Pinellas County is blessed with its share of extraordinarily talented artists. It is also blessed with organizations that do everything in their power to promote and encourage local artists at every level.
The 2020 Emerging Artist Exhibition at The Gallery at Creative Pinellas is a fine example of both artists and arts organizations coming together to show off their combined strengths. On view are works by the nine most recent Emerging Artist Grant recipients practicing in a wide range of styles and media.
Upon entering the cavernous gallery, instead of being drawn upward, our eyes are pulled down by what seems like an immense, kaleidoscopic wading pool.
However, this paradisiacal sight becomes a mirage once we learn the artist’s true intention. Steph Hargrove is trying to highlight the devastation occurring to the world’s rainforests. Each of the hand-cut leaves represents one of the 2,700 acres of rainforest that are lost every 30 minutes.
Moving clockwise around the large gallery space we encounter mixed media images by Gianna Pergamo. These combinations of collaged elements and paint seamlessly create delightfully surreal and fantastic beings.
Most portray whimsical “mermaids” consisting of domestic animals equipped with fish tails against colorfully decorative backgrounds. A couple more show animal/human hybrids at home in what look like interiors taken from retro architectural design magazines.
Next are works by Lynn Foskett that take everyday objects as starting points for semi-abstract compositions. One might not ordinarily think of chairs as interesting subjects but in Foskett’s hands they combine in ways that create fascinating images that hold our attention.
The largest wall piece is comprised of cutout chair silhouettes of various colors, overlapped, turned and intertwined. The intersections and negative spaces make a delightful jigsaw puzzle for the eye.
My favorite piece, though, is based not on a chair but an ordinary outdoor hose rack, clearly visible but camouflaged by surrounding lines and colors. A great example of making the mundane mysterious.
Turning the corner we encounter a series of acrylic paintings by Mark Mitchell. Immediately catching the eye is a large triptych called Distracted Driving.
Like much of Mitchell’s work, what at first glance might seem to be abstraction is a pop-inspired painted synthesis of photo-based images that slowly reveal themselves.
Any sense of disorientation is intentional and perfectly suits Mitchell’s subject matter here, commenting on the constant technological demands on our attention. Mitchell’s work satisfies both visually and intellectually.
Turning the next corner we come to the work of Zoe Papas. What could be simple academic figure drawings become something more in Papas’ hands.
A three-dimensional aspect is added by cutting through the top layer of paper to reveal more drawn imagery on the layer below. The underlying images produce the effect of looking at memories or psychological aspects of the figures portrayed.
The Fleeting Image conveys a strong sense of longing or isolation.
To the right we come to Judy Vienneau’s mixed media works. Again we find an unusual combination of materials. Namely, figures ‘drawn’ with wire that float on top of painted backgrounds.
If this isn’t intriguing enough, there is an added bonus. The wire drawings cast their own shadows, creating secondary drawings on the painted surface behind them.
In the case of Melting Pot showing five portraits of individuals of various genders and ethnicities, the cast shadows create altered facial expressions, revealing two facets of each individual.
Angela Warren’s acrylic paintings come next. These are restful, yet playful, semi-abstract depictions of light reflecting on the surface of water or shoreline vegetation.
In Wading the pastel colors are cheerful and the brushstrokes are generous. The impression is that of being in nature on a warm summer day with nothing to distract us from the sheer pleasure of looking.
We can also sense the joy that can come from the act of painting.
Turning the last corner we come to Patricia Kluwe Derderian’s acrylic paintings. Each is a domestic interior with figures.
The artist seems to have rapidly sketched in charcoal and added paint with an equal sense of urgency as if to capture a fleeting moment. Either that, or these are memories in which fine details get lost in time but the essential gestures and emotions remain.
Whichever the case, capturing the essence of people, places, tastes and smells seems to be the artist’s prime objective.
Finally, we have the one example of truly three-dimensional work in the exhibition. Kodi Thompson’s sculptures work on many levels at once. Are they broken childrens’ toys, discarded machine parts, fallen architectural details? What are they made of? Iron? Wood?
With a little detective work we find that these are extruded ceramic. (Remember forcing Play-Doh through the squeeze machine?) This is play but also serious business.
Look closely and we see the cracks that often occur when firing thick slabs of ceramic, alluding to “risk and adventure, or relationships (good and bad).”
Despite the fact that these are “emerging” artists, experiencing this exhibition provides the same gratifying feeling one gets visiting a quality museum. The visitor is rewarded with feeling satiated and enlivened having been in the midst of art-making at its best. Go see this show before it closes!
(Disclaimer: I have received two Professional Artist Grants from Creative Pinellas and also served as mentor to Mark Mitchell during the grant process leading up to this exhibition.)