Xavier Cortada, “(Florida is…) Florida Panthers,” archival ink on aluminum, 8′ x 20′, 2015.

Conceptualized during Xavier Cortada‘s residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artist Residency in Captiva, Florida, “Florida is Nature” is based at Pinecrest Gardens.  It asks Floridians to define their state by its natural environment, not by the edifices and man-made encroachments that displace nature.

As an elementary school student in Miami, Xavier Cortada would visit Pinecrest Gardens, then known Parrot Jungle, to learn about nature.  Now he’s back in that green wonderland as its artist-in-residence, exploring the intersection of art and the environment and creating and exhibiting works capturing Florida’s natural beauty.

Cortada uses different media – some are created digitally, others are painted or drawn, but all are informed by some aspect of Cortada’s childhood memories, by his current practice as an artist with a strong environmentalist message, or both.  Some works hang in public venues, including several Florida Turnpike plazas, admonishing viewers to find better ways to coexist with nature.

Images of wildflowers have origin in his childhood forays into the wilds of his family backyard.  Some of the most endangered animals of Florida including the Florida panther, the wood stork, the red wolf, and the Miami butterfly find their way into Cortada’s public works, as if asking to be acknowledged one last time by the public before facing certain extinction.

Of special interest are the pieces that depict diatoms, single-celled organisms that live in the water and harness the power of the sun to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. When a diatom dies, all that remains of it is a glass shell. Scientists today use the remains of the diatom to understand the past in order to decipher environmental issues crucial to South Florida in the century to come.

Although “Florida is Nature” began as a permanent public art commission, its reach expands beyond the commission site as an ongoing participatory art project encouraging audiences to care for Florida’s ecosystems.

Cortada’s hope is that by bringing his engaged practice to Pinecrest Gardens, he can encourage others to explore and become curious about the natural world that captivated him as a child, raise awareness about environmental concerns, and establish a platform for community conversations and actions to protect Florida’s nature.