Visitors do not walk in and expect to see a 250-plus-piece installation suspended from the ceiling of the center gallery at Art Center Sarasota.
But July 10, at the opening of Florida Flavor, artists Zach Gilliland and Javier Rodriguez’s collaboration intends to surprise. The exhibit is the biggest juried show and competition held yearly at the Art Center. It fills every gallery with works from Florida artists.
This installation is unlike any of the other works featured in the show. More so, it’s unlike anything that’s ever been submitted to a juried competition at the Art Center.
It consists of more than 250 portraits drawn on translucent paper. Each is framed in a way that makes it appear like a large Polaroid. Wading through the images of tattoo-covered men and women, spectators develop a picture of millennial culture.
It started with Instagram and a lunch break. Local artist and Ringling College of Art and Design alumni Javier Rodriguez, 39, who most know as Javo, found he didn’t have much time for painting between the two jobs he works to support his artist lifestyle. He wanted to find a way to fit in his passion. So he began drawing during the only time his day allowed — lunch break.
For 15 minutes of his 30-minute work break from either his construction job or job working at Sarasota Architectural Salvage, he drew on whatever surface he could find. He drew on paper plates. He drew on napkins. He drew on scrap paper. He started posting photos and videos of his drawings on Instagram.
“What started just as practice for me became better and better,” he says. “People at work and on Instagram started telling me, ‘Oh my god! These are amazing!’”
But Rodriguez didn’t think they were that impressive. He had an idea to elevate his work. He started browsing Instagram, a photo-sharing application on smart phones. He began looking for people’s photos that had good composition and lighting. And what started as dutiful practice of his passion became a lesson in marketing.
Rodriguez started drawing the faces of Instagram and posting them on his own. He’d slowly get likes, then noticed one day he had accumulated hundreds of followers from one image.
He realized that by posting carefully selected portraits of subjects with a lot of followers, he could get more followers himself. This was a way to market himself as an artist — something at which both men admit artists are terrible.
His fanbase grew to nearly 3,000 people. He had people reaching out to him: a magazine in Japan wanted to commission illustrations, a musician in Spain wanted him to create album art.
And, alternatively, the daily practice over nine months resulted in approximately 600 sketches.
“It’s been exciting to watch him pull this off,” Zach Gilliland, co-collaborator, says.
Gilliland, 32, also works at Sarasota Architectural Salvage. He and Rodriguez have collaborated in the past — on construction jobs, murals and sculptures. But nothing they’ve created they felt satisfied both of their strengths. Gilliland comes from a sculptural background; Rodriguez a 2-D.
“We daydream a lot when we’re working,” Gilliland says. “It’s a lot of manual labor we’d rather not be doing, so we talk about our art projects all the time.”
Gilliland persuaded Rodriguez to let him contribute by making frames for the sketches. Gilliland wanted to play on the theme of Polaroids, or instagrams.
“Collaboration is difficult because we’re both selfish with our work,” Gilliland says. “We don’t want someone else trying to enforce their ideas or concepts on us … So trying to trust the fact he has his strengths and understandings and I have mine, we were able to let go.”
Both are proud of the installation. Rodriguez thinks it will place and even win the juried competition, although, he also says that’s not what the duo was hoping to achieve when they created it.
“We just want a wow factor,” Gilliland says. “We want them to be like, ‘What the heck is this? What are these two people thinking?’”
IF YOU GO
When: Opening reception 5 to 7 p.m. July 10. Runs through Aug. 15.
Where: Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail
Info: Call 365-2032 or visit artsarasota.org.