Despite being friends for more than 10 years, UM alumni and Miami-based artists Jacqueline Gopie and Martin Casuso hadn’t done an exhibition together before. When the offer to curate a showing with Gopie arose, Casuso gladly took it.
“I love Jackie’s work,” Casuso said. “When we went to school together, I always admired it. So, any time to show with somebody whose work you like is always a good opportunity.”
Pieces by Gopie and Casuso share the spotlight in “Work and Play,” the latest exhibition at the University of Miami Gallery in Wynwood. While their work is different in medium and subject matter, both Gopie’s paintings and Casuso’s sculptures use bright colors, bringing life to the walls of the small gallery.
Gopie’s art is unique and purposeful. Each piece is not only made to be appreciated or brighten a room, but to influence real change within her audience. Much of her work consists of scenes of Black and brown kids playing and enjoying leisure time, channeling a sense of freedom and safety that is not usually associated with children of color in media.
“It’s not common to see Black and brown children in a fine arts environment,” Gopie said. “In terms of having fun playing, usually you see images of Black and brown children — they are sort of in this environment of deprivation. They’re inner-city, Black kids making the best of their environment. Or they’re island kids who [are] living in poverty, but look how happy they are. So, I want to change that perception.”
Gopie’s work is meant to be nostalgic and carefree, showing images of children of color swimming at the beach, running through fields of grass or riding bikes. She hopes to use this sense of relatability to override the stereotypical portrayals of Black children audiences may have internalized.
“It’s sort of nostalgic, or it has this feeling of something you can relate to,” Gopie said. “In doing that, it sort of changes your perception, maybe just a little bit, about who’s entitled to freedom, who’s entitled to fairness, who’s entitled to leisure — to be free at the beach. Because when you look at an image of a child hanging out on the beach, in the back of your mind, you know that they are enjoying freedom and that someone is taking care of them.”
Gopie began making art after retiring from the U.S. Army, where she served as a nurse for 22 years and worked her way up to an administrative position in Washington, D.C. Her job had turned into a lot of paperwork, and she found that she didn’t enjoy the emotional labor of patient care. In the end, she believed retirement was what was best for her, but this didn’t mean her career was over.
“I just thought, I’m going to be retired, I can do whatever the hell I want,” Gopie said. “What would be fun, interesting and completely different?”
While she had indulged in drawings and doodles as a kid, she never tried to explore it further.
“I’d never taken any art classes,” Gopie said. “And so, I thought maybe I’ll go to school for art, because that sounds interesting.”
In 2002, shortly after her retirement, she moved to Miami with her partner and began a bachelor’s degree at UM. Initially, she intended to be an art teacher or instructor, but fell in love with painting as an undergraduate. Almost a decade after earning her bachelor’s degree, she returned to UM for graduate school.
Gopie credits her former professor, Walter Darby Bannard, for helping her find her own art style during that time. Coming into grad school, she had learned how to imitate the styles of other painters, but had no distinct style of her own.
“My professor Darby really was a huge influence in terms of giving me the confidence and the courage to just really take steps that I wouldn’t have done before,” Gopie said. “He just gave me a lot of room to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Besides earning her graduate’s degree, one of Gopie’s proudest achievements as an artist is being chosen to receive a Joan Mitchell grant in 2016. She was also granted a residency at the Joan Mitchell Center in 2019.
Graduate school is also where she met Casuso, who was also pursuing a master’s degree at UM for Sculpture. Both artists graduated in 2012 and have kept in touch since. Today, Casuso not only continues to make art, but also works as a Facilities Coordinator at the Lowe Art Museum, located on campus. While his role at the Lowe doesn’t necessarily involve the artwork on display, it still affects his art in many ways.
Casuso incorporates thrifted and recycled materials into his work, giving it a vibrant, new life. Much of his work that is being shown in “Work and Play” is made from materials he was able to collect from the museum.
“A lot of the time with my work, I find that materials will sort of direct me to what I want them to be,” Casuso said. “I find an object and suddenly something comes to mind that I want to create with it.”
Typically, Casuso creates 3D sculptures. However, when working with the materials he collected from the museum, such as vinyl used for wall text and discarded mats, he found himself creating 2D collages instead.
“Those things came together to create these frameable pieces,” Casuso said. “[The idea] started during the pandemic when I was often working alone at the museum. Some of the early ones are a little chaotic-looking, but they became quieter and calmer in the last year or two.”
Since these pieces were simply meant to be something he did to keep himself busy, he hadn’t found a space to show them. When he was given the offer by Gopie to show some of his work alongside hers at UM’s Wynwood gallery, he took the opportunity to finally showcase these.
Milly Cardoso, Gallery Director of the University of Miami Gallery, said the idea for “Work and Play” first came from Chair of Art and Art History, Nathan Timpano.
“The purpose was to feature artwork from our alumni, and possibly host a different alum every year,” Cardoso said. “It was a lot of fun for me to put together. Martin and Jackie are professional, talented and wonderful to work with.”
Since the gallery relocated into the Wynwood Building in 2012, it has been a great venue for the Department of Art and Art History to showcase the work of students, local artists and alumni. It has also helped students build connections with other artists in the heart of Wynwood’s Art District.
“It would be great to have more students come [to the gallery] to see the work that their alumni and student body do,” Gopie said.
“Work and Play” will be available for viewing through March 31. The University of Miami Gallery is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.