I’ve taken about a thousand photographs of mangroves in my life, but none of them ever looked as good as a John David Hawver painting. Take a look at my photograph of mangroves on the left, below. There's pretty much four tones to it — brown, white, light green and dark green. Now look at Hawver's "Roots" on the right. I see teal, sky blue, tan, yellow, white, peach, sage green, purple and bright pink.
Mangroves often take center stage in Hawver’s work. When I asked him why, he said, “we don’t have many other trees in the Keys — just palm trees and mangroves.”
Hawver was a commercial artist in Miami before computers made his job obsolete around 1992. So he took an early “retirement” and moved to Islamorada. He’s been living and painting in the Keys for over 20 years now.
Like most migrants to the Florida Keys, Hawver doesn’t miss his corporate job one bit. When I asked him what he loves so much about the Keys, he gestures at the paintings around him, “water, sky, warm weather, water, nice people.”
There’s a lot of water and sky in Hawver’s paintings of the Keys. And mangroves and sunsets. They’re subjects close to the heart of any true Floridian.
You see it every night when people congregate at the waterfront with their cell phones at sunset. We all want to capture that perfect Florida sunset on the water. But cameras have their limitations, and so does nature.
What Hawver does with his paintings is remove those limitations. He can take a single tone, like a green body of water, and split it up into a kaleidoscopic variety of tones using impressionistic brush strokes.
We are left with an image that isn't exactly what we see in real life. It's better. It's like the paradise we have in our minds when we close our eyes and think about the Keys.
"Looking at John's paintings is like being in a motion picture, driving down the Overseas Highway," says Gallery 114 curator, Carolyn Kossar. Each one is like a promise — a promise that you are about to embark upon the best adventure of your life.
Sea The Light | Gallery [email protected] Ybor, Performing Arts Building, first floor, 1411 E. 11th Ave., Tampa | Through Mar. 7: Mon., Wed., Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tues., 12-7 p.m. | 813-253-7000, hccfl.edu/yborgallery.