Thursday, July 28, 2011

Art For Our Sake

c. Jonathan Hillyer Photography Inc.
courtesy High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Deep into the dog days of Florida's summer, afternoon finds me momentarily at odds with my calling. I should be painting but the drip-dry heat chases me from the studio. My inner editor advises catching up on art books but workers arrive to install a back door. My last refuge for today becomes the computer screen.

One of the first things to jump out at me is how call to artist sites have changed. Scanning an updated list of shows on the Cafe site gave me a chalk art show in El Paso, an exhibition celebrating Edgar Allan Poe in Boston, a photography show about the Flint Hills in Kansas, a ceramic cup competition in Kansas City, an energy conservation art exhibition in Seattle and a competition celebrating Latino, African and Asian heritage.

In my quick glimpse, only one show made a call to contemporary painters - the Portland 2012 Contemporary Biennial. Unfortunately, the exhibition is limited to Oregon artists.

Even at the local level, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of thematic and multi-media exhibitions. Some of the themes have included dogs, tea cups, tiny art, and psychological states. And it is no longer de riguer to attend just art exhibitions. There must also be something interesting going on - a poetry slam, a charity auction, wine tastings, music concerts.

Pity the poor person who stumbles into a gallery of beautiful and challenging paintings and has nothing but the silence of her thoughts to fall back on.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Whose Art Is It?

"untitled", George Sugarman, 1992
Hard times and economic woes continue to decimate art funding at national as well as local levels. The Pinellas County Arts Council, oldest in the state (1976), officially ceased to function this year.

Scratching for ways to make further cuts, some county governments have decided to suspend requirements that new government buildings spend 1% on public art. Hillsborough County has ended this program and Broward County is considering similar cuts.

As sad as this turn of events seems, there is a segment of the population who will applaud these decisions. For this small but vocal group, the spending of tax dollars on what they deem frivolous and even vulgar public art is a travesty and waste of money. Art funding agencies have sometimes capitulated to the demands of a few self-appointed art critics.

Of course, art is where you find it, and it would be most difficult to reach consensus on the merits of a work of art. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was derided by citizens as a piece of junk when first erected. It is now the unofficial trademark of the City of Lights. Picasso's iconic woman sculpture in Chicago faced mountains of scorn, but has since become a photo op for tourists and locals alike.

What changed in these two instances? First, city governments refused to cave in to nattering nay-sayers. They firmly believed that public art belongs to everyone, even art that some believe is provacative. Secondly, with time and open minds, more and more citizens came to, if not love, at least tolerate these public works of art.

Public art has a future in our visual landscapes, but only if it is allowed to be what it is - creative, visionary and thought provoking. Much of what I see passing as public art is actually landscape and building decoration. The public deserves to experience the full range of artistic expression of which artists are capable.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Planet Art In Gainesville

Gainesville Solar Walk,
 Elizabeth Indianos, 2002

Last Monday I made a zippy trip up to Gainesville with my road buddy Casandra.  One hundred and forty-four miles fell away in a blur as Casi juiced her Mazda to the limit.

Arriving in town with time to spare, we went all Jamaican, man, and dined at the Reggae Shack Cafe on West University Avenue. Best curried tempeh I ever ate.

On the way back to her mom's house, we took a small detour and discovered the planets. This collection is a 4 billion to 1 exact scale public art project by Tarpon Springs artist Elizabeth Indianos.

Stretching nearly a mile along NW 8th Avenue, the Gainesville Solar Walk includes the Sun and all the planets in the solar system. At the very end, all by himself, stands Pluto. Downgraded to a planetoid a while back, he seemed at odds in this miniature tableau. 

Next time I will begin my solar walk from NW 22nd Street. From that direction, Pluto will become the numero uno planet or planetoid in the solar system.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Scene One
(Inside the Bungalow home of Todd and Cindi Bowers in an old retro-chic neighborhood.)

Todd:  "I’m going to Bartlett & Adams for potting soil and picking up Jason at Quidditch. Have you seen the Prius keys?"

Cindi: "They’re by the zither where you left them. Oh, can you stop by that new Indonesian market and get fresh cilantro. Melissa and Eric are coming for dinner tomorrow and I want to surprise them with Pod Scum Dass."

Todd (irritated)  "I am so over those two. Ever since Melissa got implants, she’s been acting holier than thou. And all Eric does is drone on about his latest iphone app. (over his shoulder as he exits right) Ok, see you in a couple."

Cindi (goes to the door and calls loudly) "Todd, wait! We’re out of art! Can you stop by Art-O-Rama and get a couple of new pieces. You know how much Melissa loves art."

Scene Two
(Todd and Jason enter sprawling Art-O-Rama store.)

Todd: "We can’t stay long. Mom wants us home for dinner. (looks down aisle of framed paintings) That’s odd. Action paintings used to be here. Ask that stocker where they moved them."

Jason (to stock boy) "Excuse me, where are the action paintings?"

Stock boy (without looking up)   "Aisle 15. Next to analytical cubism."

(in aisle 15 Todd quickly selects two paintings. He and Jason hurry through the express lane and just make it home in time for dinner)

Scene Three
(dinner over, Cindi goes to the multi-media room to hang the new art work)

Cindi (agitated voice) "Honey, they’ve shrunk the art! Come look! (Todd joins Cindi) See what I mean…these action paintings are a full two inches shorter than the last one we got."

Todd: "And look! There’s even less paint on them and only six colors. I paid $6,000.00 for these. What a rip-off!"

Cindi (looking worried)   "We have to do something. Melissa will see it right away. You know how discerning she is. She’s been to MoMA."

Todd (scratching head) "Maybe we can hang the impressionist landscape that’s in the laundry room."

Cindi: "No, it won’t do. Artists who paint nature as they see it are living a lie."

Todd: "How about the Chardin still-life in the garage?"

Cindi (irate) "No, no, you idiot! French genre art is so passé. It has to be ‘50’s action painting, New York School, painted by someone who drank at the Cedar Bar. Now take these back and exchange them!"

Scene Four
(later that evening Todd returns from Art-O-Rama with one huge painting. Straining under the weight, he drags the piece into the multi-media room)

Todd (leans the massive painting against the wall and smiles broadly) "We’re in luck. The Art-O-Rama manager himself waited on me. (points at the signature) Look! Mikhail Gorky! Arshile’s brother. He once got into a fist fight with Willem de Kooning. Cedar Bar. 1952. Lots of action. And it only cost $15,000.00!"

Cindi (hugs Todd excitedly) "Mikhail Gorky! Oh Todd, I’m so excited! Just wait ‘til Melissa sees this. She will have a kitten!"

How Cool Is This

In a previous post, I wrote of the art mecca that St. Petersburg has become. Along with the Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection & Morean Art Center, and the Museum of Fine Art, add numerous galleries and art studios. The Downtown 'Burg is a one-stop shop for viewing and purchasing art in all media.

This weekend add one more stop on your cultural itinerary - The Cool Art Show. Now in its 23rd year, the, dare I say, venerable show will again spotlight some of the most creative art in the state. It's free, it's indoors in the remarkable Coliseum and it's COOL.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Artist Finder

A new web site has been launched that promotes Florida artists and their studios. It is called Artist Finder and will use a combination of web site, YouTube and Facebook to promote artists and their work.

One of the most important aspects of the site is to encourage studio visits and purchases from patrons. As outdoor shows have proven, patrons love to talk directly to artists and gain first hand knowledge of how and why artists create. The added feature of studio visits allows patrons an opportunity to enter the artist's world and view the totality of their work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jerry Uelsmann At Harn Museum of Art

Jerry Uelsmann (born 1934)  Untitled , 2003
Gelatin silver print
19 3/8 x 15 in (49.1 x 38 cm)
Collection of the artist
© Jerry Uelsmann
In 1965 I arrived at the University of Florida ready to shock and awe the masses with my art making ability.
It did not take long, roughly one semester, to realize I had seriously overestimated my talents. Mostly, it was a couple of hippie graduate students who quickly showed they could paint circles around everyone.

The other person who brought me back to earth was Jerry Uelsmann. It was me in awe from the first I saw his rich darkroom creations. How did he get those elegant images? How could I achieve such feathery chiaroscuro? It was then I discovered that photography could also be art.

What I learned most from Jerry was how to really see the world around me - not just cursory glances, but focused observation. I learned to use my eyes first as a viewfinder and only then look through the camera. A personal design sense would come later, gradually. It helped tremendously that I was able to observe first hand the photographs of a master.

Now through September 11, The Mind's Eye, 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann at Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hidden Lake By Marjorie Greene

Here is an excellent example of the printmaking technique of artist Marjorie Greene. Marjorie is also a gifted painter and teaches at St. Petersburg College Clearwater campus. These prints, titled Hidden Lake, are reduction wood block prints, which means that after each color is printed, that part of the wood block is cut away.  At the end, very little of the block is left. Thereafter, no additional prints may be pulled.

The editions are small with only six prints of each image. The size is 24" x 41" for the outside two and 18" x 41" for the center panel.  The prints will be on view at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art on the St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs campus in August and September.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Re-Birthing By The Bay

Last Saturday, in one fell swoop, a friend and I completed the trifecta of downtown St. Petersburg art museums. First we viewed the shimmering glass creations of The Chihuly Collection, took a gelato break and later joined tourist throngs at the new house of Surrealism, the Dali Museum.

Those ultra-chic edifices have joined with the Palladian style Museum of Fine Art to make St. Pete a first class art mecca. Every year the city ranks as one of the primo art destinations for mid-sized metro areas. Not bad for a place formerly known for its shuffleboard courts and early bird specials.

Walking along Beach Drive it was easy to see the positive changes that have transformed the downtown bayfront. Sidewalk cafes vied for space with new art galleries and trendy clothing shops. Muscle boys, fresh from a run in Straub Park with their dogs, nursed Perriers while sneaking looks at passing glam girls. If not for the absence of Deco hotels, this had all the feel of a mini-South Beach look at me parade.

If you want to investigate the reasons for such visionary changes in this city, look no further than art. The Chihuly Collection would not be here if not for the encouragement and hard work of the Morean Art Center and its patrons. The Morean Art Center exists because of early and constant efforts of a group of area artists. Artists were and are the catalysts for creating cultural capital.

I go out of my way to tell people that sunny beaches didn’t do it. Condo mania didn’t do it. And baseball certainly didn’t do it. It was art folks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thoughts On Arriving

Waiting for the paint to dry.
Waiting for the light. Waiting for excuses.
Waiting for insight. Waiting for a sale.
Waiting for nothing else to do.

Cy Twombly At The Tate Modern, 2008