The Stylish Irreverence of Libertine Contemporary
A visit to the recent addition to St. Pete’s gallery walk.
Text by Julie Garisto
Photos by Daniel Veintimilla
June 15, 2018
In the southeast corner of downtown, where Rowdies fans in green and yellow scurry by to nearby Al Lang Stadium for another NASL soccer match, a contemporary art gallery is gaining some traction in the Burg scene.
Libertine Contemporary has been open around six months, and has made strides in showing works by artists in the local scene. Works from Chad Mize, the Exquisite Corpse Games have hung on its walls, as well as those of notable artists from farther-flung locations. The sleek space has a commercial, fashion-forward, trendy L.A. vibe at first, but a closer look reveals works that convey subtext and ideas, transporting the viewer outside the realm of pure eye candy. And apropos to its name, Libertine shows works created in a variety of media with a spirit of rebellion and distinctive zazz.
During our visit during June’s Second Saturday Art Walk, the gallery featured Tampa Bay photographer Stephanie Agudelo, who received raves for her stunning “Aquatic Utopia” series. Using water as a method of obfuscation, she shows how shapes and forms alter when submerged, playing with our sense of reality. As we gaze at people underwater through the filter of ripples, colors swirl and subjects begin to look alternately grotesque and beautiful.
Libertine’s permanent, rotating collection includes Australian artist Shane Bowden, whose works call into question our ideas around entertainment, pleasure, fashion and consumerism, mixing elements of shock and humor with familiar logos, imagery and icons, both illustrated and human. His imagery encompasses graffiti, figure realism, abstract expressionism, and black-and-white print in an array of media. He claims Warhol, Rauschenberg, Damien Hirst as his major influences, and uses humor and levity to help us deal with life’s frustrations.
One of his more shocking works is almost invisible until you study it up close. From his “Platinum Collection,” the work features a stark white background and a faint etching revealing a half-naked, Snow White in a compromising pose with her dwarfs.
“I started in art school but dropped out, they were teaching me everything I didn’t want to learn — the rules and guidelines — and I think art is the exact opposite of that,” the sought-after pop artist told the web magazine Pacific. “The reason I left art school is I didn’t want to get told what to do.”
Gallery Manager Ari Robinson, a Creative Pinellas 2018 Emerging Artist, has works in the collection, works from her dreamy Luna series. For the works, she collages hand-painted snippets of abstract waves and other shapes in a circular shape that resembles a photograph of the the moon’s surface, but if you stare up close, mysterious details emerge, adding new perspectives. Eye-catching for sure, Robinson’s work is getting attention locally and internationally. Along with being chosen for MIZE gallery’s “Fruit Bowl” exhibition next month, her work also appears on Les Vins Georges Duboeuf’s 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau label.
There’s also the visceral, hyper-kinetic abstracts and pop icon works of Timothy Raines and Jay Johansen‘s striking figurative realism. London artist Zeus cleverly calls attention to corporate intrusions on our health and everyday lives with his colorful pills. Jason Brueck, one of my personal favorites, is an emerging digital artist from Fort Myers, who now calls East Nashville home. His photographic manipulations are otherworldly, a bit tweaked and often downright chilling. Be sure to check out his “Alter Images” series, which juxtaposes a feeling of being outer space and scenes of Old Florida. One of the standouts, Guiding Light, depicts an astronaut wandering through a Florida landscape as fireflies sparkle around him like stars. I couldn’t stop looking at it.
On the night of the Art Walk, a Z.AA dress up studio pop-up boutique of “sophisticated, dynamic and edgy” fashions added a splash color to the white space. The fun, elegant, ready-to-wear female fashions helped provide that haute couture ambiance mentioned earlier.
All told, Libertine Contemporary is a welcome addition to the art community with affordable price points, a kicky irreverence and a lack of formalism that many will find refreshing.
More art shot by Daniel Veintimilla: