Visualized: The Church of Holy Colors
The Church of Holy Colors is an artistic meeting ground consisting of studio space, a venue, and an ever evolving installation based in Gainesville, FL. Within the walls of this once dilapidated church, the art collective, Milagros, use the multipurpose space for creating beautiful wall to ceiling murals and installations for truly open expression. The Church is also used for hosting shows for some of Florida’s finest musicians as a way to compliment the visual aspect and to create an overwhelmingly beautiful sensory experience. I was fortunate enough to sit down and talk to Evan Galbicka, Felici Asteinza, and Joey Fillastre about the Church of Holy Colors, music, and their recent exhibit in New Orleans.
What is the Church of Holy Colors? And what’s your vision with the space/collective?
Evan: The Church of Holy Colors is a physical sanctuary for Milagros art collective. MILAGROS is a Florida based collective comprised of a varied and ambitious cast of artists and musicians.
Joey: The objective of MILAGROS is to reinforce individual strength through collaboration. Mutual respect and trust allow for a free environment for evolving creation. Elements of play and spontaneity culminate in surprise and elation. Synchronicities and serendipity birth a new mysticism, based in the celebration of growth.
Evan: Joey, Felici, and I are the main visual artists, although we have collaborated with others and remain open to that possibility. The Church [of Holy Colors is a place where we can make installation art and have a studio practice without the censorship of institutions. It is a free-space as much as possible for those that cherish it and labor for it. The Church also possesses an unexpected pleasant energy for its location, nestled off Main St. in the most industrial area of town, which is ironically close to Paynes Prairie (a state park).
I envision The Church of Holy Colors as a multi-function art space, where full scale Milagros installations, open to the public, transform the space into a magical interior for people to experience as they wonder in or make a pilgrimage, and where Milagros artists may always find a space to create artwork. Also, along with the holistic implications of installation art, I feel the need to grow closer to our plant friends in the garden, and populate them around the church grounds, since they add such a healing and beautiful presence to the space. We are expanding the garden and increasing composting, rain-water collection, and animal husbandry in the present-future.
How did it all get started for you guys?
Joey: Evan and I made art together a lot in high school. We used to work in a studio that our friends mom owned. We called it “The Shop”, and it was our first taste of pure artistic freedom. There were lots of materials, and I had the key, so we could work late into the night and not have to worry about a curfew. The Shop was connected to a greenhouse, and there was a giant orchid vine that grew over the entirety of a small brick courtyard out back. The vine had hundreds of beautiful white orchids, and it was really inspiring to me.
Evan: Felici and Joey met in college at FSU while I attended University of Florida. We started collaborating in Tallahassee at the Milagros space in Railroad Square, while at the same time I became caretaker for the Church building during its second run as an art space. We were all in school, and it wasn't until I graduated from UF and Joey agreed to quit his teaching job and move to Gainesville that The Church of Holy Colors really began. Felici immediately joined us after her internship at the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center and we all began painting together the inside of The Church and hosting shows for our friends' bands.
What are some of your main influences, visual or not, for your art?
Evan: Nature, Psychedelic Experience, Abstract Expressionism, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jeffry Astin, Alvin Fillastre, Felici Asteinza.
Joey: I’m influenced a lot by cooking. I feel like the motions of chopping and alchemy in cooking translate into my painting style. I’m really drawn to pattern and organic development. I am kind of all over the place in art though. It is really hard to pin down one thing that defines my direction. I am mostly inspired by the people around me. A lot of my visual influences come from thinking about what my friends are making, and what we could make together. I make art for people to experience, and I really try to entertain and surprise people. The desire to do so fuels my ambition, pushing me to work as hard as possible for every show.
Felici: Rituals and altars heavily influence my art practice. I’ve been interested in art for a really long time now. I really like the work of: Helio Oiticica, (Tropicalia movement, 1960’s Brazil), Yayoi Kusama (crazy Japanese dot lady), Keith Haring, Katharina Grosse (huge all-over paintings executed with a paint cannon) and Pepon Osorio. My other two huge influences are Pee-Wee Herman, and Black Sabbath.
You guys have been hosting shows, allowing musicians to practice, and including live performance as a part of your installations. What made you feel inclined to start adding auditory elements to your work?
Evan: Sound has always interested me because of its ephemeral nature and its powerfully moving potential. I became interested in sound as an art form when I met Jeff Astin (founder of Housecraft, Xiphiidae, Digital Natives...) in Gainesville (although he is also from Lakeland). He introduced me to, what he calls "organic noise music," which spawns from the well of psychedelic experience found in free musical experimentation and improvisation, which I felt an affinity for, given my attraction to abstract expressionist painting. The two of us collaborated on music projects for Housecraft and several performance art pieces before The Church of Holy Colors. Since then I have found myself surrounded by incredible musicians. They are all my most favorite bands, and I want to give back to them for the beautiful music they create that enriches my life everyday. We envision making auditory experience and musical performance more ingrained into the fabric of installations at The Church.
Joey: I love the music that my friends are making. They do something that I can’t, and vice versa. I think that the relationship that we have is very symbiotic. We try to make the musicians feel really honored and comfortable. Something about performing in an installation seems to unify the musicians and audience, giving a deeper interpretation of the music and art. It creates a more memorable experience for the spectator. Also, we are maximalists by nature. We try to make each show as loaded as possible, and adding music has been a pretty obvious direction to our art.
Felici: We take so much inspiration from the community of musicians around us, The aesthetic that we’ve been creating the last couple of years loans itself to be inhabited and photographed. Something about it feels cinematic and dream-like already, so adding a live performance creates a brand new experience that is even more ephemeral than just being inside of the space. Facilitating a place for musical performance is extremely important to us, and something that’s easy to do with so many talented musicians in the state. Growing up in Panama City, FL, shows were like our cultural life boats, how we knew what was going on in other places. The church becomes a venue for us to have those cultural life boats in Gainesville, done our way.
Has music always been a major influence for you guys growing up?
Felici: Music was something that was always around me, my father was very into Black Sabbath and old Fania Salsa music; it was something I fell in love with at a very young age. I began playing guitar in high school but never really did anything with it and started working at a record store. From that point, I started hanging out with musicians and I really haven’t stopped. I’m a very avid collector of cassettes and vinyl, my musical taste is extremely eclectic and always growing.
Joey: I have always been influenced by music. I was never really serious about making music, but I’ve always respected it. I had the privilege of growing up with an older brother who introduced me to good music at a young age. I think he really got me into it.
Evan: Yes. It [music] was something that I could enjoy with my family and my brother, something we could all share an emotional experience through, and it was something that brought my friends together, something we could get excited about and go crazy over. It was also the first art form I pursued intensively, and as a result opened me up in terms of self-expression.
Milagros recently had an art show in New Orleans. Tell us about your exhibit and experience.
Felici: New Orleans was great, and crazy. We worked on two shows during the month we were there; one at the Contemporary Arts Center, and the other at The Aquarium Studios. We worked a lot and played a lot. The CAC is an incredible venue that is starting to show some really interesting work; it was a great experience to be working in a place that was so established and large. Navigating the ins and outs of any institution can be extremely tricky at points, but we had so much help from our friend and curator, Lindsay Barfield. The piece we created for the St. Joseph Street display windows is called “Swamp to Swamp”. “Swamp to Swamp” is a multi-dimensional painting created by MILAGROS founders Joey Fillastre and Felici Asteinza. “Swamp to Swamp” navigates the waters between Florida and Louisiana, elaborating upon what unifies and makes each place unique. Pattern and color are utilized to depict uncontrollable forces at play. The vocabulary of pop converts the natural world into a vibrant narrative. Unlikely characters resonate through an explosive terrain, creating dialogues of re-growth and invasion. We are so happy to be showing work at this space (where I used to intern) and it will be on view until April if you are around New Orleans ☺. The people that we met there were incredible and vibrant, something about that city just clicks with our aesthetic. They just get it naturally, the joyous nature of it is something that is really translatable to the carnival/mardi gras vibe there. Being in a place that is bursting with life and simultaneously falling apart in ways was incredibly inspiring for Joey and I. So many things are starting to fruition in the arts community there; there is this attitude that it can all be done and happen in New Orleans. It was amazing to see so many people working together to make the Endless Gaycation event we were involved in such a success! Working with Jacob “Reptile” Martin at the Aquarium Studios was so positive, he was so open to our ideas and allowed us to completely invade his space. I would highly recommend working there to any artist or musician who is looking to do something in New Orleans. Domino Records is an incredible music store, one of the best I’ve been to; no trip to NOLA is complete without going there.
What are some of your plans for the future?
Evan: Caravan Tour!!!! We want to get all the veg buses touring together and making pop-up incredible shows across the country. Art Basel 2012!!! We will be creating an installation in the Collector’s Lounge at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, where Hundred Waters will play one show.
Joey: My hope is that the church becomes a self-sustaining space where different artists and musicians come to work for years to come.
Shout outs: Jane Jane Pollock, Levek, Euglossine, MSNRA, Elestial Sound Records, Hundred Waters, Jazz Prison, our sculpture dog, Jourdan Joly, our manager Colleen Matthes and our head of photography Courtney Asztalos, Uncle Dan, (the bearer of the heavy metal cigarette), Daddy Davis, Brett Buster, our girl Ursula Mann!!, USF’s MFA candidates for the class of 2013 HYENA PACK!, Central Square Records, Uncle Rambo Barfield, Al Fillastre (our biggest fan), all members of the GBC, Carrie Ann Baade, Ramblin’ Rose Upcycle, Bob “The Bus Man” Downes, The Council of Wise Chris’s (Fillie and Miller), Eddie Kromer, Kyle Bob, BEAU knows, and last but not least the Tiny-Waves Crew!!