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1/6/2010

The Arts

Creativity soared, sales sucked
Looking back on the 2009 local art scene

 

For visual artists in Orlando it was a year for organic growth: in other words, growth that was not necessarily visible but gestated some terrific work that popped up in shows and galleries, small and large, in and around the city. While the sales environment did suck in general, finances did not inhibit creativity; artists are somewhat immune to the economy by choice. However, no one escaped the emotional downer that 2009 really was.

Fine art in Orlando is perpetually on the verge of unfolding, yet never seems quite to fully blossom. This year, traditional fine artists continued to be challenged by postmodernist reductionism – they threw out the figure, threw out the frame and threw out nearly all else. And now these artists are also challenged by digital media and may have resorted to experimenting more on the computer. 

It was street art that took over the message in Orlando this year with highly visible permission walls at venues like Redefine and Bold Hype, and the second annual Pintura Project was another high-profile event for graffiti artists from Orlando and around the world. The philosophical change-up offered by graffiti artists will undoubtedly continue to influence the fine art scene in the coming year.

Many shows in 2009 were memorable, and a few standouts are worth mentioning when considering the future directions of art in Central Florida.

Fresh expressions

 There were five exhibitions in particular that captured Orlando’s vibrant, up-and-coming street art essence. In May, Sorry U Missed Us at Redefine showed chilling underground visions by B-Side artists Decoy, NeoSoe, Swamburger and others. Also in May, the CityArts Factory put together (under the direction of Chuck Dinkins, before he moved on) 2009 Rock Walk: The Art of Noise and then retooled it as Sticky Fingers: The Iconic Art Exhibit, which was held over through June. The homage to pop music and culture featured decidedly darker views of the City Beautiful by affiliates of the B-Side collective as well as others artists including Dan Tashlin, Everett Spruill and Enemy Ink.

 In May at Bold Hype, Dolla worked his spray techniques to earn a solo show, $till Payin’ Due$, exposing his rebellious kid characters, “creepz,” and his own expressions on the push-pull between consumerism and anti-commercialism. The paintings in La Vida in June at Creative Spirit Art Gallery showed Erick Marquez transforming from edgy tattoo artist Erock into a mature, subtle soul. Bold Hype closed out the year with Andrew Spear: Solo Exhibition, building upon his well-known pen-and-ink style with rock hair and flair and a nostalgic ’60s vibe.

Back to the future

Vivid Great Depression works relevant to current times were resurrected in three shows in 2009. At Comma in August, Blacks, Whites and Shades of Grey displayed Charles Turzak’s fine woodcuts depicting American patriots and Art Deco studies. These images are intense, highly detailed and yet tinged with melancholy. At the Maitland Art Center, two aspects of the late founder, André Smith, were shown. First, in July, his tragic side was revealed in The Permanent Collection Revisited, a collection of paintings and drawings with unrelenting contrasts between dreams and the harshness of life in the 1930s, curated by Richard Colvin. In late November, Colvin also curated pieces of Smith’s uplifting, inspiring sculpture in Concrete Realities. Smith and Turzak are excellent artists who worked in times that presaged today’s mix of joblessness and economic distress.

Big build-ups

Two installations had impact because they reached a wider audience than previous installations in this region. Doug Rhodehamel’s ambition to achieve a sublime environment succeeded in Deep Blue. This short-lived show at Bold Hype in late July featured menacing undersea creatures in a cool and creepy experience. Installation art also took a big step with RS 21 in May at the Maitland Art Center. The exhibition took its title from the collective of the same name, which includes artists Steven Carey, Kelledy Francis, Pat Greene, Brigan Gresh, Andrew White, Kyle, Martha Lent, Dina Mack, Sergio Mora, Doug Rhodehamel, Nathan Selikoff, Kim Walz, Egberto Almenas and myself. We collaborated on the process and the product, elevating art to a medium rich in narrative, intellectual discussion and timely, relevant themes of the conscious and subconscious.

Colorful captures

Douglas Nesbitt’s My Camera Speaks for Me retrospective of his color fine art photography opened in October at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens. The world traveler’s uncompromising reality and eye for capturing the spirit of ordinary scenes was evident, conveying emotional content through utterly simple images and the occasional digital manipulation. Photography, with artists like Nesbitt and Lonnie Graham, whose Conversation With the World: Eatonville documented the people and history of the township of Eatonville, was carried over at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts through August 2009, continue to show relevance beyond mere documentation, reflecting our world and ourselves in a constant quest for meaning.

We will miss Palin Perez-Jackson, who tragically died last November and whose street-art consciousness bordered on the edge of “social realism,” a Depression-era art movement that celebrated the special nature of specific regions.  Confronting viewers with the reality of an upside-down society caused by financial upheaval, social realists like Grant Wood, John Steinbeck, Thomas Hart Benton and Hurston herself illuminated the hardscrabble existence of America’s social underclass and imbued it with poetry, grace and light. In this new millennium, this movement has yet to be heard.

Together, these exhibitions point to the future of art in Orlando. Newbrow art is challenging highbrow fine art with bold vision and talent, and fine art is reacting with installations as a bolder way to convey content and message. Art in Central Florida is decidedly maturing in a way not seen heretofore, and we can look forward to some exciting new directions in 2010.

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