The mantra of “Support Local… Buy Local” is a hash-tagged command as ubiquitous as #duval, #beer, #coffee, and #cannabis. Crystal Floyd is as supportive of local businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors as one can be: She’s been instrumental as a visual artist, long-time curator at all three Bold Bean Coffee Roasters locations, a crucial, steady force in keeping the polymath energy of CoRK Arts District on point, and all-around participant and certain presence in the Northeast Florida arts scene.
Yet Floyd’s truest localism and absolute loyalty is under, behind, above, and beyond any vegan bakery, record store, or crowdfunded boutique start-up. The natural world is her all-embodiment of the creative realm. Whether through assemblage, 2D work, or even her crafts-geared terrarium pieces, there is a recurring exaltation of what is not human.
“I use found objects and scientific specimens that some may consider to be of little worth to honor the lives and cycles of creatures that have left their earthly bodies while incorporating them into a greater narrative,” explains Floyd, masked up, socially distanced, and kicked back in a funky antique chair in her studio. She wants to “evoke nostalgia and wonder” in her audience. “Hopefully this will cause a ripple effect of increased compassion, creative thinking, and caring.” Interestingly enough, while Floyd’s intentions are defined and her follow-through is evident, she hopes for a kind of anonymity when it comes to how her work is shown. “I don’t want it to be about who made it or how it was made; but rather about what [the art] or what it means to [the viewer] personally.”
There’s an effective mix of materials and ideas that inhabit Floyd’s pieces. The husk of a cicada and an ivory cherubim are harmonized with a shard of bone. Tall glass jars placed in custom-built shelves are filled with a miscellany of feathers. Horns and weathered wood create occultic crowns; in one of her many miniature, diorama pieces, the Devil guards the inner hell of a rock crystal, shaking a gored body for good measure. Scarab beetles fly as de facto sun gods on the sky of a kitsch postcard. In her high-ceiling studio space in CoRK West Studio 4 that she shares with artists Olivia Carr and Jamie Jordan, there’s a demarcation that occurs on Floyd’s side of the space. Butterflies and ornery black bugs pinned in place on surfaces, an ongoing taxonomy study that will never end, along with well-organized shelves and drawers buckling under the weight of stacks of books.
Some usable items she seeks out during her many outings into the Northeast Florida deep woods and remote springs; others are gifted from other artists and fans of her work. “People do still bring me gifts and I still totally love it, you just never know what might come in the door,” says Floyd. “I’m willing to take the risk of experiencing some awkward exchange, which usually ends up being a great story, for the sake of curiosity and possible treasure.”
Philosophers from Plato and Spinoza to William James and Bertrand Russell were convinced of a panpsychism; essentially that all of reality is a single mind, or at least mind-like. Floyd’s work, collectively and in singular, delves into a kind of logic and structure that is spontaneously familiar and wholly cryptic; or at least diffused. There is a compositional rhythm that keeps her work two beats ahead of purist naturalism, and a fiery sense of the morbid that burns away any notions of it being based on simple artisanal craftsmanship or pastoral day-tripping.
During the actual moment of creation, Floyd experiences a shift in consciousness that is akin to tapping in, an invitation to the Other. “When I am in the zone, time has no meaning and it feels like my whole brain is an active participant in the process. Cycling through contemplation, observation, and creation elevates my mood and keeps up my momentum.” While she retracts from any overt labeling of “mysticism” in her work, there is a humming animism by proxy: a crackling life-force flapping, diving and crawling behind glass, readied to slip through one’s fingers and slither back into the brambles and ferns.
“The closest I have been to feeling overwhelmed by spirituality is when I’m standing on the edge of something that is so vast or ancient that you have no choice but to reflect and try to find your place,” she explains. “The redwood forest, a mountain, the ocean… these sacred spaces where you can return to find yourself over and over again. If I can bring even an iota of that sentiment into my work, I would consider that a success.”
She describes herself as a “whittler,” which could be seen as a modest overview of what she does and can do. Floyd is DIY on pharmaceutical speed; or, considering her love of flora and fauna, ancient-lichenous entheogens. If Floyd needs to build a large-scale wooden frame, she’ll obsessively study carpentry until she feels confident enough to fire up the circular saw. Just glancing around her studio, it’s evident that all of her pieces are exhaustively personal—from foraging for insects to wiring tiny bulbs for lighting to cutting delicate glass. Her studio is in the ground zero of local arts, where bartering is as common as bumming a beer, but she is a problem solver, and this obsessive drive to learn (possibly even discard) newer skills and immerse herself in fresh environs seems as crucial as unearthing any prima materia.
In early 2018, Crystal Floyd’s mother Nancy passed away. She says that the after-shocks of losing her mom still ripple through her life. “I think I tried to do art too soon after my mom died, like pretending everything was normal. I think it’s really important to not make any important decisions while grieving, because I think there’s a part of your brain that just shuts off.” Floyd suffered loss early on, at age 20 when her father died. Now at age 40, she says that the grief over her Mom’s death was almost overwhelming. “You’re numb to things and you’re on autopilot. You’re in this survival mode. After my mom died, I don’t remember that month. I could not tell you anything that happened that following month. And three days after she died, I had to write her obituary? You gotta give me a f*cking minute.”
Floyd inherited her mom’s house, and gradually began sorting through the past while creating more space for her present life. Just prior to last year’s lockdown, she really leaned into transforming the place into a home. Standing by her immense work area, she places a butterfly on her finger. “At my mom’s house, I’d spend an hour cleaning, and then an hour gardening and it canceled out the bumpiness. Now I have a butterfly garden there. You can always find ways to make that kind of pain tolerable.”
While her face is covered with a COVID mask, Floyd’s excitement about art and inspiration isn’t muffled by current national events and her eyes punctuate the moments when she shares the things that fire her up. “I really love this book,” she says, handing me a small letterpress book by the artist Teagan White, simply called Obituary. “It’s essentially a collection of obituaries written for all of the pets she’s had to bury.” This leads to her offering praise to the famous golden cloth that was created by more than one million golden orb–weavers (aka “banana spiders”), then shifting our attention to the “regenerative cycle” evident in seemingly every life/death/decay/rebirth loop on our planet. Which in turn leads to her speaking glowingly about the artist-scientist Neri Oxman and how Floyd can get fired up and motivated by seeing the latest piece by CoRK artist, Overstreet Ducasse.
Floyd is excited about once again collaborating with artist-educator Jim Draper for his latest project: Radical Naturalism. Along with Draper, she will be joined by artists Doug Eng, Betsy Harris, and David Montgomery. Floyd was a key participant in Draper’s 2013 large-scale arts rumination, Feast of Flowers. “It’s a multimedia project that focuses on encouraging observation and participation in the natural world,” Floyd explains, of Radical Naturalism. “And a closer examination of the individual role and responsibilities we all have to our environment.”
We’ve been talking for three hours and could probably talk for three more. I joke that COVID-19 proves George Carlin’s blunt view that Mother Nature is fully equipped to take care of herself (“You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people in Pompeii who are frozen into position from volcanic ash how the planet’s doing.”) Filmmaker Werner Herzog has created a cottage industry in illustrating, in cinematic awe, how the natural world seems hot-wired to reject, if not kill, humanity. Considering the inherent environmentalism in her work, along with mankind’s gleeful blood orgy in decimating the planet, Floyd doesn’t protest the idea that we are just another part of a cyclical nature that seems refreshingly indifferent to the world’s most toxic parasite—homo sapiens—survival.
“Humans are definitely the ultimate parasite; I am comforted by the knowledge that some cycles will persist whether humans survive or not. I’m not hoping for Armageddon but if the Earth needs a reset, it will be sorted out one way or another. People are so isolated right now but we all have the same problems, whether we’re artists, scientists, or whomever. But the way to engineer solutions is to have these different types of people coming together; it’s so obvious this creates different solutions. The key for me is to keep a flexible mind and be deliberately open to outside influence. I think that we’re realizing, more and more with COVID especially, that time waits for nobody.”
Crystal Floyd is featured in the group retrospective Art Ventures 30th Anniversary Exhibition, currently on display at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, through Feb. 21; cummermuseum.org.
This article originally appeared in Void Magazine’s February 2021 issue under the headline “Gone to Earth: Visual artist Crystal Floyd never goes against nature.”