Florida-based artist Ilan Neuwirth’s aims to spark vibrant joy in others. His pop art pieces feature a mix of neon and bold hues that leave an everlasting impression on spectators. From deep bliss to passing euphoria, Ilan’s art tries to explore the shades of happiness in the human experience, and to inspire people towards some measure of joy.
2019 AWARD WINNER
SPOTLIGHT AWARD SCULPTURE AWARD
Strip away the matching handlebar and seat, and the brand name, and the bell, which draw our eyes in the store. Highlight the parts of the bicycle that do the work: the wheels that move us, the pedals that connect us to the ground closer to the cities that we live in because we can feel the air across our faces and hear the voices in our neighborhoods as we leave the places we’ve been and go towards the places we will have been. From Los Angeles to Lagos, from Malmo to Mumbai, the vast gulfs of language, religion, culture, and wealth, people are connected by the very things that are deeper than those. The promise of a bicycle is that a person can move herself, on her own volition; though the streets might be narrow, or crowded or treacherous, that it’s within each of our own power to propel ourselves.
Think back and smell the 1960s: smell sunflowers and denim, revolutions around the world powered by love. The Americans and Russians were launching themselves into space, and on earth young people were defining themselves with music that demanded whole-body movement and art that used their own bodies as their canvas. A generation of young people was making more love than they could hold on to, was ready to be free, was tired of conflict and ready to spread peace. Jazzed and trucking’ for a gas, their scooters got them through town and burgeoning suburbs to the places they could be together. This generation saw that they could change the world instead of being changed by it. If they hung tight with one another they could all contribute what they had: from the cool heads and real gone cats to the squares and Melvin’s, they were all greater together than apart.
Lobsters don’t age. The older they get, in fact, the younger they get. At 50 years old, a lobster can still run as fast as the quickest footballers, backwards, to get away from trouble. Their six legs could help with their speed, but when they run, they run with their abdomens. And when they grow, they grow strong: new muscles form in their exposed bodies. The lobster often tries to hide inside a burrow as it moults, filling with water and swelling, changing color and growing back appendages lost in fights. Because of its speed and the hard shell, it presents to the world, this is the only time the lobster is vulnerable, and so it retreats. But because of those several hours it takes to itself, the lobster grows stronger, bigger, and prepared to take on what would have intimidated it before.
If people don’t have power, they’ll play music. Electricity can charge a song, but it doesn’t create the song—only a musician can do that. The song comes from somewhere deep inside, is fueled by a community, a town, sunshine, a group of friends, and a story about who we are and who we can be at our best. As fire can burn wildly without a match, so too can music play without a plug. The record spins here not because a current is ordering it, but because a person on the other end wants to hear the song and is able to turn the gear himself. In this older, slower style, playing the song becomes no different from playing the song. The listener becomes the one who makes the music happen, the musician. The original analogue music player, which we can take anywhere, share with anyone, and if we look closely at the grooves, we can see the music is there, pressed directly into the record. An aural experience becomes a physical one, so that we can watch the music without needing the singer in front of us.
Despite human beings’ best efforts, sharks have long run the greater part of the earth. The shark lives for decades where the human can only go for hours. Wherever the shark goes, she makes her home. And the shark prefers an orderly home. In the shark is home, the fish know where to go. The shark gives the other fish a reason to stay in a school, close to its friends and family. The shark gives the other fish an excuse to lounge in a sponge or a sea anemone, to take a breather and relax. When the shark is home, every fish has its place. And if a fish is gobbled up by the shark, it’s what the fish had expected as soon as it saw the shark. The fish aren’t afraid of the shark because they share the same home; only people are afraid of the shark, because they’re strangers to us.
Blue Water Boat
A shrimp boat called the Blue Water, still likely resting on top of the sea but lost to time as far as anyone is concerned. A blue boat that taught a young man how to rig up the sails and travel at the wind’s pace. When the saltwater air begins to smell like freedom, and the horizon reflects the sun’s descent, and the crew’s feet acclimate to the motion of the water, then the young man learns that the world is not for sitting still but for traveling. The wind and the water cause us to move; to be stationary requires effort, to be malleable is natural. That boat teaches the young man how to read receipts, and that the Earth provides food. The ocean will teach him the rest that he needs to know, including how to listen.
Alcohol is hardly the only thing intoxicating at the bar. It certainly isn’t what brightens dim taverns at night like the stars. Even the fluorescent lights hanging off the wall have little illuminating power compared to the friends we find, much less the ones that find us. Even in the din of chatter and the jukebox playing some ‘80s hit on repeat, we can hear a joke and feel our own laughter take over ourselves. We can still see the darts track across the room, the humble pride of hitting the bull on a lucky throw and turning back with a smile to your friends, the squad, your crew, if only for the night, as they emanate pride so you can practice humility. Shame turns into comfort when you return to them from picking out a dart you had lodged in the wall. This is a dance we do with our hearts and not our hips.
Brake When Broke
The house has its secrets, but the gambler has hers as well. Somewhere, the house is training its dealers and croupiers, teaching them that the most important rule is that the house always wins. The gambler is teaching herself that in the event of emergency she can focus and train in the very skills the house doesn’t expect her to have. Because behind most of the house’s secrets is the house’s treasure, and the house’s last secret is that its treasure is attainable. The gambler only needs to concentrate on the cards, to be confident so that nothing shows on her face, and she can attain all the things that are being kept from her.
Free and Wild
The deer sleeps late at and long into the day, taking advantage of dusk and daybreak to find snowberries, blueberries, and strawberries in the spaces between homes and wilderness. He’s attuned to the world around him, living for twenty years and walking in his first twenty minutes, he can see twigs snap and smell bears from a mile away. His world is one of bark and grass, but his eyes can see the shades and colors that light up the nighttime. He knows to sleep because the maple and sycamore leaves begin to change, and he sleeps among the pines, in the pockets of the forest where people protect him from predators, and where predators protect him from people. The deer runs free when he runs and rests heavy when he rests. When he wakes up with the flowers in the spring, he sheds his antlers to start a new season with the weight of the old taken off his head.
Out in London and New York, they played guitars made of mahogany and maple. They played songs that reverberated across the world. But in Johannesburg and São Paulo, ash wood and spruce were hard to come by. That never stopped them from playing the music they felt. If they couldn’t carve the wood, they could still use what was at hand, what had been discarded as trash. But the artist never sees trash: they see things not for what they are, but for what they could be. So, they stuck pick-ups, and necks, and strings and made a music that didn’t sound like anything in the rest of the world because it sounded like their neighborhoods, their friends, their histories. Their music, music which will sound different every time it played because every day is a different reason to celebrate, imbued with the excitement and ingenuity of creation because they had made both the music and the tools to play it.
Did Ponce de Leon find paradise on Pascua, among the panhandle’s porpoises and panthers, palmetto and palms? We sent Spain away and then John Glenn off into space; the sunshine and sable state, sunscreen’s for our native son. We re-wrote “Old Folks at Home,” and our orange juice overflows. We barely blink when water breaks at Biscayne Bay, and the bonfires at Bradford Blues burn while we we bailamos el bolero con nuestros novios en la noche. The moon is la luna, and we could watch it until it goes to sleep just to keep the evening in our eyes. Follow the green Everglades, from the Kissimee to the Florida Bay, and the coral cay Keys. Here it’s as humid as hot, but it’s hardly a hardship, because here is our home and here is our heart.
The bottom of the hull carries with it the remains of all the journeys the boat has been on. The boat picks up rust and coral from the water, and more as the boat goes on another journey. Over time, as the boat is painted by the wind, water, and seagulls it becomes as much its history as its future. The crew lifts cages from the water holding somebody’s dinner. Consider the lobster once thought of as the rodent of the sea until we learned how to cook and study it, to appreciate and be fascinated by it, so too does the crew change. Sunburned roughnecks during the storm become the closest companions during the calm, and on the land, they offer pride and wisdom to their children. The sea changes things; even as we try to keep up with it, the water’s most important lesson is change.
Children are fascinated with the tugboat’s power. A ship stuck at sea, anchored, is pulled into loops by the waves. The tugboat, a tiny thing, breaks the water’s hold on the ship and carries the ship until it can carry itself. The biggest can tow aircraft carriers, ships the size of cities. The image of a tugboat in operation must be what draws children: it can look like a young boy carrying his father on his shoulders. The smokestack exudes black smoke as a deckhand tosses a cable to a captain and his crew in need of help; the cable is minuscule in the scale of the ocean, but the size of the solution can conceal its power. When the great ships are weak, the tugboat is strong. Even the biggest ships, which have conquered the ocean, can’t always save themselves. The tugboat, a tiny thing, is fearless.
Live Slow Paddle Fast
Live slow. Drink a Mai Tai under the palm trees, barefoot in green grass counting the clouds until the moon comes by. Paddle fast. When the blue ocean waves crest and it’s your time to fly across the ocean, looking down at all the people on the beach and the world beyond, you’re one with the current itself. Live slow. Because a mojito pairs with the sand beneath your toes like red wine and steak. Because there are roses you haven’t stopped to smell yet. Because life is long if we live it slow enough. Paddle fast. Don’t be afraid of falling in, because the ocean was made to be fallen into. Knees are supposed to be scraped and hearts are built to be broken. Live and love like it’s the only way to heal. Live slow, because you’re already where you need to be. Paddle fast, and you’ll know that it’s true.
Capture Sounds in the Air
Sometime in the last century a group of Chicago inventors realized that sound can be captured in the air and sent through a tube in a box so that fathers and sons could sit together in the living room on Saturday nights, when the work was done, and listen to the Sox play from miles away. They called it a radio. Its freed music from stuffy concert halls, ball gowns and tuxedos, and brought it into dining rooms and offices. It brought soap operas into kitchens and waiting rooms, stories of human life to people who needed to hear them, voices that offered companionship to people who were alone. And those voices who were willing to reach out from a studio far away, to experiment with this jumble of tubes, wires, and lights, went on to define a generation and cultivate a culture.
In a studio, behind a pane of soundproof glass, in a booth with a single microphone and a stool, there’s no way to recapture the vibrancy of live music, the heat of the lights and the swell of bodies moving in tandem with the music being played on stage where the music comes of fingers and lips nervous because live, whether there’s a crowd of ten or ten-thousand, the musician captains the crowd, directs it to move, sway, cheer, and cry. The musician becomes the crowd. We can’t recapture that feeling, but we can search for it. The mixer lets us dig into the music, break into it and search it for the feelings that it’s burying, to elevate the hidden things in the music so that hearing it later becomes a personal experience between the artist and the audience. The mixer lets us hear not just what the musician plays, but what he feels.
Red, Right, Returning
For centuries, the lighthouse has told sailors when they’re getting close to home. But a lighthouse can only show us the way home: it has nothing new to tell those of us leaving land, heading out into a sea and trusting the water below us. Instead, we rely on buoys to tell us where the edges of safety are, and which direction we should travel in. We travel alongside them on seas with questionable floors, placed there by those who’ve been on this channel before us, who’ve experienced the danger that we don’t have to. They guide us out to open sea, where they disappear because the floor is dangerously deep, or towards land, where the ground can support us. In either event, there’s only so far, they can guide us before we must trust ourselves, that we’ve learned through our time among the buoys how to get it right.
Root of Art
Out on the Pacific Islands, the Sono trees blot out the sun. They’re as tall as apartment buildings, and wider than most people are tall. And yet, they would tumble with the slightest gust of wind or wave of a child’s hand if it weren’t for their roots. What we see is majestic, but impossible without all that we don’t. As a master painter can’t paint a masterpiece without years of training, or a chef can’t cook her finest meal without eating a thousand others, so the mightiest trees can’t grow an inch without a firm network of roots buried deep beneath the ground. These roots tangle with the soil, the animals who make the ground their home, to build a network of supporting, sharing oxygen and nitrogen, the fuel that keeps the forest alive. We don’t see it unless we dig, but we’re in awe of the results.
Hang loose, keep your body light and your limbs limber so the waves can carry you up, up into the sky where the sun and the birds can greet you. A hand symbol that says more with less than our vocabularies could. Shaka – it’s a little bit of good advice, but it’s also a sign that you’re in the right place, among people would catch a rap barrel even at the risk of wiping out, and where no one is a benny if they’re willing to drop. We speak without words where the waves crash too loudly to hear, and out there the only thing we need to say is to celebrate being together. Hang ten toes off the edge of the nose, pointing towards the shore and feeling flecks of water shaved off by the board, and smell the salt wafting up.
Ahoy - Hullo - Hello
When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he had a grand vision of people around the world answering it with the phrase sailors had used to call out to each other for a century: “Ahoy!” He thought of people in their homes as sailors, calling out to one another, an image that’s stuck around in our minds today. But Thomas Edison, the great marketer of inventions, wanted a more casual greeting, something that would make users of this device feel as though they were standing right next to each other: “Hello.” Edison’s suggestion won out in the end, as people did, they a close connection to those they talked to on the telephone, the human voice bringing them closer together than physical distance could push them apart.