In Juan Prieto's photograph "The Submariner," a 20-something sports a gentleman's gray frock, a leather stovepipe hat and brass goggles, posing against a background of tangled wires and water-pressure gauges. In "The Aviator," a female pilot in a burgundy velvet waistcoat, leather corset and partially unbuttoned blouse wears an aviator crown cap. And in "The Entertainer," a woman dons fishnet stockings, Wellington boots, a chemisette and a brown-lace skirt.
If the romantic period fashion in Prieto's photos sounds borrowed from the pages of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, it's hardly accidental. Found in the photographer's dozen portraits at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines is the retro-futuristic realm of steampunk, a subculture that intersects fantasy and time travel, imagining a future filled with all the timepieces, parasols and steam-powered technology of the Victorian era.
"I wanted to imagine what kind of characters would exist as a result of this steampunk age. There would be more dirigibles, probably, big machines, but no electricity," says the 51-year-old Pembroke Pines artist, whose oversize prints, dangling from clothes-hanger wire in the gallery, are part of the new "On Common Ground" group exhibit at Studio 18. "It's a weird theme. I mean, I'm a retired firefighter. I grew up reading 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Time Machine.' That's it. But I'm not a nerd. Absolutely not. I'm a science geek, but I keep it real."
The show opens Friday with a steampunk-themed reception, a night that will be appropriately adorned with a display of period accessories: boots, goggles, gas masks and copper-painted ray guns ("they're actually Nerf guns," Prieto says, laughing). But "On Common Ground," which also features the works of Studio 18 resident artists Maria Wieder, Joni Esser-Stuart, Beth Amato, and Tom and Lynda De Vita, is as much about steampunk as it is about the "ways we filter art through our own perceptions in the world," curator Robyn Vegas says.
"It's not all steampunk art. Our perceptions of art reflect music and society and politics in their lives," Vegas says. "So the exhibit is mainly about how art is a universal language. Each artist took that theme and shot off in very different directions."
The works of Tom De Vita and his wife, Lynda, depict several deities, including the Hindu goddess Saraswati and Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, among others. Maria Wieder’s paintings, meanwhile, show sepia-toned portraits of family members.
For her series of abstract digital prints mounted on recycled aluminum plates, Amato takes snapshots of ordinary objects — incense holders, hat boxes, LED lights — and feeds them through a "Photoshop blender." For example, in a 10-image series on glass napkin rings, Amato processes hundreds of shots in Photoshop, stitching and hand-painting each frame. The result: abstract images of orbs and fractals, each rendered with brilliant color.
"I take low-tech things and present them in a high-tech way," says Amato, 42. "I'm inspired by all the utilitarian playthings that people take for granted, so I put them in photoshop and add coloration and layers upon layers of animation. People say I make it look easy."
On Common Ground
When: Through Sept. 26 (opening reception: 7-9 p.m. Friday)
Where: Studio 18 in the Pines, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines
Contact: 954-961-6067 or Ppines.com/Studio18