Art Judge

In Winter Haven there is a small but lucrative gallery called Ridge Art Association. To the wider art establishments in the state of Florida it is an insignificant place, yet it is a vibrant community intended for the many artists who live in the surrounding areas. Tucked away in a section of the Chain O’Lakes Sports Complex, their mission statement reads, “to educate and promote understanding of the visual arts and to sponsor cultural events within the community.” Christy Hemenway is the director of the gallery. Vibrant and energetic she and the other board members organize 4 or 5 Call to Artists during the year. She hires professional artists to jury the submitted entries.
In the past it always been rewarding to be an invited juror for their gallery shows and driving to Winter Haven this Saturday was no exception something I hadn’t done for a very long time.
The members and participants are mostly older artists, retired men and women working together to make the association a safe, fun, and creative place to exhibit. Their skill levels vary, some creating higher quality of work than others, while for some it is just a hobby. Many are retired teachers or retired business professionals that have just started to create art.
The theme for this Call to Artist was Black and White with a dash of color. I selected fifty pieces out of sixty-nine entries with ten artists receiving awards. Best of Show, 2nd place and 3rd place awards, three Awards of Excellence, and four Honorable Mentions. There were many different medias including photography, watercolor, oils, pencil drawings; each artist using a different approach to inserting a “pinch of color’ into their black and white composition.
My criteria for choosing the ten awards were, the placement of the color, the tone of the color and the shape of the color. It did not take long to determine which artwork would be chosen as the Best of Show. The skill and technique of this artist was very apparent; selecting Ronald Malone’s large watercolor titled Rusty’ s Old Camera II was an obvious top winner. The black and white detailed watercolor caught my attention right away. His drawing skills and watercolor techniques were superb.  His image depicted three old style cameras arranged horizontally across a table. One old camera leaned against another. It was the strap of the middle camera which he strategically painted a subtle rusty brown color.  The angle of the color repeated the rhythm of the side of the old camera. The placement of the color, the tone of the color led your eye into the body of the composition. (I later found out during the discussion that Malone was the watercolor instructor in that area!)
The fun part of judging the show at Ridge Art Association is the critique following the selection of the winners. In the afternoon the participates are invited to return to hear why each individual award was chosen. I get to talk; they get to respond, and we have a discussion about what works in the paintings and what doesn’t work and why. It is like teaching a quick class in two hours about composition, color, shape and space. For them the feedback is a learning experience, and they are willing (sometimes) to explore new solutions in their work. After the critique a team gets together to hang the show.
Ridge Art Association is comprised of an enthusiastic director, an eager group of artists working together to make a viable art community. I really admire this kind of camaraderie.
This is why I make an effort to travel out to Winter Haven from St. Petersburg even though it is more than an hour away, lots of tolls and lots of traffic! (I like the pay also!!!)


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