind her.
Heidi has been shooting the series for more than 12 years. “Just when I think the series is finished, I come across another scene or idea that inspires me to add to the narrative,” she says. “The inspiration is environmental. I have attempted to create a colorful commentary on the interplay between the factory made and nature. I invite the viewer to question this relationship in an artful way as a motive to prompt change.”
Heidi began her photography journey in her teens, and completed a master’s program at New York University in her early twenties. She has developed from black-and-white documentary photography to fine art, and has been inspired by photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark and Annie Leibovitz, films such as “Beasts of a Southern Wild” and “Big Fish”, as well as various architectural spaces and experiences.
“The creative process is inspired from all sorts of varied life experiences well beyond the visual arts,” she says.
Represented by the Benrubi Gallery in New York, Heidi’s in-the-works projects include an architectural project in Cayman and a jewelry line.
Visitors to the quiet room of the Seafire spa will be lucky enough to view a sculpture entitled “Necklace and Tassel”. Made from 30 cross-sections of one logwood tree from roots to tips, as well as a tassel of thatch rope fashioned from the silver thatch palm, the piece represents Cayman’s seafaring history. The materials were integral to Cayman’s maritime identity and reputation.
The logwood pieces for the installation were provided by Monique Polack, who worked with the Powerstrip Studio design team to bring them to life.
“The preparation of the pieces took approximately six months,” explains Monique. “I worked with Shervin Rankin, who also has many of his own design pieces at the Kimpton, to prepare the logwood cuts for display.”
Monique reveals that creativity is a common interest in her family, with her husband and daughters all having talent in the arts. “I am not an artist but love creating and collecting, and art is very much a part of our lives,” she says.
The awe-inspiring 26-foot driftwood sculpture hanging above the Avecita bar is the work of artist Tansy Maki, and is the result of months of driftwood collection from all of Cayman’s shorelines.
“My inspiration was the Caribbean Sea – the shape and structure of waves and the ecosystems,” says Tansy. “I wanted to create an organic piece that conveys the movement and fluidity of ocean waves.”
At present Tansy is working with a range of natural materials, creating custom standing, suspended pieces or wall hangings, much like the Kimpton Seafire art piece.
“The organic colors and patterns found in the natural materials are stunning,” she says.
Tansy is also continuing her well-known mural work, concentrating on commissioned textile pieces and teaching an art youth program.
Art has been Tansy’s passion since she can remember and was encouraged by her parents from an early age. She attended private classes and also worked in the Vancouver film industry, set decorating, working with props and undergoing set scenic painting.
“I have been blessed to have a very hands-on, experience-based career that has always been creative,” she says.
Popular ceramics trio 3 Girls & A Kiln is made up of Aimee Randolph, Claire Rohleder and Deborah Kern.
The group has many pieces throughout the Seafire, made both collaboratively and individually. A large, cutout vessel sits on the center table of the lobby, various plates made by Deborah adorn the library, two vessels made by Aimee sit on the bookcase adjacent to the library, and large “whoosh” vessels can be found in the presidential suite, also crafted by Aimee. More is to come as Claire is working on a large-scale spray of orchids for the lobby check-in table, while custom trays and ‘amuse bouche’ utensil stands are in the works for Ave restaurant.
The lobby vessel was inspired by a previous creation by Deborah that she shared with the hotel designers. The lace-like pattern lends itself perfectly to candle votives inside, and the chosen glazes incorporate a sand-like texture as well as a blue water-like coloring on the bottom glaze.
Outside of the Seafire, the girls are busy preparing for a new and expanded line being introduced to Kirk Market throughout the year, and well as an in-store ceramic experience and custom orders they receive through their website.
The warri game board, created from Cayman mahogany, which sits in the lobby of the Seafire, was created by cousins Wray Banker and Deal Ebanks.
The piece is called “Out Onna Limb,” and of its design Wray says: “We let the materials dictate where we go with them. In this case, along with some specific requests from the client, the driftwood look.”
Both men began their artistic journeys at a young age. “I was seven when I got a pocket knife for Christmas, and I started carving from then,” says Deal, who then took wood carving and metal shop in high school and trained at a welding and technical institute in Houston.
Wray also started young, and has a picture of himself drawing in the sand when only a few months old. He studied graphic design formally and his fine art skills soon followed.
The two talented artists began collaborating after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. “Bored, and with a lot of available wood and recycled materials, everyone loved what we did and here we are (today),” explains Wray. “It’s funny to see how our genetics and our Caymanian traits kick in when we work together.”
He also notes the importance of infusing their Caymanian heritage and culture into their work.
The cousins are very complimentary about each other, and their collaborations seem successful due to the different skills each brings to the table.
Deal, whose silver thatch rope was also used for the hotel’s grand opening, says he’s inspired by Wray.
“He encouraged me and showed me how to create fine art and turn ordinary things into fine art that is still functional,” he explains. In turn, Wray relies on Deal’s knowledge of woodworking.
“I love working with wood,” says Deal. “The smells, the colors, the feel, the warmth… it has a way of showing you what it wants to be.”
Wray, on the other hand, finds it hard to choose a favorite medium. “I do still love simple ol’ pencil and paper, you can do anything with those,” he says.
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