Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Over the years, show organizers, realizing they had somewhat of a captive audience, began offering more – food, alcohol, music, raffles, children’s activities, and art demonstrations. Many shows became expanded festivals and some took on the look of county fairs. Mom, dad and the kids could be entertained by art while chomping chili dogs and kettle korn.
Because of this, sidewalk shows are often criticized for having a “something for everyone” mentality. Art museums and galleries especially take a dim view of art fairs. Artists who list outdoor shows on their resumes run the risk of being considered not museum worthy.
There is, however, an exhibition at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art that signals a change in attitude. Rocky and Friends is a tribute to the 35th anniversary of the Palm Harbor Fine Arts and Crafts Festival and some of the artists who have shown their work there. This excellent show was organized by the Museum and artist Rocky Bridges, a long time exhibitor and favorite son, born and raised in Tarpon Springs.
Yesterday a friend and I took a walkthrough which slowed to a crawl as we took in a gallery full of magnificent and mysterious awe inspiring art. Afterward, we concluded that every piece of art hanging there was museum worthy.
Outdoor art shows offer the best of two worlds – entertainment and fine art – and the hope is that exhibitions like this will help people distinguish between the two.
Rocky and Friends runs through January 10 at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs. (Photograph: Tribute, assemblage, 2009, Rocky Bridges, courtesy of Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art)
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
It appears this activity stimulates a region of the brain called the lateral hypothalamus, or “seeking center.” The constant arousal of this region is what compels people to sit for hours at a computer googling. Some psychologists believe that doing this over time renders us unable to perform concentrated thinking or extensive reading.
I can now disclose that I have first hand experience of this new phenomenon. Last month, after moving my art studio back home, it became necessary to rearrange my workspace. The living room has again become the matting and framing area. The dining room table now doubles as a wet- media work station.
Taking advantage of the only available north light, I placed my drawing board by the bedroom window – directly across from the computer. Bad move!
Creating for me requires an empty mind, so before beginning each day, I must first sweep out the place. Every distracting thought skulking in the corner is pushed out the door, every yapping desire temporarily chained outside. Only then in the emptiness of the present moment does inspiration show itself.
This process is difficult in the best of times. Throw in the instant gratification of one Google fix and another and another and making art gets down right impossible.
I wonder who the world’s tallest man is.
Google: “Sultan Kosen, a Kurdish shepherd living in Turkey is 8’1.5” tall.”
Kurds? Aren’t they the largest ethnic group without a country?
Google: ‘There are about 35 million Kurds today living as minority populations in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.”
What is the capital of Syria?
Hours later I look up and wonder where the time went. A blank canvas remains on the easel. Clean brushes are lined up waiting to be pressed into service. The Google home page glows from my monitor.
I wonder who the world’s shortest man is.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
This problem is especially tricky since my art tends to be figurative with some sort of narrative element - both ideal for advertising purposes.
Through trial and error I've learned to block all preconceived ideas from entering my mind. The Buddhists do this to achieve clarity of being. I do it to banish the commercial artist.
Today I kept them out of the studio long enough to make two drawings.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Like many unusual surfaces, the tar paper came to me by accident, leftover from a next door roofing job. A roll of the thick black paper lay abandoned in the weeds and after a month I grabbed it. With no clue for its use, the roll stood in my studio corner for another month.
One uninspired day, irritated because images would not come out of hiding, I cut off a piece of tar paper, took some pastels and began to draw. My first stiff-armed attempts ended up in the trash can, but, as I got used to the paper's odd spongy nature, some decent gestural images began to appear.
I stayed with tar paper long enough to complete a series of birds. Above are two that survived.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Over the years, I’ve collected snippets of conversation overheard at outdoor art shows. The open nature and family entertainment atmosphere of this type of show encourage sidewalk critics emboldened by cups of brew and funnel cake.
A book I’ve always wanted to write would be full of these funny and sarcastic comments that have little to do with art appreciation. Several remarks were repeated enough to make me wonder why I work a certain way. In this respect, even cynical asides can be of some use.
1. How long did it take you to paint this, 15 minutes?
To most people, something is worthy of value only if it took a long time to create. There is no room in this way of thinking for gesture and spontaneity born from a lifetime of experience. Neither do people think much about process. They only see that an artwork had a beginning and after a lot of work was finished. They fail to appreciate the many stops and starts, self doubts and anxieties along the way until an artist felt sufficient confidence to exhibit a 15 minute piece of art.
2. My grand-daughter can paint better than this.
I have seen children’s art that is quite remarkable, fun pieces full of color, energy, and joy. But when asked to repeat their effort, the children often struggle, becoming restless and distracted. They are eager to move on to the next thing that catches their eye. An experienced artist arrives at a mature style after many years work. Such an artist intends to repeat their efforts. They eagerly make one painting and another and another because they must. They cannot not do it. No six year old grand-daughter would put up with that.
3. Why don’t you paint pretty pictures?
The easy answer would be that I can not improve on the beauty of Nature. Nature is perfect just as it is and my art is not. That does not, however, stop artists from trying over and over to transcend Nature’s beauty. For my own art, I am often reminded of the fierceness of Fu Lions. Great snarling stone sculptures were often placed in front of Indian and Chinese temples for protection. A cute bunny or beautiful maiden would be of no use when faced with evil spirits intent on mischief. No one messes with an ugly guardian creature that can bite your face off. Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t paint pretty pictures because they don’t give me enough protection.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
I knew nothing of the personal life of Amedeo Modigliani when first introduced to his art in college. Only later, after reading his biography, did I learn about the man and a life of sickness, poverty, and addiction. Dead of tuberculosis before the age of thirty-six, Modigliani had only one solo exhibition in his lifetime, and gave away many of his paintings for food.
No introduction to his art was needed. The pain, sorrow and dark beauty of his life were present full force in his paintings, making an immediate and profound impression. Yet there is another element of Modigliani's work that I find particularly appealing. I cannot look at his sublime portraits of women without also feeling a sense of allure, a hint of danger, and, above all, mystery. And isn't that, after all, what we look for in women.
Monday, September 14, 2009
We stopped at the Clewiston boat launch and climbed to the levee's top, expecting to see miles and miles of big water. No luck, the view was blocked by huge grassy islands dredged up by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Driving home Sunday, we passed through the town of Okeechobee on the Lake's north shore. Friends said the Lake's vastness could be enjoyed from the town fishing pier. Lake Okeechobee is a natural wonder of Florida and headwaters for the mysterious River of Grass, the Everglades. The only mystery we found was a total lack of directions or advertisements for the Lake.
After driving up and down country roads, we gave up and continued west into the flat belly of Florida. Once home, Google Maps informed me that we were only two turns away from the road to the Lake. The big watery heart of the state lies contained, waiting for our return or perhaps a Catagory 5 visitor.
Friday, September 4, 2009
The idea sounded simple enough and fun - deliver a bunch of artwork to the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach and return in time to watch the sun set while crossing the Sunshine Skyway. My friend Melissa and I had hopes of success, but rain, photo opps, and detours in Belle Glade conspired against us.
Landscapes along the way more than made up for the missed sunset. Seeing the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Okeechobee, and the Atlantic Ocean in one day became the icing on my journey. In between, massive thunderstorms rolled over endless fields of sugar cane. And the stark contrasts of Palm Beach County - rows of migrant worker shacks in sugar cane towns and thirty minutes further on, the million dollar mansions of Palm Beach.
As a lifelong Cracker Boy, I thought I had seen most of this fascinating state, but drive away from the crowded coasts and bits of Audubon's Florida still exist. The Fakahatchee Strand lies in wait.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
In 2004 the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg held a major exhibition of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. In what would become a prelude to a permanent Chihuly presence in St. Petersburg, the Museum filled its first floor galleries with the maestro’s art.
My friend Rima persuaded me to go, with the promise of lunch and a quick ride in her sleek BMW. I was not disappointed - by lunch, Bavarian cars, or Chihuly. At the Museum we wandered from gallery to gallery, astonished by the sheer exuberance and versatility of Chihuly and company. His swirling sculptural creations have become for many the epitome of the beautiful object.
On the way out, we passed through a room with a small collection of Pre-Columbian Art. My senses had been primed by Chihuly’s flashy glass, but they were pounded by the sight of Meso-American pottery pieces – clay statues of gods and goddesses, warriors, priests, and effigy animals. These works, from before the time of Christ to the 15th Century and all artisan made, radiated primal energy, earthiness, and mystery.
Their self-assured presence reminded me of Archaic Greek statuary, but with more power and scariness. I was so transfixed, my friend had to pull me away from the glass cases. I saw my own art in there, or what I wanted my art to be.
Two exhibitions – one of beautiful objects and the other of mysterious objects. Both are legitimate modes of expression and both have their respective advocate groups. Which am I?
Several years later, Chihuly made a personal appearance at the Arts Center in St. Petersburg. Rima surprised me with the gift of his splashy coffee-table book and we stood in line for an hour to get his signature in it. The book now sits on my shelf, lost among others of African, Mexican, Indian and Oceanic art.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I first learned about Jackson Pollock in Art History 101, courtesy of H. W. Janson's textbook classic, History of Art. Still in the thrall of van Gogh and Matisse, I paid scant attention to the small color reproduction of Pollock's One, Number 31. It was small and messy looking, much like the accidental spin-art pieces I had seen at the Florida State Fair. Even seeing his work projected large in lecture class did little to convince me of greatness.
Several years after graduation, I made my requisite pilgrimage to New York and The Museum of Modern Art. Wandering from gallery to gallery, I recognized, with increasing awe, masterpieces I had first studied in college. Finally, rounding a corner, I found myself confronted by all 9' x 18' of One, Number 31. The effect was immediate and mesmerizing. Stunned by the painting's immensity and power, I could only stand and stare.
And as I stood there taking it all in, something strange happened. The painting began to vibrate. Juxtaposed layers of colors began a dance of kinetic opposition - blobs of blue receded in deference to stringy runs of red, white comets streaked overhead and anchoring everything, webs of glossy black. The vision of that humming mass passed through my eyes and seemed to resonate inside.
I won't soon forget the experience and came away convinced of the error of my former judgement. Jackson Pollock is one of the greatest of 20th Century painters.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The exhibition will feature an extensive collection of Matisse's prints, paintings and sculptures and will be the first comprehensive showing of his work in the Tampa Bay area.
Parisian art critics first called Matisse a "Wild Beast" for his bold expressive colors and non-Academic style. He eventually won them over to become arguably the greatest artist of the 20th Century.
Read St. Petersburg Times Art Critic Lennie Bennett's story.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The grunt work of packing now begins and I am rediscovering art pieces squirreled away nine months ago. It is good to see old friends emerge from closets and crannies, dusty, but no worse for the wear.
This pastel painting titled Ol' King Cole was pulled from beneath the bed, and may explain some of the regal dreams I have lately experienced. The piece also makes me wonder if an art work can truly be called finished if no one ever sees it.
Friday, August 14, 2009
One of my college art classes was a studio course called Methods and Materials of the Artist. After an introduction to the various media, we were given the assignment of reproducing a work by a 20th Century master. The catch was that we must stick to a 9" x 12" format and use a medium other than the one used by the artist.
I chose to reproduce in gouache one of the many still-lives of Henri Matisse. After laboring for a long and frustrating week, I finished the piece just before the deadline. Not much more is known, except that I somehow passed the course. The still-life ended up in my portfolio and after graduation became a gift to my parents.
Placed in an antique frame, the piece held a place of honor in their home for years. One day, a visitor to my mother's antique shop stopped to admire her painting collection. Standing in front of my class project, she leaned in close to read the signature and her mouth fell open.
She slowly turned to my mother and with mounting excitement said, "I'm not positive, but I think you might have an Henri Matisse painting."
In that moment, my mom made the decision to have some fun and play along with her visitor. "Oh goodness, do you really think so?"
The lady did think so and nothing would do except for her to take the piece to a friend for authentication. Her friend turned out to be one of the curators at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.
My mischevious mom resisted the urge to halt the ruse and handed over the still-life. Weeks passed until one day the visitor called with promising news. The Ringling curator had thoroughly examined the piece and agreed it might indeed be a Matisse.
"The only way to know for sure," he said, "is to show it to Matisse's son Pierre in New York."
At that point, my mother thought it best to end the charade. She had the art returned and continued to enjoy her 'masterpiece' for many more years.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
And by extension, local art museums are or should be about local artists- their art, their concerns and their careers.
A recent article in the St. Petersburg Times brought this belief into sharp focus. Museum Innovators Stay True To The Mission is an interview by Times art critic Lennie Bennett with six Tampa Bay museum directors. In an extensive double-spread story, the directors discuss their missions, creativity, and working through tough economic times.
After reading the interviews, it occurred to me to reread the story and with a yellow marker underline the word “artist” each time it appeared. I was surprised to find “artist” mentioned only one time in the entire story. Three internationally known painters were discussed, but only in the context of upcoming exhibitions. In closing, one of the directors stated that the key ingredients for a successful museum are exhibitions, collectors, critical writers and patrons. None of the six directors said part of their mission is to exhibit, promote, or support local artists.
However, all of the area museum directors I’ve known do support the local art scene. At various times there have been outstanding exhibitions of local artists as well as student and very special arts exhibitions. Museums have also, in the past, helped sponsor art related events. Sadly, these kinds of shows have succumbed to economic demands.
The Times article brought home one crucial factor in understanding how art museums function. Museums are in the business of art and consequently greatly concerned with
meeting payroll, insurance, taxes, building maintenance and myriad other problems that arise. These all take money of course, and I’ve come to believe that the main job of museum directors is fundraising.
Suffice to say, every museum exhibition must be considered in terms of how much buzz will be created and how many paying customers will come in the door. In that formula, exhibitions of local artists are not a high priority.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Several years ago, Clearwater, like hundreds of cites across the country, formed a Public Art Project. One of the Project’s goals would be placement of outstanding artworks throughout the city - in city buildings as well as select commercial settings.
Longtime city employee, teacher and artist Margo Walbolt headed up the Project until her recent retirement. Under Margo’s excellent guidance, and with the assistance of an arts committee, many wonderful examples of art began to grace the city. Clearwater’s mayor and City Council applauded. Everyone was happy.
Last year the Downtown Development Board (The City) and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership (local businesses) began placing temporary sculptures in the median of Cleveland Street. These public art pieces went through a rigorous selection process by a panel of experts and are fine examples of art created by national artists.
One piece titled Sorcerer’s Gate soon brought an outcry of protest from some in the community. The title and part of the piece they interpreted as a tail were found objectionable on religious grounds. The sculpture was called “wicked” and “a message from hell.”
The Clearwater City Council caved under the complaints. It has now changed a city law ensuring that they, the Council, have final approval over public art. In so doing, the City Council has compromised the Public Art Project and decided they know more about art than their own art committee experts.
The Council has acceded to the beliefs of a small and vocal part of the community, and denied Clearwater’s citizens and visitors the opportunity to experience a wide variety of art.
This is unfortunate in the short-term, but creativity springs eternal and public art will continue to enrich our lives for years to come. Municipal governments, on the other hand, come and go.
Monday, August 3, 2009
For almost an hour, we talked about art, the life of an artist and my paintings. Many people who look at art speak in glowing terms about pieces they like and remain silent about the rest. Mr. Leepa studied each piece hanging in the room and even looked at works stacked in the back. All the while, he gave a running commentary of pieces he liked and why he liked them.
But more than that, he proceeded to talk about painting that, in his mind, were less successful and why they seemed unresolved. All throughout our discussion, Mr. Leepa asked questions that made me rethink why I painted a certain way.
Artists often paint themselves into corners, redoing the same tired images until they become stuck to the studio floor. We need to ask ourselves the questions Mr. Leepa asked – “Why did you put that blue color on the left?” “Why is that head floating in space?"
I knew when Allen Leepa left my studio that I had just met an extraordinary teacher.
ALLEN LEEPA (1919-2009) A Life In Paint at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art
Confession of a Clown, (picured above) 1950, pastel and oil on canvas, courtesy Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Curator Christine Renc-Carter has asked me to kick off the Series with her on Saturday, August 8th, 11am – 12 noon. Our point of departure will be a discussion of A Close Shave, my piece in the exhibition. After that, any and all art subjects will be fair game.
Please join us for an hour of casual conversation in the intimate setting of the Florida International Museum galleries. RSVP (727) 341-7918. Coffee and pastries will be provided by Panera Bread.
Florida International Museum is located at 244 2nd Avenue North in St. Petersburg, (727) 341-7900. www.spcollege.edu/FIMuseum
This event is complimentary with price of museum admission.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
All work and no Saturday sit-down dinners makes this writer a cranky chap, so recently I gladly accepted friends' invitation to a dinner based on the cookbook Nigella Bites. Nigella Lawson is a British best selling author and host of Nigella Feasts and Nigella Express.
Our hosts, David and Carol Cortright, opened their wonderfully eclectic home and provided an assortment of creative cuisine. Carol Cortright, accomplished chef and writer herself, started the evening with watermelon daiquiris and Elvis Presley Sandwiches - great little appetizers of peanut butter and sliced bananas on white bread, all fried to a golden turn.
Kicking caution into the humid night, I promptly overindulged, leaving just enough room for the main course - eggplant ratatouille, a sublime mix of vegetables, herbs and garlic. A double helping and plump strawberry trifle for dessert sent this gourmand home sated and ready for the sack.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Here are a few of the artists who made Cool Art Show 2009 a rousing success. A record number of visitors came, saw and bought outstanding art from 80 talented artists. St. Petersburg's fabulous Coliseum became the perfect backdrop for a weekend that Florida thunderstorms could not even dampen.
Thanks to all who made it possible.
Artists from top: Lisa Glaser, Lee Jones, James Michaels, Jack Bond, Candace Ripoli, Barbara Hanson
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
For the Cool Art Show in St. Petersburg next month, I will have many five by seven inch drawings. Nine inches by nine inches is now a large work and that is the size of Bell-Hop at the Sands Hotel (above) - an example of mixing some media on masonite.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
It's an example of a blocked painter with time on his hands, a bunch of wooden dowels and a French Savoyard whittling knife.
I'm not keen on the idea of Art Therapy, but here was a project perfectly suited for my predicament.
I worked straight through on the piece, finished it with some satisfaction and retired the whittling knife, never to sculpt another. I did, however, begin painting again with renewed vigor.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The fate of the Museum's 450 piece permanent collection became a big concern, and most feared it would be sold off piece by piece to other institutions.
Quite the opposite happened. In a gutsy and hopeful move, St. Petersburg College brokered a deal with the Museum in which the College received the complete collection. All the works of art will stay in the area and be housed in various College buildings.
A big chunk of the collection is being showcased in an exhibition at Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg. The exhibition, "In A New Light," will feature one of my works I called A Close Shave, and that title now seems appropriate for the entire collection. Read more about the exhibition here.
The exhibition is at the Florida International Museum at St. Petersburg College, 244 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg, through Oct. 4. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors and military, $5 students and free for children 6 and under. (727) 341-7904.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In my extended gig as a health food store "vitamologist," word got out that I also dabbled in the Arts. Before long, I was asked to exhibit work in the store cafe, next to the "all you can eat" salad bar and across from the "grab 'n go" deli.
It occurred to me one day, while noshing on an organic radish, that in a restaurant setting a different kind of art exhibit would be better appreciated. Thus was born the Grab 'n Go Art Show, featuring scores of original 3"x 5" drawings covering the deli walls. Customers simply pulled off the drawing they liked and left $5.00. I made enough money from that exhibition to buy more art supplies.
The Grab 'n Go Art Show will make a reappearance at the July Cool Art Show in The Cloiseum in St. Petersburg. Above are samples of many new works that will be available.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Last night it rained like fifty-five years ago. It rained like when I was a kid in New Port Richey, Florida summer thunderstorms, bucketfulls coming down and I couldn't wait to get my swimsuit
on and get out in it. Racing around the yard like a space ranger, soggy grass squishing my toes and the glow of my dad's cigarette on the dark front porch. Then the exit, sitting, out of breath, wrapped in a thick towel with a cup of hot chocolate.
Last night, when it rained the first wet drop, I went inside and watched.