With their group exhibition, Tim Jaeger, Joseph Arnegger and Tom Stephens capture the essence of Old Florida.
| 6:00 a.m. September 28, 2016
Arts + Culture
Old Florida. People talk a lot about it, but what does it mean, exactly? The term can be an elusive one. Is it characterized by a specific time period? An architectural aesthetic?
Perhaps it’s something less easily defined — a sense of longing for days bygone. Days before high-rise condos and strip malls, when sleepy, idyllic fishing towns, tight-knit communities and pristine beaches made Florida a destination.
It’s this sense of nostalgia —and its ambiguous nature — that inspired artists Tim Jaeger, Tom Stephens and Joseph Arnegger’s upcoming group exhibition at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.
All Ringling College graduates, the three artists first met through their alma mater. Although they graduated years apart from one another, they found themselves immersed in Sarasota’s relatively small exhibition social circle — and the even smaller circle of artists who call paint their medium of choice.
They became friends, and in 2008, they used their shared vision to create SARTQ, an artist collective designed to create a sense of community among like-minded local artists and host group exhibitions.
Recently, they considered creating a group show, this time featuring just the three of them. Amidst rumors of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts potentially facing its last exhibition season, the idea for the show surfaced.
“It’s such a historic building,” says Jaeger. “It got us talking about how much Florida has changed. We wanted to tell the story of Old Florida — through our eyes. We’re fascinated with this idea of being connected to something that’s much older and bigger than we are.”
A Modern lens
As its title suggests, the show is a modern-day interpretation of the past. But what elements do they hope to encapsulate?
For Arnegger, a big source of inspiration comes from the group’s shared love of craftsmanship — especially relevant as painters.
“The whole show is about nostalgia,” he says. “There’s something honorable in crafting something by hand, and in a lot of ways, we’ve moved away from that. Art, too, has moved away from craftsmanship, with a bigger focus on concepts and execution than on the actual craft. But there’s no replacement for a hand moving paint around a canvas. That’s important to preserve.”
Arnegger and Stephens say that for them, the show is a continuation of their existing artistic styles. Arnegger, a self-described midcentury fanatic, paints deeply saturated, deliberate works, often incorporating nautical themes and ‘50s and ‘60s motifs.
Stephens’ dense, textured works often depict coastal Florida imagery.
Jaeger, however, says the show was a deviation from his standard subject matter and approach. To prepare, he says he studied historic photos and talked to longtime residents to get a sense of Old Florida and what it meant to them. What he found informed his work, influencing his color palette to reflect Florida’s natural beauty and inspiring him to work in new mediums, including painting on plexiglass.
“That’s one of my favorite things about living in a city with a higher median age,” he says. “If you’re willing to look for them, there are countless stories here. You have a direct link to the past, and those stories are really valuable. That fed my decision-making when I painted.”
There’s an inherent risk in romanticizing the past. Several generations removed, people tend to see things through rose-colored glasses, overlooking any negative aspects of the time.
“It would’ve been really easy to politicize this,” says Arnegger. “But we didn’t take that route. This is more about honoring Florida’s beauty and remembering it as a destination — the land of milk and honey and art deco. We don’t want to lose that sense of magic about where we live, as if paradise isn’t two blocks from here.”
For Stephens, one of the most appealing parts of Old Florida is what he calls its sense of community and shared experiences. With the exhibition, he hopes to capture that and stir people’s own memories and emotional connections to the state he loves.
And while the show is looking to the past, he says it’s important not to lose sight of the present.
“That’s the funny thing about the good old days,” he says. “You never realize that you’re living in them. Twenty years from now, we’ll look back fondly at the present. So there’s a sense of timelessness we’re evoking — it’s something everyone can connect with.”