The Gallery AIA show CONSTRUCT is more than an art show. For artist-curator Nathan Beard, it’s the strengthening of a vision to connect art communities.

CONSTRUCT opens with a reception Friday, April 28 4:30-7:30 p.m., in conjunction with Tampa’s Fourth Friday. The show includes Caitlin Albritton, Catherine Bergmann, Robin Perry Dana, Janos Enyedi, David Erdman, Bryce Hudson, Kenny Jensen, Nin McQuillen, Chad Mize, Laine Nixon, Charles Parkhill, Gabriel Ramos, Jan Richardson, Nathan Skiles, Patricia Sriram and Christopher Wharton. These 16 local artists explore the ways in which we build our world. The Center is located at 1315 East 7th Avenue, Ste. 105 in Ybor City and the exhibit can be viewed during business hours through June 23rd.

Cross pollinating area cities in a combined surge of artistic razzamatazz would build the network and expose all the area talent that goes unnoticed between cities. Beard thinks it is natural that everyone wants to move to the Tampa Bay area. Where others may see reasons to complain, he sees opportunity.

“When you talk about Tom Stephens, people are like, ‘Who’s that?’” Beard said. “He‘s one of the best painters in Sarasota!”

Tom’s not in this show, but Beard’s point is that Tampa Bay artist groups can be insular, partly because there’s no sensible public transportation between Sarasota, Dunedin, St. Pete, Safety Harbor, Tampa and other surrounding areas.

“We want everybody to go to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center,” he said. “We want everybody to go to Leepa Rattner and see a show. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff on the other side of the Bay we don’t know about but there’s things going on over there where if they were just connected…. maybe it’s too idealistic. I’m not a money person, I don’t always factor in (the financial reality).”

Artwork by Laine Nixon

Every year Gallery AIA has an exhibition called Beyond Architecture where they invite visual artists to show in their space, Beard said, and the work should have either a connection to architecture or the spirit of architecture. So Juan Ricardes, Gallery Director at AIA Tama Bay’s Center for Architecture and Design, invited Beard to organize an event there. A good number of the artists are curators themselves.

“This is great exhibition – great artists, but there’s the big idea here to tie into this movement that’s already happening toward greater collaboration among the cities,” Beard said. “It’s all good. The city needs it all. It needs artwork in coffee shops, restaurants; it needs painting with a twist, it needs high end galleries, it needs co-ops, it needs museums, it needs all of it.”

This show represents coming together and creating new tendrils. He’s very excited about the artists in the show and tells me why over a two-hour conversation: Kenny Jensen’s 2015 solo show at Studio@620 is one of the greatest gallery feats Beard has ever seen. Nathan Skiles from Sarasota creates soft sculpture cuckoo clocks. It’s all about time and space and how we build with an entire backstory called the Clockmaker’s Apprentice.  

“I’d love to introduce some of these other artists to him,” Beard says.

Such as Kenny Jensen. Beard thinks Kenny’s 2015 exhibition at Studio@620 was in the top three greatest shows he’s ever seen and would enjoy seeing more exhibitions featuring him as an artist in addition to his curation. Actually, almost half the artists in CONSTRUCT happen to be curators.

Janos Enyedi, who died in 2011, got his chops in New York City and Washington D.C. making abstract metal sculptures before deciding to take a different route from abstraction, ending up falling in love with the industrial landscape of Midwest America and, at the time, said Beard, the sort of disappearance of it. He uses fold paper to recreate realistic-looking metal scraps and it all looks exactly like metal.

“All of a sudden you have this allusion to Plato’s form,” Beard said. “There’s the idea of the chair and then there’s the chair and then there’s the representation of the chair. Which is the most real?  You have the object, the idea of the object and you have the experience of the object. Here’s a chair, I made a painting of a chair but it has to go through here, the perception and the experience, to be put on the canvas or be built. And Plato’s asking, which is the most real? And not just the most real but the most valuable. The idea was the highest. The painting was the lowliest. To me, (Enyedi’s) work brings up those questions – it’s not steel, it’s paper but it looks like steel. Why would you do that? It’s art. We don’t have to answer that question why did you do that?  I was compelled.”

Patricia Sriram makes abstract prints that look like aerial site plans, but what Beard was most interested in are the works she keeps privately to herself, which she revealed in her studio two blocks from his house. Patty hails from Pennsylvania, coal country.

“She showed me this picture of a foot print. It’s her footprint. It’s a print,” Beard said. “Then there’s a little threaded line that runs through it. She said, ‘It’s a map of my town and the black footprint reference coal dust.’ Coal dust. I was like OK, that’s interesting. That’s in the show. It’s a map.  And I’m also including another piece by her, a digital reproduction of her fingerprint and written in the lines are the names of her ancestors that she researched. The labyrinth of ancestry.”

He likes that her work begs the question “how do I fit into this world?” When Beard talks about building, he says you have to bring some kind of consciousness to it and think about what you’re doing, which architects are good at.

“How’s it going to function, not just as a building and space but as part of the larger community, the city? Which, by the way, is one of the main drivers of this exhibition,” he said. “We can extend that to everyone involved in the show. Where do I fit in Tampa Bay? What kind of impact can I have? What more can we all do as a community, as separate communities, to collaborate and build this area into something really great? Why can’t Tampa Bay be a huge tightly networked creative hub?”