Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seat Of The Pants Inspiration

Here's another reason I know I'm an artist. Every day in my studio I sit on this stool, a rickety old seat with an impressive provenance. It belonged to my artist father, who wrote on the underside - R. N. Gaston, Mapmaker & Artist, Stool from Honaker, Virginia, 1945.

It has survived through the years, broken and repaired several times, and after my father's passing, became one of my prized possessions. Not much to look at, a hunk of wood really, but when I sit on this stool I'm transformed. I can paint tall buildings in a single stroke.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Bird of Heaven, pastel on paper, 1990

I sometimes wonder that those who choose a creative life in the arts do so because it allows them to escape into their heads. While it is certainly a noble venture to embark on an art career, there is nothing noble about the constant struggle to make a living that often accompanies art making.

The fact that artists continue working against all odds speaks volumes about their integrity and resolve. Or does it? Perhaps the solitary, interior process of creation is partly a retreat from an ugly, demanding world.

I’ve often had the experience of slogging through a difficult day of dealing with people and the unpleasant task of making ends meet. At some stressful moment, stuck in traffic, I found myself thinking; If I can only make it to the art studio, I will be safe.
While it is true that making art requires a stepping away from the world, if only to gain better perspective, there comes a time when artists must re-engage with the hurly-burly of daily life. Hard as it is, that is where they must go to find raw material to fuel their creative visions.

Too much time spent in one’s head leads to madness.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Michele Tuegel Contemporary Opening

American Style Magazine recently voted St. Petersburg the top mid-sized city for art for the third impressive year in a row. Move over Miami, St. Pete has arrived. And with the imminent opening of MicheleTuegel Contemporary on Central Avenue, the city can add another gold star to its art crown.

The new downtown gallery of fine craft and design is the dream and hard work of long-time arts advocate, administrator and artist, Michele Tuegel. There are not many people who, over the years, have been bigger advocates for art than Michele.

In 1984, while working at the old Gulf Coast Art Center in Belleair, she staged the first Florida Craftsmen statewide exhibition. Two years later Michele opened the inaugural Florida Craftsmen Gallery on Third Street downtown. And two years later, in 1986, she began her long run as that organization’s first Executive Director.

Florida Craftsmen gained national exposure during Michele’s directorship and now has a major home and gallery on Central Avenue. Michele was not content to stay idle after leaving Florida Craftsmen, and worked for several years as an integral part of the Pinellas County Arts Council.

Running her own gallery seemed like the next logical step for such a tireless arts cheerleader. Many in the community would say; “What took you so long?” Michele’s answer could be that she was saving up for a flashy red convertible and trip to Japan. Now those bucket list items will have to wait.

There will be two openings at the Gallery, Friday, October 12, 3 pm-8 pm and Saturday, October 13, 6 pm-9 pm. Michele Tuegel Contemporary is at 320 Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. (727) 823-1100.
(photos courtesy Cathy Lasky,


Friday, October 5, 2012

News From Studio A

One of the most frequently asked questions of artists is the one that goes, “How long did it take you to make that?” It is a legitimate question for someone who has never made a painting, or composed a song, or created a sculpture. That person’s frame of reference tends to be elsewhere. They know how long it takes, for instance, to bake brownies or build a deck, so making art must likewise be given a definite number of hours or days.

The correct answer ought to be, “It takes long enough,” for in reality, artists must deal with the kinds of restraints that cannot be measured in time. We say we don’t have time right now; the yard needs mowing, clothes need washing or bills need to be paid. The real culprit is not a lack of time, but a lack of confidence.

There are no how-to-books or instructions that I know of for creating an original vision. The artist must learn again and again to plumb the depths of their experience for that single spark. Confidence is essential and some days we simply don’t have enough. Those are the days we tell ourselves we don’t have enough time. We need to grocery shop. We need to take the cat to the vet.

How long did it take me to make that art? It took a lifetime.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Coming Into Focus

A few years ago I came into possession of a roll of triple oil primed linen, 78” wide by 118” long. For most of that time the giant canvas has leaned in my studio corner while I waited for some sort of inspiration to come whack me on the head.
The prospect of a gallery exhibition next year made me consider the linen roll with renewed interest. Why not do a painting on the entire 6’6” x 9’10” piece. Of course, this preposterous idea brought my nattering naysayers out of hiding. “You can never make a painting that huge.” “Where will you set it up?” Where will you store it even if you finish it, which you won’t?”

With much effort, I sent the mental critics packing and plunged ahead. After constructing a special easel in Studio A (the front porch), I unfurled the long linen roll. To my chagrin, it turned out to be quite a bit longer than the easel.
As a result, I am forced to work on one section at a time. Presently, I’m working on the lower half with only the vaguest idea of what will go on top. This kind of not knowing turns out to be tremendously liberating. By focusing on one small area at a time, I am free to paint whatever strikes me in the moment.

This morning I will paint this much. After lunch I will paint another area. The painting proceeds, in this way, from one moment to the next. From past experience I know that the whole composition can be pulled together, and will eventually hang in the gallery as a unified piece.

That will be seven and a half months from now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blog or Tweet or Pin or Friend, Oh My

Last night my local art guild had our monthly meeting, which on this occasion featured a lively discussion on social media and the artist. The opening question was not whether artists should utilize social media, but, since everyone already does it, which ones are most beneficial to artists.

We discussed web sites and Facebook, of course, but also blogs, YouTube and the new social darling Pinterest, which is like a personal web bulletin board. The consensus seemed to be that some good can come from all of these sites, but the trick is learning to balance one's time in the studio with time on the computer.

At the end, one of the presenters gave a brief summary about selling art and the various social media sites. She kept referring to art as our product and it occurred to me that we artists almost never use that term. Art to us is our creation, our passion, or work, but never our product.

Perhaps that one little semantic twist has become a stumbling block on the road to selling art. We get so wrapped up in the creative process that we're often unable to consider art as separate from ourselves. Art becomes who we are and not what we do. As a result, the business of selling 'art who we are' is regarded as demeaning and to be avoided at all costs.

It doesn't have to be that way. Art is both a product of our imagination and a potential product in the marketplace. And the two ideas need not be mutually antagonistic. If we understand that once art is created it becomes separate from us, then we can more easily accept it as a product of what we do.


Monday, September 3, 2012

We Are Not Alone

Aliens, those sometime friendly, but more often sinister visitors from outer space, figure large in human history. Many ancient religions as well as some modern ones believe their ancestors came from the stars. Part of the intrigue undoubtedly comes from our fascination of the other, that being completely outside our knowledge at the edge of our imagination. Onto these creatures, we can heap our own fears and uncertainties about life and the unknown.

My own interest with things alien has always been closer to home, not outer space, but inner space. The inner space I speak of lies in that nearby but mysterious space between our ears, the region called the noggin.

"Why do I choose one course of action over another?" "Why do I do such crazy things?" Sometimes it seems like an unseen alien in my noggin is calling the shots, making me think and act in ways that are counter productive. In psychology, these unconscious aliens are simply thought of as disassociated aspects of our own psyche. Plato's aphorism, "Know thyself," encourages each of us to bring those lost parts of ourselves home to the whole.

My art has always been about shining light on the unseen gremlins of the psyche and perhaps, in that sense, a belief in aliens is our attempt to come to grips with our own otherness. In the end, they are nothing but a construct of human consciousness.

Opening Friday night at Dunedin Fine Art Center is an exhibition called "Intergalactic." This diverse and exciting show about aliens will feature two of my most recent works.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Cowboy's Journey

Around 1988, Koenig Art Emporium, the only genuine art store in town went out of business and had a big closing sale. By the time I got there, the place had been pretty much picked clean. On the way out I glimpsed an old set of flat files in the corner and wandered over to take a look.
The drawers still held various colored art papers but nothing of much interest. Then opening the bottom drawer, I saw the BFK Rives imprint on a stack of heavyweight paper and knew I had struck pay dirt.

Rives is top of the line paper for fine art drawing and printing and occasionally I treated myself by purchasing one or two sheets. Yet here was a whole stack of cold-press 240 lb. paper marked 70% off. Opportunities like that don’t come around often, so I bought the entire lot.

After that my slacker nature kicked back in and the paper sat unused in my studio for over a year. Finally, desperate for some spark to ignite my withered creativity, I remembered the Rives. What would happen if I attempted Oriental brush drawings on the soft textured paper?

Thus began a project that proceeded by stops and starts for yet another year. Standing before my studio work table, I imagined a Japanese calligraphy master about to begin work. With quickness, dexterity and confidence, he suddenly brings forth a stunning visual haiku.

My feeble attempts, however, turned out to be more like muddled blobs. For every half-way decent drawing, there were at least ten second-rate rejects. I was a novice better qualified to sweep out the master’s studio.

I set the project aside for months before daring to again pick up the brushes. But this time there were more drawings that made the final cut. Over time, my files became filled with sumi ink drawings; some good but most uninspired student work.

In 1997, in another creative funk, I pulled out a bunch of sumi rejects and started adding color to them. Using the same method of confident starts and frustrated stops, I eventually accumulated a stack of finished oil, acrylic and ink paintings.

It was from this last group of works that the above painting “A Close Shave” emerged. In 1998, the piece was acquired by the Gulf Coast Museum of Art for their permanent collection.

After the demise of GCMA, their extensive collection was purchased by St. Petersburg College and is again being exhibited in several of its campus locations. And now, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College is holding an exhibition of part of that collection.

“A Close Shave” has again emerged and hangs in the Museum alongside many other excellent pieces from the collection. The exhibition will be up through August and is well worth the trip to St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs. For more information call 727 712-5762 or click here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why I Still Don't Like Peter Max

I remember a sign that hung in the lobby of an advertising agency where I worked. A quote of Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonalds the world’s most successful eatery, it said that ideas are a dime a dozen, but taking an idea and making it a reality requires tremendous work and a lot of  luck. Most people don’t have the vision, patience and courage to make it happen.

That quote comes to mind often when I ponder the vicissitudes of making a living in the art world. McDonald’s formula for success could be stated in one sentence – “Give the public a burger that is tasty, inexpensive, and convenient.” Those happen to be three conditions that are objectively qualitative. Stray from the formula for too long and you risk going out of business.

The creation of a piece of art, however, comes about through a process of subjective inspiration that by its nature eludes objective criticism. For every person who loves a work of art, there will be one who loathes it. As contemporary art progressed further and further from the kind of realism everyone agreed upon, it became difficult to even know if an art work was good or bad.

Under those circumstances, it would become possible for someone with scant creative talent, but plenty of vision, patience, and courage, to become quite successful. And, as we have seen, savvy business artists have been able to trick even “experts” as to the genius of their art.

The viewing public, for the most part, do not trust their instincts when viewing modern art and fall back on the opinions of others. Should a second-rate artist become anointed a golden boy by critics and the press, then his name and genius become synonymous in the eyes of the public.

At some point, the art becomes secondary to the artist. We stop looking at the work and instead focus on the artist’s persona, their personality and lifestyle, who they hang out with. This has happened throughout the history of art to bona-fide geniuses as well as poseurs.

Art lovers ought to become familiar with all the various kinds of art. The payoff will eventually be an open mind and faith in their own opinions. And Ray Kroc’s formula for success needs to be amended for artists. Integrity and social consciousness should be added to the list.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Beauty In The Beast

This is the post where I finally convince myself of the beauty of one of my latest art works. The painting, titled “Dark Goddess,” is included in a Florida Artist Group exhibition in Sarasota, judged by well-known painter/printmaker Tom Nakashima. During his introductory speech, Nakashima shared with us the fact that he never assigns deep philosophical meanings to his work before or during the creative process. Only later does he wrestle with the piece’s significance for him. He added that with the passage of time and circumstances, people’s views of his work may change, but those various meanings would remain as valid as his own.

I had, for a long while, been steadfast in my ambivalence toward “Dark Goddess.” At different times in its creation, I had been repulsed and then attracted by the figure’s brooding presence.

The eyes were set too close together, the mouth too large. The hair, if it could be called that, seemed to jump off the head or later retreated into the background. At those intervals, the piece embodied pure ugliness to me. I stayed out of her sight for days.

Persistence, in service to a learned work ethic, always drew me back. What would happen, I wondered, if a stylized black veil were placed over her face. Would a lighter background make the figure stand out more. At one point, in desperation, I even poked holes throughout the thick paper.

Gradually, working on the piece, I began to see something resembling beauty in parts of the whole- the impasto of buttery oil paint next to transparent acrylic passages. Scrumbled lines competing with blocks of color, and just peeking through, the original black ink outline. I became enthralled by the lush physicality of paint.

A deadline forced me to stop and with trepidation the piece was signed, sealed and delivered, not to be seen again until opening night.

Viewing “Dark Goddess” in a large gallery after listening to Mr. Nakashima, I realized I had mistaken ugliness for fierceness. My thoughts flashed on those fierce Fu Dog statues guarding Chinese temples. I remembered black and bloody Kali, Hindu goddess of death and destruction. The ancients knew one does not confront monsters and demons with puppies or pretty girls.

Driving back in darkness over the Sunshine Skyway, I tangled with the idea that “Dark Goddess” represents the terrible fierce beauty that protects us against life. Now I am convinced of it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Thomas Kinkade Dies At 54

Thomas Kinkade died much too soon and that is sad, but I do not mourn the passing of his so called artistic creativity. Kinkade's talent lay in marketing hype coupled with a massive ego, which are on full display in this 60 Minutes segment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Egon Schiele


Years ago, I viewed a major exhibition of Egon Schiele's paintings and drawings at MoMA. Photographs of his work in Art History 101 had not prepared me for the nuances of Schiele's startling imagery.

Standing in front of his large canvasses, bits of contrasting colors, scrumbled lines and underpainting became abundantly clear. Even Schiele's finished paintings have a mosaic-like drawn quality that I found quite appealing.

These were not erotic in the sense of being titillating, but were rather illuminating, as one realized Schiele's masterful draughtsmanship, sense of color and love of form.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mindy Solomon Gallery

“All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”
Philip Johnson

There is a similarity in architecture and sculpture in that both deal with space, either contained or surrounded. These two art forms come together and can be seen to enhance each other in a thoughtful well designed art gallery.
That is the feeling one gets on first entering Mindy Solomon Gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida. Located in that city’s downtown arts core, the small gallery exalts space with 25 foot ceilings, an open floor plan and abundant natural light. The airy space seems larger because of it.

This is not an interior unto itself, but intended to show off its contents, in this case an exquisite exhibition of Korean ceramics and paintings. With muted colors and elemental forms, these vessels and wall-pieces are perfect objects for the minimal gallery space.
"My House 2"
Kang Hyo Lee
One is drawn to contemplate each piece and the process of looking can become a simple meditation. Perhaps because of the artists’ Oriental esthetic, I went away with the feeling of having experienced something reverent.

Meditative Journeys at Mindy Solomon Gallery runs February 25- March 31. The Gallery is at 124 2nd Avenue NE, St. Petersburg. 727 502-0852.

(photos courtesy of Mindy Solomon Gallery)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nancy Cervenka Exhibition at Gallery 221 @ Hillsborough Community College/Dale Mabry Campus

We’ve all pulled out the middle of price-sticker or film rolls just to see what would happen. Gulfport artist Nancy Cervenka did it and created a new art form. The USF film school graduate had a bunch of 16mm film lying around and one day began experimenting.

Creative person that she is, Nancy saw big possibilities in the curvaceous forms she was fashioning. In her hands inert film became swooping spiraling organic objects. You wonder how film can be made to conform to such graceful shapes. Stalagmites must look like this when they party.

In the early 1990’s, Nancy began exhibiting her film sculptures in outdoor art festivals and immediately won praise, awards and sales. She has won Best of Show twice at Mainsail in St. Petersburg and in 2009 scored the big one, Best of Show at Gasparilla Art Festival in Tampa. Nancy's works are included in many Bay area collections.

You can see Nancy's new work at an upcoming exhibition at Gallery 221@ Hillsborough Community College/Dale Mabry Campus. Titled "Film on Film: Nancy Cervenka," the show opens this Thursday, 5-7 pm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hot Wax Treatment

Reflections 21, encaustic painting, Leslie Neumann

Encaustic (n.)
1. A paint consisting of pigment mixed with beeswax and fixed with heat after its application.
2. The art of painting with this substance.
3. A painting produced with the use of this substance.
[Latin encausticus, from Greek enkaustikos, from enkaiein, enkau-, to paint in encaustic : en-, in; see en-2 + kaiein, to burn.]

I first became acquainted with Leslie Neumann’s encaustic paintings in 2004, when we exhibited in adjoining galleries at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. While not a stranger to the hot wax process, I quickly realized what deep beauty can be achieved by the hand of a master.
Leslie’s landscapes have a softness of form with layers of subtle transparency which give her compositions depth and perspective. This is painting as a window, drawing the viewer into a rich and luminous other world.

On a subsequent visit to her Aripeka home and studio, I learned more about Leslie’s exacting technique, as well as her commitment to preserving Florida’s unique wild habitats. From her third floor studio balcony, we looked out over an almost pristine coastal estuary turned golden by the setting sun. One could not ask for a more inspiring setting in which to make art.

Leslie and eight other artists using the encaustic method will be featured in “Wax: Medium Meets Message,” an exhibition at the Morean which opens this Friday, 5-7 pm with an artist’s talk at 5 pm. 

Image courtesy of the artist

Monday, March 12, 2012

Art Goes For A Ride

With the opening of St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, that city’s lively art scene has suddenly expanded westward a couple of miles. Located in a former industrial area just off 5th Ave. S. and 24th St. S., the area is home to a growing list of pioneering artists.

Like most new venues, Warehouse artists wondered, if they opened, would people come. Judging by Saturday night’s Gallery Walk turnout, the answer is a resounding yes.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to an art opening that featured rent-a-cops, roaming photographers and a live band. But the scene at Duncan McClellan’s grand glass atelier had something I’ve never seen - an Airstream trailer.

Parked across from Duncan’s, sat a vintage 24 foot tricked-out road worthy Airstream. This nostalgic beauty belongs to artists Matt and Becky Larson and is home to their newest venture, Boxfotos.

Team Larson transformed the Airstream into a cozy gallery and has quite literally taken its show on the road. Boxfotos will travel to different locations for photography exhibitions and workshops. Look for them next at the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg.

photo courtesy Boxfotos

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Draw, Partner

The most difficult part of the creative process has always been getting started. In what has become standard operating procedure, I plan, I prepare, I procrastinate. I move things around the studio. Then, thankfully, it’s time for lunch.

The nay-sayers in my head must also be dealt with. They continually question my methods. “Who will buy that?” they chide. When all else fails, they wonder if I even have what it takes to make art. The eventual creation of anything becomes a blessed relief.

Now a new mental obstacle has taken up residence. Having finally begun a painting, I find myself easily distracted and unable to focus for long. I begin and immediately want to end. It is a curious and unsettling state, as if my thought process has condensed like a Twitter tweet.

As a way of coping with this condition, I have fallen back on an old friend – gesture drawing. This brush-drawing method challenges me to say the most with the least. It is art-making pared down to its essential structure. What is begun is quickly finished. My concern is no longer “What do I say?” but “Have I said too much?”