Arts + Culture

In Living Color

Fort Myers artist David Acevedo’s colorful paintings riff on his native Puerto Rico.

BY June 20, 2020
David Acevedo, who is also the cofounder of DAAS CO-OP Gallery & Gifts, has a show at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, planned for July 3-31. Called Introspective, the exhibit reflects on the influential Fort Myers-based artist's career with new works that incorporate techniques, stories and places that have shaped his art. Photography by Vanessa Rogers.

For David Acevedo, the countdown is on. “I am counting the minutes—counting the seconds—until I’m 49,” says the Fort Myers painter.  

For him, that’s the triumphant age when he can retire from the government job that first brought him to Florida, back in 2000, at the age of 23, shortly after he’d graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a visual arts degree. That’s also when the 44-year-old sees himself being able to put all his energy into painting, the passion that’s captured his interest since childhood. 

Acevedo has the special ability to live fully in the present while dreaming of the future. It’s fitting that his July show at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, called Introspection, is planned as a retrospective of sorts. “For artists who eventually get to do a retrospective, it’s a great achievement but also something you may never get to enjoy or see yourself,” he says. Instead, the painter wanted to be the architect of his own show, taking into account the stories, styles and times that have been most significant to him as an artist.  

The exhibit—slated for July 3-30—showcases roughly 35 new pieces that revisit Acevedo’s earlier techniques, with multimedia paintings full of references to his youth and the places and people he remembers from growing up in Hatillo, on Puerto Rico’s north coast.  

 Islands in the Sky, a three-painting series that will be part of the exhibit, addresses the resilience of the Puerto Rican people. Bright reds and blues on the canvases are rendered with playful brushstrokes and whimsical embellishments (ladders, avocados and banana trees, among them). But the paintings, at their core, are a study in lessons the artist learned early on in life about resilience and the durability of human connections. “On an island like Puerto Rico, we know how to detach and survive,” Acevedo says. “We know there’s trouble, we’re going to go through hardships, with earthquakes and hurricanes. But we’re not going to cry ourselves to sleep, we’re going to get up and move forward.”  

In preparing works for the exhibit, Acevedo was inspired to revisit techniques he’d turned his back on in recent years, when he’s tended to focus on a more purist approach to painting. Some of the pieces in Islands in the Sky are larger than his usual format, too, on  5-foot-by-6-foot canvases that incorporate mediums like acrylic spray paint, pencils, oil pastels and enamels to convey a riot of emotions. “I’d gone a long time using only acrylics and had somehow gotten it in my head to be a purist with one medium,” he says. “Now, I’m finding that’s not me.”  

Acevedo is not an artist who can be boxed. While his work is often pegged as abstract expressionism, he sees what he does as more intuitive. “I have to paint whatever I want in the moment with the techniques I want, with no specific restrictions,” he says.  

A recent piece, “Brother” (mixed media on canvas, 36×48 inches), touches on racial issues and features the face of a boy in tones of red and black. His piercing eyes appear starkly rendered. “I’m trying to let everyone know that I’m also affected by this division we feel, and that we are all brothers and sisters,” he says.  

Ladders, seen in several works, reference the bridges between people. In the neighborhood where he grew up, there was always a neighbor to offer fruit from an avocado tree or a fresh loaf of bread. These symbols also point to connections that have been vital to the artist since his early days in Florida.  

When he arrived in Fort Myers in 2000, Acevedo experienced culture shock. “First I thought there was no art scene, and I freaked out a little bit,” he recalls. But soon after, he started meeting artists, like the prominent painter  Marcus Jansen, and became entrenched in growing the city’s budding creative community. 

In 2006, together with artist and longtime friend, Xavier Brignoni, Acevedo founded the David Acevedo Art Studio, which eventually moved downtown and became DAAS Gallery and, in a later evolution, the DAAS CO-OP Art Gallery & Gifts, currently located at the Butterfly Estates campus in the Gardner’s Park neighborhood. The gallery represents 16 artists, who collectively run the cooperative with a focus on supporting creative thought and experimentation. 

The artist’s work is seen throughout the city, including in his studio space at the Alliance for the Arts’ Union Artist Studios, where he shares space with eight other creatives. Recently, Acevedo’s  “Neighboring Towns” graced a billboard near I-75 and Alico Road, as part of the Art Lives Here project, which transforms billboards into canvases for public art. The painting is an abstract representation of his hometown in Puerto Rico and references the connections between cities, towns, barrios and streets.  

Acevedo—who also co-founded the downtown Art Walk, an event crucial in developing Fort Myers’ arts—still feels the pull of his native country and hopes to do projects there and in other places in the future, but his role in fostering local art has deepened his connection to the city. “I want to do stuff in Puerto Rico, I want to do stuff in Europe, but I have roots here now, too,” he says. 

He finds satisfaction in supporting local artists and plans to continue doing so, while also honing his own craft. “We have the potential to be an art destination like anyplace else,” he says.

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