A different type of oil change went on during lockdown at a mechanic shop in Miami where an artist found a full-time job at the peak of the pandemic outbreak. The resulting 19 oil paintings created among vacuums, tires, and commercial mop buckets now comprise a new exhibition.
A frenzy of colors delivered mostly in impasto style sets up the scene of a sedated machine undergoing a dissection or diagnostic test, in Last Flight. The car spreads its silver doors like a winged alien creature while surgery is performed on it. Lifting equipment aids the procedure, but we have not been made aware of the risks posed by an environment that is clearly far from sterile. Before long, we find ourselves concerned about the fate of this metal box, as if it were a living being. Empathy is a recurrent theme throughout Mechanics: Recent Paintings by Jefreid Lotti.
On view through Sept. 18 at the Coral Gables Museum, the exhibition consists of anecdotal paintings inspired by the daily dynamics of Lotti’s family’s auto repair shop, where he works. Despite the frenetic compositions — all of which are spontaneous, not staged — the pieces are studies on solitude and endurance. They also project the “essential” nature of a mechanic’s job. At the time the pieces were created, most businesses were closed but the shop was fully operational; mechanics literally kept the wheels turning.
That could explain the speed and energy with which the artist produced the works on display. His application of paint is not consistent throughout the show or even the same painting; areas of flat color appear next to impasto and, in some spots, color landed on the canvas straight from the tube.
The industrial landscape filled with tool chests, oil drums, and electric fans is rendered in heavy textures and bright colors. Inanimate objects crowd every inch of the surface overwhelming us at times. No human presence is detected, but the vibe doesn’t exactly spell ghost town. Instead, Lotti has given the objects the lead role in an improvised musical showcasing drilling sounds, loud voices, and pushing-pulling gestures. This imaginary soundtrack and choreography accompany our gallery walk, which is brief and restricted to a narrow hall to the left of the greeting counter.
As seen with Transmission Pump and Vacuum, Lotti zeroes in on particular angles and objects, intentionally cropping peripheral activities to elevate the moment or the machinery to higher realms. That is the case with an untitled piece that anchors an orange folding crane to the center of the picture, giving it the effect of a glossy modern abstract sculpture. These snapshots are somewhat calmer and concentrate on one mundane task at a time.
The Havana-born artist doesn’t spare any details. Although our eyes gravitate toward the yellow Volkswagen Beetle levitating with the help of a crane in Don’t Leave Me Dry, he makes sure to include the Pepsi vending machine and water cooler located in the adjacent room. They are barely visible, but supply those hard at work with crucial substances that keep them going.
Lotti moved back to Miami in 2020 after cutting short a teaching residency at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. Shortly after, he started painting in the mechanic shop after closing time.
In a way, Mechanics reflects an artist’s ongoing need for experimentation and transformation. Humans are not excluded from the acts of removal, mending, and replacement of parts. We do ignore our internal computer and postpone the diagnostic test sometimes. Lotti does the opposite, tending to the internal turmoil brewing by examining and treating his immediate surroundings.
Mechanics: Recent Paintings by Jefreid Lotti, runs through Sept. 18 at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission: $12. Call 305-603-8067 or visit coralgablesmuseum.org for more information.