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Art Center Sarasota unveils Big Show exhibit

The national exhibition debuts July 16.

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On a typical art collection day for a new exhibit, Exhibitions and Marketing Coordinator Danielle Dygert would join Art Center Sarasota staff and 30 volunteers to collect artwork of all shapes and sizes from hundreds of artists. That’s changed with the pandemic.

It was a more intimate affair when Dygert received the 250 pieces of artwork that comprise this year’s “Big Show” national juried exhibition. The arts showcase opens July 16 and is set to run through Aug. 21.

More than 400 pieces — a mix of paintings, pencil art, sculptures, mixed media designs, fabrics and more —  were submitted, with 250 ultimately retained.

“(It’s) in hopes to kind of bring new talent to the area,” Dygert said. “And also, you know, it's a great way for our locals to see where they stand on a local, regional and national scale.”

Danny Olda, manager of curatorial programs, content and engagement at Creative Pinellas, served as juror for choosing the pieces. It’s a larger exhibit that takes up four gallery spaces, and one that Dygert hopes brings in greater talent to the art center.

The competition’s first place winner Art Venti, a recent Sarasota transplant from England, has been sitting with his feelings on the current pandemic for months. He wants his artwork to be not so much overt about the pandemic that defines this current moment, but rather express the feeling of a treacherous underbelly in society that could ensnare those who aren't careful.  

He put those feelings to paper with his “Human Briar” piece, a 4-month hand-drawn endeavor that depicts a vibrant but twisting landscape of plastic and debris in the water. 

“A briar can be a place to hide, but it can also trap you,” Venti said. 

Each one of Venti’s works is a committed undertaking. The artist, who has resided in New York, California, and England before moving to Sarasota, spends four months at minimum drawing his pieces with colored pencils.

Each stroke has to be perfectly balanced — he says you can see the marks if he presses down harder or lighter while drawing. Venti uses cotton gloves and a rod to rest his hand while working to avoid touching paper. He tries to get the best materials so his works can stand the test of time when part of an art collection.

“Each little stroke takes so long to do,” Venti said. “... If you do colored pencils, it’s very slow. I really believe that relates to life — the best things are slow.”

Maeve McCool, who resides in upstate New York, won a special award for her “Cold Spring House” pencil-drawn design on repurposed fabric. The 7-foot-wide fabric depicts an abandoned, dilapidated hotel in the Catskill Mountains that’s begun to cave in on itself. 

McCool has visited and sketched the hotel many times — there’s something about long-abandoned structures she’s drawn to.

“(Decaying) places really catch my eye,” McCool said. “... It makes you think about how these systems fall and rise around you.”

She penciled images onto fabric and sewed them together by hand to create a larger piece. The process has taken months, and has been something of a quarantine project for the 24-year-old artist.

McCool submitted the work to the exhibition on a whim — her friend and former Sarasota resident let her know about the show —and is excited to have her passion project showcased. 

 Staff hopes to have a limited opening for the Big Show on Thursday, July 16. A virtual tour is set to be released online as well. 

“As our second national call, we're just slowly building up that rapport,” Dygert said. “Well, we've had a lot more (artists) participate from out of state than we did in the December show. So we're getting there.”


1st Place: Art Venti  for “Human Briar” 

2nd Place: Richard Lamson for “Little Blue“

3rd Place: Karen Smith-Lovejoy for  “Feeling Marginalized at 65!” 

Merit Award: Rebecca Quigley  for “Open Up Your Box of Secrets…”

Merit Award: Jillian VidaNova  for  “When Cows Fly” 

Special Award: Maeve McCool  for “Cold Spring House”



Harry Sayer

Harry Sayer is the Black Tie editor for the Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and previously worked Black Tie for the Observer newspaper in Winter Park and Maitland. You can catch him at one of Sarasota's fundraisers and shindigs.

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