LEGACY: An Exhibition by Ringling College of Art and Design Faculty and Alumni
When we first began planning Art Ovation Hotel’s inaugural exhibition, we realized that the unique collaboration with the Ringling College of Art and Design had to be highlighted. With an award-winning faculty and thousands of distinguished alumni, we had a great starting point. LEGACY: An Exhibition by Ringling College of Art and Design Faculty and Alumni presents more than fifty works by twelve outstanding artists who are dedicated professors, successful alumni and, in some cases, both. The selection of paintings, photographs, videos, installations and sculptures displayed throughout the Hotel’s public areas highlights the richness and the diversity of the art produced by these great ambassadors of the College’s artistic community.
The show begins with a selection of photographs by Thomas Carabasi, Department Head of Photography and Imaging. Four pigment prints on paper from his Cultural Collisions Series superimpose cultural symbols and signage captured during his visits to Prague and New York. The clever ways in which he combines references to visual and performing arts displayed in public spaces allow him to question how people, ideologies and cultures clash or interact, and to create unique multilayered images that are both appealing and challenging to the viewer.
In contrast, Sally Pettibon’s emotional portraits from the Red Shift series address some of her concerns regarding the human experience, relationships and the events that shape peoples’ lives. By using black and white vintage photographs as the basis for her images, this dedicated faculty member of the Department of Photography and Imaging gives unknown characters a sort of familiarity that allows them to document a collective memory. Part reality, part fiction, they inspire us to create a narrative and to connect to it based on our own personal experiences.
The bold use of color in Pettibon’s photographs serves as an introduction to Douglas Higgins’ and Tom Stephens’ large-scale abstract canvases displayed in the Lobby Gallery. Higgins, a faculty member of the Department of Graphic Design, presents four works that illustrate his love for painting. Scribbled calligraphic signs, reminiscent of Cy Twombly and Joan Miró, are superimposed to painterly and dripping-looking neutrally-colored backgrounds. These oversized yellow and black fields, featuring signs and marks that define Higgin’s unique aesthetic language, contrast with his small-format colorful works on paper displayed in one of the Hotel’s elevator lobbies. These beautiful geometric compositions with watercolor-like tones are true jewels that illustrate the artist’s masterful handling of composition and color.
Turning color and composition into beautiful artwork is precisely what Tom Stephens does when he paints his bright canvases. A renowned alumnus, he focuses on the process rather than the end result. His bright energetic pieces result from instinctively layering textures and playing with the foreground as subtle references to abstract landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes emerge. The teal tones and the sail-like shapes featured in many of his paintings, including the Color Change series (2012) and the handmade fishing rods featured in a site-specific installation displayed at the Hotel’s rooftop lobby, are inspired by his love for boating and fishing, a passion he first developed when he became a student at Ringling College and continues to experience today as a Sarasota resident.
A unique space at Art Ovation Hotel is the “Artist’s Studio,” designed to host hands-on art experiences including workshops and classes. A fully functioning art studio, it displays during the opening exhibition a selection of photographs and sculptures by Joe Fig, Ringling College Department Head of Fine Arts and Visual Studies. Known for exploring the creative process and the spaces where art is produced, his works give visitors a glimpse of the lives of major artists including Chuck Close, Malcolm Morley, Matthew Ritchie, Inka Essenhigh, Red Grooms, Petah Coyne and Tara Donovan. While the photographs document the artists’ studios, the sculptures are miniature reproductions meticulously crafted to mirror the original settings. By being displayed in a real studio, the works acquire an additional layer as they allow the viewer to think about (?) the role of the artist, the creative process and the private world of the artist’s studio while standing in one that could potentially become his or her own.
Layers seem to be a common thread throughout the exhibition and the works by Jason Aponte are no exception. An alumnus of the Department of Illustration, he was originally inspired to pursue a career in the arts by comics and film. Today, as a Miami-based figurative-realist painter, he explores through his colorful pieces the effect of the individual’s psychology in contemporary life. In the works selected for the exhibition, he transposes cartoons and movie characters such as Superman, E.T. and Yoda to everyday scenes, particularly to what look like restaurants or bars seen from the outside through a glass window. By superimposing and deconstructing different images, he emphasizes the presence of subtle elements, details that may seem insignificant but can become important or revealing in shaping one’s individuality within the context of contemporary life.
One of the most important aspects of contemporary life is time, and that is precisely the theme of Vicky Randall’s sculpture featured in the exhibition. Titled Clockwork of Seven (2016), this abstract piece welded in stainless steel distinguishes itself by its delicate and playful flowing movement. A faculty member of the Department of Fine Arts, Randall is well known in Sarasota for her monumental outdoor pieces that enhance the city’s landscape.
Jill Taffet, a faculty member of the Department of Motion Design, uses digital animation and new media to create playful immersive installations and animated GIFS such as the two-minute video Cosmic Ancestry (2013), shown in one of the Hotel’s project rooms. Inspired by the theory that life on earth was seeded from space, this site-specific video installation immerses the viewer in a multisensorial experience of a playful game of light and darkness that, according to the artist, explores questions of origin, consciousness and mortality in an abstract way.
Light, in a more traditional way, is represented in the striking paintings by Jeffrey Schwartz, Ringling College’s Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Undergraduate Studies. His works depict the old-fashion neon sign that identifies the Hob Nob, Sarasota’s legendary drive-in and popular landmark. Each of the four panels included in the exhibition shows a photographic view of the street sign from a different angle and at a different time of the day. Light as a medium of expression, be natural (day-night) or artificial (neon sign-street lights), allows him to address the process of painting and the illusion of space. Using multiple angles, layered painterly surfaces and visual effects, Schwartz manipulates the images in such ways that one may question if the place, as depicted, really exists.
The Hob Nob drive-in sign, reminiscent of the Americana of the 1950s and 1960s, sets the tone for the works presented by Joseph Patrick Arnegger, a distinguished alumnus. His paintings are made of layers of nostalgic images and vintage-inspired patinas. His compositions reflect the influence of different time periods as well as art history. His mixed media pieces include materials that have a sense of history of their own. His imagery, particularly the 50s-looking pinup girls, is quite iconic, beautiful, inspiring and somehow melancholic.
The crafty nature of Arnegger’s paintings relates to the “quilt-like” feeling of Nathan Skiles’ series, Will the Circle Be Unbroken (2014), featured in the exhibition. A faculty member of the Department of Fine Arts, he focuses on the complex roles that craft and technology play in the service of images of power and prosperity. His colorful geometric collages, reminiscent of stained glass rose windows, become a repository of textures, patterns and materials, including checkered linen fabrics, army camouflage, quilting pads, family heraldry and crests. In each of the circular Pop-art looking geometric compositions, the combination of contrasting designs creates multi-layered fields that inspire the spectator to question issues of pride, identity, control and safety.
Finally, Steven Strenk, a faculty member of the Department of Illustration and an alumnus of the Department of Fine Arts, presents a selection of his most recent works inspired by a coastal lifestyle. Sailboats, boatyards and surfboards become the subject matter of a series that goes beyond the simple description of the traditional seascape. By depicting them in familiar, playful and somehow nostalgic environments, he establishes a dialogue between the objects and the locations where they are carefully placed. A simple parking lot or a dock becomes the scenario of playful and enjoyable activities, where the human presence is represented by colorful boards and sails. The brush-like painterly technique used in his paintings on panel, and the bright contrasting tones dominated by sky-blues and nature-greens, allow him to explore the counterpoint between figuration and abstraction, between color and texture.
Art Ovation Hotel’s inaugural show, LEGACY: An Exhibition by Ringling College of Art and Design Faculty and Alumni, brings together an impressive selection of multi-media works by some of Sarasota’s most distinguished contemporary visual artists. By stimulating a dialog between them and a unique audience made of locals and hotel guests, the exhibition supports the missions of these two institutions committed to working together to highlight the importance of education, art and creativity, and to bring new programs and opportunities to Florida’s West Coast’s artistic community.
Francine Birbragher-Rozencwaig PhD