EXPIRED: 01/12/10 – Flo McGarrell, 36, an artist who specialized in sculpture constructed from recycled and organic material and plants, was born in Italy, grew up in various places in the US but made Jacmel, Haiti a home.

It was an unfortunate place to call home on January 12th.

McGarrell’s parents were expatriate artists living in Rome at the time of his birth. Father, James, was a painter and mother Ann, a writer and poet. They returned to the states when McGarrell was 8 years old and encouraged their child’s pursuit of the arts.

Born a female, McGarrell identified strongly with androgyny since childhood, and began formally identifying as a male as an adult. But gender reassessment was brought about through a limited amount of hormone therapy—not surgery—and was radical to say the least. He would often be seen with a miniskirt and beard and described himself as “a total gender mash up” and “as a non-passing transperson.”

McGarrell got a Masters degree from Maryland Institute College of Art, and co-founded Little Big Bang, a non-profit arts organization in the Baltimore area. After teaching digital arts for a while, McGarrell studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This was the beginning of a hybrid sculpture format which combined inflatable spaces with light, sound, and video projection. In 2007 McGarrell experimented in sustainable living as sculpture.

Recent work utilized strongly color-coordinated plastics to create interior/exterior spaces, and living plants to create functioning vegetable gardens, also situated indoors and out. McGarrell’s installations were created, as much as feasible, from discarded, recycled materials. Gardens functioned from recycled grey water and included hands-on, instructive material on creating compost at home and the artist’s own recipes for meals designed from both a nutritional standpoint and their palatability.

A fondness for travel landed McGarrell in Haiti in 2008 to open FOSAJ art center in the town of Jacmel, near Port-au-Prince. On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, a devastating magnitude 7.0 M earthquake centered approximately 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, leveled buildings throughout Haiti, including the “Peace of Mind” Hotel in Jacmel. McGarrell had just stopped off to visit with a relative there and was killed instantly.

As recently as September, McGarrell had a well-received exhibition at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, Vermont. Buckets of tomatoes hung from the ceilings. Outside, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers hung in old detergent bottles and other recycled containers.

Attendees thought it was extraordinary. And so was Flo.



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