Lisa Parker Hyatt’s Miami imagery hits home

With a nod to her Miami roots, Lisa Parker Hyatt seamlessly combines whimsy, color and familiarity in “Fish Out of Water.” Courtesy artist With a nod to her Miami roots, Lisa Parker Hyatt seamlessly combines whimsy, color and familiarity in “Fish Out of Water.” Courtesy artist

Even though she lives in the nation’s capital now, Lisa Parker Hyatt can’t leave Miami behind.

“I spent most of my life in Miami,” explains the artist, whose richly colored paintings are included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the archives of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

“What I love about it is that light, that light and color. I carry the imagery of it with me: the palm trees, the flowers, the beaches, the clouds.” She pauses. “I don’t carry the mosquitoes.”

“Fish Out of Water”
Main Gallery at PVCC
Through November 8

Known as a key artist in the late 1980s resurgence of Miami art, Hyatt creates large-scale works that feature interior spaces caught in transit: shifting light, gliding clouds or birds, the implied passage of a paper airplane. Bright flowers and childhood objects, such as plastic Godzilla toys and Hello Kitty icons, sometimes make a surprise appearance.

“Often my things are very serious, but this body of work is my most humorous,” Hyatt says, referring to her latest exhibition, “Fish Out of Water,” currently on display at the PVCC Main Gallery in the V. Earl Dickinson Building.

“It was fun to do these formal pieces, these flower arrangements, with plastic toys like My Little Pony and Jesus in the water,” she says. “They’re both plastic and they’re both made up by people. I hope I’m not offending anyone.”

Even in Hyatt’s black-and-white works, Miami makes an appearance.

She references a large still life of tulips with a miniature Buddha submerged in the glass flower vase. A fake rubber alligator poses in front of this tableau, its jaws open and—in Hyatt’s opinion—complaining to the Buddha.

“Albert [the alligator] is my muse,” she says. “I love alligators. I have a real one, a stuffed one, in my studio that was from my grandparents’ grove in Florida.” Its name, too, is Albert.

The cast of characters in her work comes from the eclecticism of her own interests. “I go from very highbrow to very lowbrow. I love Fellini and I love any Godzilla films,” she says.

As a child, Hyatt also loved comics books, and to this day she keeps a book in which she sketches cartoon-like pictures of herself thinking thoughts and doing things in the world. Despite this self-reflective practice, she says it wasn’t until college that she began consciously creating art from her real-life experience.

“A long time ago, when I was an undergraduate at the University of South Florida, I didn’t know what I was going to paint about. It would be like a writer who doesn’t know what she’s going to write about. I turned to a graduate student and asked, ‘How do you know what you’re going to do?’ He said, ‘The best thing I can tell you is I do what is familiar to me.’”

That’s when something clicked. She began exploring the spaces she lived in—literally. Recalling the geometric frames of comic books, she focused her attention on rooms.

“Rooms are incredibly personal,” she says. “People live in these spaces and never look at the spaces they’re in. Most [of the rooms I paint] are imaginary, though they’re based on real places, from my homes over many years.”

At first, she says, she studied the “unbelievable clarity” of Miami light as it moved through different spaces. In her paintings, she realized, “I could start using it for metaphors for different concepts. Light dashes through a room like thoughts dash through you. Light moving through frames moves you through a narrative in the work.”

In time, Hyatt found additional subjects, including her own paintings.

“I have canvases laying everywhere in my house. Bare stretchers, stretchers with linen on them ready to go,” she says. “I used my old undergraduate works as portraits. I’d lay pink and blue next to each other, and they became metaphors for people touching each other.”

The surprising evolution of her work keeps her coming back for more.

“That’s why I named the show ‘Fish Out of Water,’” she says. Though there’s a literal basis for the title, including a painting with fish flopping out of their vase and another with plastic sharks in the water, it refers more broadly to her process.

“That pivotal moment of stepping into your studio and picking up your brush is something new every time,” she says. “I get into a different zone, and just like that, I’m swimming.”

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