When folks ask me what it was like going to New College, the one thing I'm always able to say is, "It was the kind of place where there was such a concentration of unique, independently-spirited and creative people that it was easy to take them for granted. It only hits you when you leave school and start to hear about the wonderful things they're doing out in the world."Perfect case in point: Marina Williams, a fellow "Novo Collegian," has beeen working for years in Sarasota's neighboring city of St. Pete to build up a truly unique space of eclecticism, creativity, community and commerce known as "ArtPool."
After too much time watching her dream expand from over here in Sarasota, I finally made it up to our neighboring city to dive into the ArtPool in person---as a spectator and participating artist in their Valentine's-themed February show entitled "MUSE: art & bodyart Living Canvas exhibition."
On its website, the gallery is described thus:
"an innovative approach to the traditional gallery/studio/event space. [Marina Williams] works hard to maintain a 100% to the artist space that takes no gallery commission that is accessible to all and supportive of her community."
I'm a big fan of caravans and joint ventures, so of course in submitting artwork and in trekking up north, I got others to join me. What follows is the story of our journey to ArtPool---the artists and the observers, in my words and theirs.
The art submission process became a lesson in the benefits of collaboration among the three other local artists who decided to participate: Javier Rodriguez, Edward Drake and Russell Starr. We shared the load of work to be done---for instance, Ed volunteered to drive all of our work up, saving us each time and gas. We helped each other make decisions and react to unexpected complications---"Which piece should I submit?" for example; or, "Agh! I just screwed up my painting completely with this spray gloss-coat ... " "Don't do anything more to it---I have experience with that stuff and you'll just mess it up more." We benefited from those spontaneous exchanges that bubble up in conversation as you work around other people in a similar field, such as Javier's priceless feedback to me about my developing style when he dropped by my house to deliver his paintings.
On Saturday, I rode up with my friends Ha Pham (another wonderful local artist), Adwoa and Kate (both also New College alumni).MUSE promised to be a stimulating experience, and it delivered. The show began before we walked through the door---picture our road trip gang driving down Central Avenue, peering out in search of the gallery among hard-to-distinguish addresses and knowing at once that we had arrived when our eyes fell upon a young woman appearing nude except for a skin of red paint, standing inside a square-shaped window, flanked by a crowd of engrossed onlookers and the bodypaint artist as he executed the finishing touches.
We had arrived indeed.
Once in the door, we spent our time ogling delightful vintage and local handmade accessories; trying not to be too creepy about ogling the creatively-painted models posing, dancing or acting out their characters at every turn; and taking in the great variety of local artwork adorning the walls from one end of the complex to another. ArtPool in whole spans three rooms in the vintage boutique, an outside courtyard, and yet another room perfect for a dance party, more art hanging and a bodypaint fashion show.
I'm always interested in what value these innovative kinds of events bring to the people involved in them---both the "audience" and the creative teams being showcased. Here are two sets of impressions from my friends Kate and from participating Sarasota artist Edward Drake.
[your impression of the event?]
"A fun, chaotic, conflusion of many interesting objects and some neat local art. I think certainly the body painting left the strongest impression of all the experiences, but it was also a neat space and definitely a lot of people interested in seeing what the local art in St Petersburg has to offer. The store itself is a really interesting place with cool things.[favorite part?]
Meeting you guys! And the hidden-away things like finding curious little buttons or lunch boxes or mysterious cowboy boots (in that you weren't sure where on earth they came from). The unexpected material objects were what I liked the most.
[did you sense anything "New College" about it?]
The eclecticism of it---the continuity between found objects and art objects. ... I think if it really had been a New College event, there would have been more people dancing. I would have encouraged more participatory dancing. It's so challenging in the real world!
Edward Drake: [tell us a little about the pieces you put into the show?]
I put six pieces into the MUSE show. They were all nudes---since the show was about body art and body painting, that was as relevant as I could make it for that. Apparently they were pretty well-received. I didn't get to talk to a lot of people in there because it was packed. But a lot of people got to see it and thought it was great. It was unrestricted and had the right kind of crowd and following that I felt was the right kind of venue, because I feel kind of limited in the Srasota area. I've had a lot of places turn me away; they didn't want to see nudity. That's why I jumped on that [Call to Artists] because it's exciting and right up my alley. I have so much to show and share and have people buy it, so I wanted to get in with that.
[your impression of the event?]I had a great experience going there and meeting new people. I got to talk to a couple fo the models, Marina [Williams] too. The guy who was doing painting in the corner found me [on Facebook] and I didn't even get to talk to him. I told him the Butterflly painting turned out great by the end of the night.
[what you enjoyed most?]
The atmosphere, that more people got to see my work, and getting to do some networking. I thought it was a great venue. It was nice to actually find people open to my style of work.
[is there anything in Sarasota that makes you feel more hopeful about having more artistic freedom?]
You probably know more about that than I do; you have turned me onto that. Things like that should be promoted more. I need to look more, obviously; I need to not give up looking. I have had the door shut on me way too many times.
[has this show inspired you for the future?]
Yeah, it gave me some fresh hope that there are places looking for cutting-edge work that is around---and they're hard to find, but when I find one I want to really go with it and hope that it branches out, so I can do some networking and find some circles that I can explore.[advice you would give to other working artists such as yourself?]
Keep networking, and above all keep doing what you're doing---producing your work ... Don't give up, even when hope is running slim. I've had my hope beaten down quite a lot over the years, and it gave me sort of a refreshed sense of, "Oh, right on! Something finally came my way." So I wanted to run with it. The more I look, the more I'll find. So it gave me renewed energy to go out and talk to people like you, to Marina. The more you do, the better off you'll do.
- To see more of Edward's photography, visit his flickr stream.
- Other participating SRQ artist websites:
Want to experience ArtPool yourself? Head up there Saturday, March 10 for their Mad Hatter's Masquerade Ball.
And ... if you're feeling the same yearning as Edward for a Sarasota scene that's not afraid to push the envelope beyond local norms, check out my "Faves and Friends" webpage under "ARTIST GROUPS AND INITIATIVES."
Please add any scenes you've discovered via 'Comments' below!