New Name, New Outlook
Michelle Sawyer and Tony Krol’s MergeCulture ushers in a more successful area for the Tampa-based artists. This weekend they’re showcasing an accomplished artist who lives off the social-networking grid.
By Stephanie Powers
The Tampa Bay area is on the up, especially in the art world, thanks to many local talent and gallery owners like Illsol’s Michelle Sawyer and Tony Krol.
The couple has produced many of the murals that have popped up since 2015, including Oceanic Market’s brand spanking new signage that pops under the skyline. In 2017, they opened the Illsol Space to showcase other artists work but recently decided it was time to make a distinction between their personal work and others. So as of now, the Illsol space is renamed Mergeculture, leaving “Illsol” to be used for their personal business.
“We are really interested in more focused and refined shows in the gallery,” Krol said. “We spent the first year learning the art brokering business, talking about art buying, building collectors, a lot of that year was spent in frustration because to be honest there were very few buyers. We changed the name, and buyers started coming around, no idea how that happened. We’ve sold more work from last year under our new name than all of last year and we haven’t even had an opening yet until Saturday. Our first year we focused on a lot of local artists and group shows, but our aim is to move towards more refined duo and solo shows. … A lot of the art scene is molded by artists experiences showing at bars and restaurants, and we want to create a unique gallery experience and break the mold of what the expectation of an art show in the bay area, generally speaking,” stated Krol.
Their first show at Mergeculture, Chris Clark’s Unsheathed – Portrait Realism & Scrimshaw, opens Saturday, March 3, and represents the focus and artist support they hope to achieve at the newly named space. Clark has no social media presence whatsoever and doesn’t even come up in a Google search. (Don’t get him confused with the Christopher Clark that produces oil paintings of fantasy scenes or the Folk Artist Chris Clark.)
Clark’s collection has never been seen before and includes super realistic oil paintings that will make you want to study them at length and scrimshaw works, which is an engraving technique developed by whalers in the 18th century. Using a magnifying glass, Scrimshaw is made when the artist scratches the surface of ivory then rubs ink to display the image. And don’t worry, all ivory used in the show is either artificial or ancient ivory from long-deceased animals, all completely legal.
“The work is a bit more traditional in subject matter than we generally show, but features an artist who isn’t anywhere on the internet, not on Instagram, doesn’t have a website, so we thought it would be a really interesting idea to break the mold of the social media craze and show an artist who is basically a ghost,” adds Krol.
What can else can we expect to come? “With Mergeculture, we really want to build shows around subcultural influence, maybe an artist used to build lowrider cars, and does spray work based on candy paint jobs, maybe we can work with a local car club to display some cars based on that interest — that’s just one example. We’re having a show with Melvin Halsey Jr. around May or July who is a dancer — so we’re thinking of partnering up with breaking crews and blending those two cultures of art and dancing. The opportunities are endless because every artist is inspired by something. There is fantastic art that exists within subcultures, for instance, skateboarding, there is a whole world of art that exists within skateboarding, from graphic artists to skateboarders who create art.”
The future of art in Tampa Bay is bright and we are grateful.
Mergeculture, 2744 N. Florida Avenue, Tampa; Sat., March 3, 6 to 10 p.m.; illsol.com