Incredible Journey: Interview with Emma Thurgood

I’ve been engaged in this ongoing dialogue about support for local contemporary art for quite some time now. Ever since I moved to Sarasota, FL I have experienced a vast amount of creative energy that feels underground, for the most part. Contemporary art collectives and gallery spaces crop up every now and then, which is great because creatives can see Sarasota’s vast potential — the only problem is that they don’t seem to stick for very long. So I wonder; how do we get to a point where new collectives and galleries can become established, and when these new collectives and galleries do become established they, in turn, become a catalyst for new spaces and groups until a domino effect is created? We have a good number of resources, but I think we still need to consider more support from current established institutions, so that artists (young and old) have more of an incentive to stay and help strengthen our art community. For example, when I was recently living in Utah, I loved going to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and CUAC because, not only could I view the work of artists living in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Berlin, etc., but I could also view contemporary art that was created by Utah artists! UMOCA even has a “locals only gallery” with a stipend included to help fund each exhibition within that space — AND the work that I saw continually blew my mind because I was viewing powerful, compelling artwork that was created outside of a major art center perspective — it was all new and fresh. I was viewing contemporary art about subjects that were specifically related to the location I was in and that added a whole other dimension to my experience as a viewer. It was also quite clear that these artists were very aware of the contemporary art world, were referencing aspects of it, but not necessarily mimicking it per se — they were adding their own perspective to what I consider an ongoing creative discussion, and it was coming from a Utah perspective. So that makes me think; how amazing would it be to go anywhere in the world and be able to view contemporary art that is representative of that location and its artists’ perspectives, while also being able to view artwork created by emerging and established, national and international, artists in the same space? To me, that would be highly fascinating! Fortunately for Sarasota, I’ve found that Art Center Sarasota is doing just that, and making quite an exciting impression in the process. I recently contacted Art Center Sarasota’s Exhibitions Coordinator, Emma Thurgood, to discuss the Art Center’s 2013-2014 season of exhibitions.

KLL: What is, and has been, your vision for Art Center Sarasota since you started your current position?

ET: My vision for the Art Center’s Exhibitions Program is to grow it to be a leader in Sarasota’s contemporary arts scene. For me, that means showing a variety of art year round that is visually interesting, thought provoking, and creates a memorable experience that they can’t get anywhere else in the area. I’ve been at the Art Center for a year and a half now, and I feel like we are on a great path with those ideas. For the last few exhibitions, visitors have been telling me, “This is the best show I’ve ever been to in Sarasota.” They said that about “Florida Flavor”, they said that about “African Nouveau” and “Leaf | Textile | Purpose” and I think the trend will continue on through the Incredible Journey Season.

KLL: Art Center Sarasota’s 2013-2014 season of exhibitions is titled Incredible Journey; why was that title selected and what should viewers expect to experience during the Incredible Journey season?

ET: Last season was called Southern Exposure for a reason: 20 of the 22 exhibitions we produced were exclusively Florida artists. It was a huge success in highlighting the amazing talents of Florida artists. Now, with Incredible Journey, we’re taking viewers on explorations of different art forms and concepts in art, as well as drawing artists from further afield than we normally do. In the past, it was very rare that our curated shows included artists that were outside of the Florida region. This season, we are presenting artists from across America and we have started the eight-year international exhibition program, “Confluence.” This program is an initiative I started where we will be showcasing artists from the countries in which Sarasota has a sister city. This year it’s Israel, 2015 is Russia.

I think this season is going to take some viewers’ way outside of their comfort zone. There are a lot of shows on the docket that present works that many people aren’t accustomed to seeing in Sarasota. For me, this is all part of creating a dialogue about what art is and can mean that will break down some barriers that have been put up.

KLL: We’ve talked a lot about fostering more support for local artists and creating an incentive for recent graduates to continue to live and work as artists in Sarasota; how is Art Center Sarasota contributing to this goal?

ET: Our main contribution towards encouraging students to stay in Sarasota is through Black Box Projects. It is specifically for students and recent graduates to produce an ambitious project. The Art Center provides an exhibition space and time, as well as some financial resources to see the vision of a student come to life. This contributes to their understanding of real world skills because they have to write a professional proposal to be considered and they have to produce the show.  Because we schedule so far out in advance, a candidate could be a student when they apply for the Project, but already graduated when the Project finally comes on display in the gallery. Secondly, we have juried shows year round, and students and young artists who have been submitting have been winning awards and selling their work regularly over the past six months. Sarasota in general is a great place for that kind of success, too. In my research of other centers like Art Center Sarasota across the country, very few regions are like ours in that they offer so many exhibition opportunities year round across multiple venues. The rate for being selected to hang in a juried exhibit is very high, as well. In other shows across the country, you are competing with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people and only a small handful will be selected. In the Art Center’s juried shows, we receive around 300 submissions from about 200 artists and hang approximately 140-160 pieces. In the current juried show, “miniatures,” we have 244 pieces on display from a submission pool of 345. Those are some great odds for artists.

KLL: In your opinion, why should there be support for local contemporary art in Sarasota?

ET: A city is only as old as its youngest member. If the art scene continues to alienate the younger artists and audiences as it has in years past, they’ll find somewhere else to go where they feel like they belong. It’s a difficult challenge to deal with, especially as a non-profit, because the young people are not always the financial supporters of an organization. But organizations need to cultivate the next round of supporters because, as with all things, times and people change.

Art Center Sarasota does a pretty good job walking this tightrope, I think. I try to make sure that there is something on display for everyone. I have at any given time over 300 artworks on display in the building and they’re all different.  No person should be leaving the center saying that there was not a single piece they liked. It’s impossible.

KLL: What advice would you give to recent graduates about establishing an art practice/career in Sarasota and/or its neighboring communities?

ET: Get involved! It’s hard for students, between classes and jobs, but seriously, there’s still enough down time in their life for them to carve out even twenty minutes a week to go and look at what’s on display in a gallery. The more involved they can become in the arts scene, the better off they’ll be. They’ll have a better idea of who the players are, they’ll be able to meet and speak with many of them at receptions, and it will give them a better idea of how they fit into the art landscape. One of the things I can’t stand is when a  young artist comes to me to ask me to put on a show of their work and they have no idea who I am or what I do or even anything about my organization. I teach a professional practices class at the center with Elizabeth Hillmann, our Education Coordinator, and one of the things we talk about is gallery etiquette. I live by a simple rule when it comes to that: date your gallery. Be informed about who they are and what they do before you approach them, be respectful of their time, and if they pick you for representation, treat them with the absolute utmost respect and maintain a good relationship.

KLL: What other services does the center provide that the community can get involved with?

ET: Art Center Sarasota has a wide variety of events and public programs throughout the year. I have a great lecture season coming up with Kevin Costello and Baila Miller starting on November 21. We also have a killer education program with tons of classes in painting, sculpture, collage, jewelry and other fun stuff. The full listing of classes and workshops can be found at I’m really looking forward to Paper Arts Week November 18 – 22. Then, in March we have tons of programming to accompany our “Confluence: Israel” exhibit and of course, iconcept on March 28, 2014 where art walks the runway!

KLL: I am thrilled by the variety of art mediums and artists that are, and will be, exhibiting this season. Can you touch upon the importance of a diverse exhibition space that incorporates the work of local, national, and international artists?

ET: The best thing about the space at the Art Center is that we have four different galleries. So I generally show four different shows at any one time. Our largest gallery is always a juried exhibit of predominantly local artists. Some of them come from further afield in Florida, and every now and then we get someone from out of state. The other three galleries are dedicated to curated shows of local artists, community groups and nationally recognized artists.

I think some artists would prefer if we only showed local artists all the time, but as a community center, we are not just here for the local artists, we’re here for the viewers too. That’s a difficult balance to manage sometimes. Showing the work of local artists is great, and I do it as often as I can, but showing that work doesn’t mean anything if no one is coming to look at it. What makes a viewer come to look at the local art that we are displaying as opposed to any of the other venues in town doing the same thing? That’s what our curated show of more recognized artists are for- they get the people in the door to come and see something they can’t anywhere else in town. I couldn’t tell you how many times someone has come in to see one of our shows in the front gallery and then bought something from a local artist out of the juried show. It’s also a benefit for the artists showing that they can say they’ve exhibited at a place that has also exhibited such notables as John Chamberlain, Syd Solomon and many others.  It offers up some shared prestige.

KLL: Can you tell us a little bit about CUBEMUSIC, Sun Boxes, and Pulp Culture?

ET: CUBEMUSIC and Sun Boxes, from Craig Colorusso, are the big blockbusters for the opening of our season. I feel like they really kick off the journey. Sound art is so underrepresented in Sarasota. The only other exhibit I’m aware of is the one at the Ringling in late 2011. But, for that you had to pay to go see it or wait for free Monday, and generally the people that need free Monday have to work on Mondays. What’s a viewer to do? Art Center Sarasota is always free and open to the public during our business hours, Mon-Sat 10a-4p. CUBEMUSIC will be transforming the space of Gallery 1 for the next eight weeks. Its cast light and shadows coupled with the soothing deep resonance of sound creates a truly altering experience of the space.

For viewers who still aren’t able to come and see the art, the art is coming to you! We are so excited to take Craig’s other installation Sun Boxes on the road around Sarasota. We’re stopping at parks and beaches to bring sound art to the masses. Whereas CUBEMUSIC is somewhat dark and ominous in its sound, Sun Boxes is positively ethereal. You can’t help but feel happy when you see them and hear them. The full schedule of the Sun Boxes tour for November and January can be found at

Pulp Culture is another show opening November 7 that I curated. I wanted to do a fun show about paper because I have such a love for it. I daresay it’s a dangerous addiction. I tried to not be too serious about it and just show fun creative art that would make people smile while educating them about the way that paper can be used for art other than drawing or painting. So far it seems I’ve accomplished my goal because of the feedback I’ve already gotten while I was installing the show.

art center sarasota image

You can view more information about Art Center Sarasota, Sun Boxes, CUBEMUSIC, Pulp Culture, and Emma Thurgood at:

Art Center Sarasota

Backstage Pass: Emma Thurgood curates excitement

Artist Interview: Craig Colorusso


Sky Water Blues: A Series of Works Inspired by Three Geographic Locations

July 18 – September 26th, 2013
Women’s Resource Center, Sarasota, FL

An exhibit of abstract and representational personal landscapes in oil, pastel and acrylic by Sarasota artist Carol Hershberger will be on display July 18 through September 26, 2013 at The Women’s Resource Center, 340 S Tuttle Ave, Sarasota. 941-366-1700. Carol’s paintings are inspired by her memories. They reveal themselves in symbolic forms and are comprised of multiple layers of color, composition and materials.  The opening will take placeJuly 18 from 5-7 p.m. the Selby Room. The public is invited and refreshments will be served along with Musician Tyler Plaster of 3D Burn.

Carol grew up on a dairy farm in Holmes County, Ohio. Steeped in Mennonite tradition and ritual, she was deeply influenced by a sense of place. Quoting author Lucy Lippard in her book, The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multi-centered Society, “If space is where culture is lived, then place is the result of their union”. Carol’s work embodies that sentiment. In 1997, she moved to Sarasota to attend Ringling College of Art and Design. She received her BFA in 2003 and has exhibited her work locally at Selby Gallery, Crossley Gallery, Sarasota Art Center and Selby Library. Visit to see examples of her art.

Beaulah's Hill, 40" x 30", acrylic and oil on canvas, 2013
Beaulah’s Hill, 40″ x 30″, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2013

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“Is A Painting Ever Done?” by Pamela Beck

How does an artist know when a work is done? There are many ways to keep this ball in the air. Sometimes a final signature is added only when a painting is sold rather than completed. Join Pamela Beck in her newest installment of ArtDart as she comments on “Is a Painting Ever Done?”

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

Recently, an artist friend told me that he loves to shop online. “I make a decision; I click a button; I’m asked if my selection is final; and then I get to say ‘yes’.”

Following this announcement, he pumped his clenched fist triumphantly in the air before my blank expression. He then realized that I wasn’t quite sure where victory fit into his recent purchase of a Chicago Cubs Crystal Freezer Mug from, so he added, “I love that moment of satisfaction when I get to confirm that my action is complete and done. It’s not a feeling I have very much when I paint.”

My friend had better put his credit card under lock and key because, from what others artists have told me, many a good painting has been ruined by sentences that begin with “It’s almost done but needs a little more …..”

Knowing when a painting is finished can be challenging for artists. As difficult as that can be to understand for the task-driven among us, an artist will often overwork, overanalyze or even destroy paintings that to others appear not only done, but perfect. The artist’s self-questioning can take on the obsessive zeal of an eyebrow-plucker who winds up hairless after return trips to the mirror.

But it’s not an uncommon state of mind for an artist:

When something is finished, that means it’s dead, doesn’t it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for a while.
Arshile Gorky

The Artist and His Mother (ca. 1926-1936) by Arshile Gorky
The Artist and His Mother (ca. 1926-1936) by Arshile Gorky

How does an artist know when a work is done? There are many ways to keep this ball in the air. Sometimes a final signature is added only when a painting is sold rather than completed. This leaves the door open for the artist to continually return to a painting before it leaves the nest; at which point the artist may declare it finally “done.” But even after a painting has been sold, artists often wish they could get back into that canvas and give it a little tweak.

Some artists never feel their paintings are finished. Although they usually want and/or need to sell their work, they’re also quite content to keep their paintings around to dip back into. They feel that later on, something might come to them that enhances the work or better expresses their intentions. Or perhaps, for whatever personal reasons, the artist isn’t ready to let go of it.

No painting stops with itself, is complete of itself. It is a continuation of previous paintings and is renewed in successive ones…
Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1957, oil on canvas, 113 x 159 in
Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1957, oil on canvas, 113 x 159 in

Often you can see specific “periods” in artists’ work—where it’s clear that personally compelling ideas and techniques are being explored in one painting after another. Even for the viewer, let alone for the artist, it can feel like these paintings are extensions of the same themes, as the artist explores his/her own reactions. At these times in particular, the distinction between where one painting ends and another begins can become blurry.

Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie, oil on canvas, 39 3:8 x 25 3:4, Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest, collection Modern Museum of Art 176.1945
Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie, oil on canvas, 39 3:8 x 25 3:4, Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest, collection Modern Museum of Art 176.1945

Pablo Picasso, Accordionist, 1911, oil on canvas, 51 1:4 x 35 1:4 in. (130 x 89.5 cm.) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Pablo Picasso, Accordionist, 1911, oil on canvas, 51 1:4 x 35 1:4 in. (130 x 89.5 cm.) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

To this point, I knew a painter who, in the midst of what subsequently became a series, didn’t want to sell her work until she “got it out of her system.” She needed to refer back to those she’d just painted to see how she should proceed with her new ones. She was able to let go of her work, consider it done, and sell it, once she felt she’d answered the questions her work posed; at which point she wanted to move on to a new approach to keep her curiosity fresh.

The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared.
Georges Braque

Shopping online may just have to do for those painters who yearn for the satisfaction derived from a singular act of unequivocal completion. But there are other painters who have come up with their own fail proof solutions to determine when to finally put that paintbrush down:

I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Seated Nude, 1913, oil on canvas, private collection
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Seated Nude, 1913, oil on canvas, private collection

Pamela Beck
Pamela Beck

Pamela co-owned Pannonia Galleries in NYC. There she was also an art appraiser, private art dealer, art fair exhibitor and catalogued paintings at Sotheby’s. Perhaps it’s not surprising that she is also a psychotherapist. She has a keen interest in the arts and supporting Sarasota’s future as a lively, diverse and forward thinking city for young and old.Pamela is a member of The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Curatorial & Acquisitions Committee & Acquisitions Committee and Institute for the Ages Volunteer.

American Moderns at The Ringling

June 14 – September 8, 2013
Ringling Museum of Art

American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell presents fifty-seven artworks from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in an exploration of the myriad ways in which American artists engaged with modernity. Ranging widely in subject matter and style, the fifty-three paintings and four sculptures were produced by leading artists of the day, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Rockwell Kent, Joseph Stella, Elie Nadelman, and Norman Rockwell. Significant works by these and other artists in the exhibition exemplify their unique contributions to modern culture.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 2 Yellow Leaves, 1928, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, 2 Yellow Leaves, 1928, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe

R.O. Woody Interview by Pamela Beck

When you look at an object you don’t just take a split second snapshot image of what you are seeing, you see the subject and everything that surrounds it. There is the changing light, the movement, the relationship to the surrounding elements, the changing color relationships, the atmosphere, even the smell of it all. You have a very complex, encompassing impression of what you are seeing.

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

Mr. Woody received his BA at University of Miami and MFA at Mexico City College. He has been a consultant and technical advisor to Binney and Smith, Inc. (Liquitex), Grumbacher, Inc., and LeFranc and Bourgeois, Inc. He has lectured on materials and color theory at over 450 colleges, universities and art schools throughout the United States, Canada and Europe including the Alberta College of Art, Boston University, University of California/Berkley, Carnegie Institution, Corcoran School of Art, New York University, Ringling School of Art and Design, Yale University, etc.

Mr. Woody has served as Visiting Professor of Art, Illinois State University, Normal, IL and Visiting Professor of Art, St. Cloud State College, St. Cloud, MN. He has authored two books: “Painting With Synthetic Media,” Van Nostrand Reinhold and “Polymer Painting and Related Techniques,” Van Nostrand Reinhold. He is represented by the Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota.

WIMS - TORN COOL TO WARM   110" X 90"   acrylic on torn 5 ply drawing board on free formed wood support
WIMS – TORN COOL TO WARM 110″ X 90″ acrylic on torn 5 ply drawing board on free formed wood support

PB: Your work spans from 1955 to now and changes considerably. What was behind your thinking/ feeling as you changed from your earlier techniques to your current ones?

ROW: I started as a realist — a super realist. At first it was gratifying. But after doing this for a few years, not only did it become technically boring, I realized that people viewing my work were not getting what I wanted them to feel—except on a shallow, superficial level. I was trying to paint more than a face or a tree. I was trying to get to the essence of the subject.

When you look at an object you don’t just take a split second snapshot image of what you are seeing, you see the subject and everything that surrounds it. There is the changing light, the movement, the relationship to the surrounding elements, the changing color relationships, the atmosphere, even the smell of it all. You have a very complex, encompassing impression of what you are seeing.

That’s what I wanted to convey. And the viewers were counting details, counting the leaves, estimating how long it took to complete the painting. So I decided to try and convey the other elements, which led me more and more to abstract the subject. It also led to fewer sales. But at least I had caused the viewer to respond more to the overall concept –even if they did not like it and had to think and contribute something of themselves to the experience. And still today I start quite realistically and then abstract the subject to get the total concept.

WIMS - DANCE PARTNER   88" X 90"  acrylic on torn canvas with faux fur on free formed wood support
WIMS – DANCE PARTNER 88″ X 90″ acrylic on torn canvas with faux fur on free formed wood support

PB: I see you have several paintings that are totally black. Considering most of your work has extensive, saturated color, what are those black ones about? And please talk about your double-sided paintings.

ROW: Initially this started as an exercise. I taught and lectured on color theory. And at one point I realized that when I came upon a problem in a painting I knew I could easily fake my way out of it with color manipulation. So I decided to limit myself to black on black so I could not use color as a crutch.

A short time after I started this, there came many “black” events, outside of, as well as in, my life. There was the shooting of Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War and the prolonged dissolution of a twenty-year marriage. I continued this, not as an exercise, but as a valid statement of expression. And I cut holes in the canvas projected sculptural images from the canvas, stuffed and abraded the canvas.

Then a few years later I was worn out, drained, and decided there were two sides to this. At that point I literally made two sides to the painting. I double stretched the canvas, hung if from the ceiling and painted both sides, still cutting holes and stuffing it. I was dealing with the yin/yang concept of opposites, including the concept that within the opposite is a piece of the opposite.

The other side of the black paintings became a strong color statement — with a piece of black in it. Eventually the double-sided paintings became a riot of color and life. But they still contained a bit of the opposite, which, I found, became something different when viewed, or experienced, from the other side. This expressed through design and color interaction –but no less true in philosophical concept.

I was living in New York’s SoHo at that time and Pop Art was what was selling. These large, abstract, conceptual paintings didn’t have a chance. Besides, they took up actual space; hard to ask that in a home.

However I lived in a 3,600 square foot loft at the time, with 14 foot ceilings, and they made great room dividers. I still work on double-sided paintings, but mainly have gone back to wall hanging works. (Although some of the double sided work can be hung on the wall and flipped.) I work in several series concepts: music, especially jazz; dance and the female nude: children on swings and jumping rope, etc.; the Everglades (with both its beauty and uneasy edge), birds.

PB: What were your days in New York like? You lived/worked there during a particularly rich time for artists.

ROW: I loved living in New York! I met many artists such as Bill and Elaine deKooning, James Brooks, Adolph Gottlieb, Milton Resnik, Idelle Weber, Nicholas Krushenick, Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler. I was able to use most of these artists in my books on materials. They were very gracious and giving people.

I really miss all the museums and galleries and good music and food. And the activity and stimulation. I moved into SoHo at the very beginning of its development as an art center. My loft was formerly a manufacturing loft for tennis wear. They left the cutting tables, which were great drawing and working spaces. There were three galleries, several bars, a great bread company and a restaurant call Food. Later Dean and Deluca moved in just around the corner. But, as I mentioned, I was working against the art wave of the time, which I have seemed to do most of my life.

YELLOW BACKED CROW   24" X 30"   acrylic on canvas
YELLOW BACKED CROW 24″ X 30″ acrylic on canvas

PB: I’ve never seen an artist with so many brushes. Can you tell us about this? Do you use many of them or which in particular?

ROW: You probably have never seen an artist with as much paint as well. When I was studying for my MFA in Mexico I started to paint with automotive lacquer because many of the Mexican muralists, such as Siqueiros, used it as a medium at the time. However, I did not realize how toxic it was. After using lacquer in a small, enclosed studio for the better part of a year (and becoming a very happy artist) I became quite ill and was diagnosed as having leukemia and given about three months to live.

Luckily, a French doctor, who worked with industrial product workers, stepped in and diagnosed me with chemical poisoning. I was treated and recovered, but as a result I did my Master’s thesis on paints — primarily synthetic paints. This later was published as one of the first books on synthetic media. As a result, much to my surprise, I became an expert.

Art supply companies ask me to work with them establishing properties and color positions for the, then, very new acrylics. I was supplied with as much paint as I asked for to do testing and for my own use. (Fantastic, as I was painting large, very heavily impastoed paintings at the time.)

Later on I was also asked to develop brush lines. Especially blends of synthetic and natural hair. All the brushes and paint you saw was the result of years of consultant work and testing of materials.

These companies also hired me to visit colleges and universities and lecture on materials, techniques and color theory. I have lectured at over 450 colleges, art schools and universities all over the United States and Europe.

And yes, I use almost all the brushes depending on the work. I designed brushes for a particular use and each has its place. The same is true of the paints, their working properties and color positions.

PB: You worked with several companies — Liquitex, Grumbacher, LeFranc and Bourgeois — and have great knowledge about materials and color theory. Does your professional knowledge about paint inhibit or help your creative use of it?

ROW: The more you know about materials, techniques and color theory the freer you are to create. You don’t have to stop and think about how to do something; you concentrate on the creativity, not the process.

RED BACKED CROW   24" X 30"   acrylic on canvas
RED BACKED CROW 24″ X 30″ acrylic on canvas

PB: You display your collections of, Inuit art, African art, Pre Colombian Art, Borucan masks and Dominican Republic folk art all over your home. Please describe what draws you to these in particular and if they influence your art. In particular, why are you so drawn to masks?

ROW: We all wear a mask. I am very interested in why. What does it symbolize? What is its purpose? The Inuit works I have are mostly of the raven. I have an affinity with the image as well as the legends surrounding this figure. The raven wears a mask, or rather, has the ability to change into other forms.

I was very influenced by Pre Colombian art in my early work, and still am to a certain extent. I had visual interests in the Aztec masks and especially the Chacmool figure. Others, such as Henry Moore, were similarly influenced. The Chacmool figure has a gory past as an alter figure that holds on its belly a bowl to receive the beating heart cut out of a sacrificial victim, but this figure also is a study in tense visual movement.

In the Mayan culture the sacrifice was an act of rejuvenation, insurance for fertility and continuance of humanity. An artist is always influenced by other artists and concepts, not to imitate, but to understand and expand visually (i.e.: Picasso, etc., and African masks). Henry Moore took the Chacmool figure, a man, and turned it into a woman, in the same contorted position, possibly to emphasize the concept of birth and fertility.

MIDNIGHT LIGHT - MYAKKA   22" X 30"   acrylic on canvas
MIDNIGHT LIGHT – MYAKKA 22″ X 30″ acrylic on canvas

PB: You have lived here twenty years. How does this lifestyle impact your work?

ROW: I visited Florida when I was twelve years old and said: “This is where I will live.” I have always loved the light, the flora and the water here. I received a degree from The University of Miami and worked in South Florida. Then went on to Mexico, New Jersey and New York. My life long friends lived here. So when SoHo became a very expensive zoo, I returned.

Unfortunately I have out lived all my life long friends. The first ten years after my return to Florida I still worked as an artist consultant and traveled almost half of the time. My painting centered on the themes established in New York, with some forays into more water-centered paintings.

When I finally stopped consultant work I centered more on Florida elements. One in particular set me off into a new theme: the Everglades. I took several of the “swamp walks” offered by the photographer Clyde Butcher during Labor Day each year, as well as spending weeks in the Everglades National Park. The “swamp walks” changed my visual perspective as sometimes you wade in water up to your chest. As well as being in close proximity to snakes and alligators and literally being stuck in the mud of the swamp. I wanted to express that point of view.

But it is the light and feeling of Florida that gives me great joy.

PB: What are your painting rituals to get going?

ROW: No set rituals. I go the studio and clean up the place. Or I sit outside the studio and listen to the water in the Koi pond and the wind in the trees. Or I read or listen to music. Or I do random sketches or color studies. But much of the time I look at photographs. I take hundreds and hundreds of photographs. I used to sketch extensively but now I use photos — much of them timed photos and blurred or out of focus (on purpose) photos.

BLUES DANCE   42" X 72"   acrylic on canvas
BLUES DANCE 42″ X 72″ acrylic on canvas

PB: Since music and dance are subjects of yours, what are your favorite types of music and dance?

ROW: Classical Jazz is my first choice, with Classical music a very close second. For contemplation: something like Bill Evans or solo Bach guitar by Segovia or John Williams. For mood: something like Duke Ellington’s “Anatomy of a Murder” or Vivaldi or Phillip Glass. I have music playing all the time I am painting.

I have two very good friends, C.J. and Marilynn Shelley. Both are accomplished drummers and Marilynn is a belly dancer. I have used them as subjects of my work. And I have painted drums for them. I use the dancers at the drum circle as subjects.

And I have used ballet dancers, starting with my children in ballet class as well as professional dancers. I very much like the combination of drums, dance and didgeridoo and try to capture that visually. It’s all as varied as my painting.

PB: What are the changes in the visual arts that you’ve seen over the twenty years you’ve lived here?

ROW: As stated, when I first moved here, I traveled, lecturing at least half of my time. I tried to integrate into the Sarasota art society, but it was not easy. Most galleries had a full “stable” and I was told that most collectors and buyers did not want “local” artists. The collectors went to New York or Palm Beach or galleries that handled these artists.

I finally joined a gallery that succumbed to the recession a year later, as did other galleries at the time. Sarasota was, and is, a center for the arts. But the visual arts were not as supported, in my opinion, twenty years ago. This is amazing, considering the history of Sarasota and all of the very prominent artists that worked and prospered here thirty to forty years ago. The attitude here, as well as in other areas, had changed from open, cooperative and embracing, to one of “self protection”. But maybe this is just a personal reaction as an artist, not an objective observer.

Just like the flow of the arts overall, Sarasota visual arts continue to meld and change. In the past few years the arts scene has changed radically and is much more active and motivated by younger artists and galleries focusing on their work. The Two Columns Gallery, the Willis Smith Galleries and the Crossley Gallery, all at the Ringling School of Art and Design, support and encourage young artists. In the Rosemarie District several galleries exhibit emerging artists. But the most active is the Clothesline Gallery with the creative force of its staff, and especially that of the artist and manager, Van Jazmin. Clothesline was voted Best Gallery of 2013 by Sarasota Magazine. The more traditional galleries also seem more positive and active and in some cases have expanded.

PB: Do you feel like a different person in your home than in your studio?

ROW: Absolutely. The short walk through trees and vine covered arbor past the pond to the studio creates a different mind set. My home is full of other people’s work, collections, as well as my work and my office. The studio, built to the dimensions of the workspace of my SoHo loft, is a place of creativity and reflection–and a place full of materials with which to work.

Pamela Beck
Pamela Beck
Pamela co-owned Pannonia Galleries in NYC. There she was also an art appraiser, private art dealer, art fair exhibitor and catalogued paintings at Sotheby’s. Perhaps it’s not surprising that she is also a psychotherapist. She has a keen interest in the arts and supporting Sarasota’s future as a lively, diverse and forward thinking city for young and old.

Pamela is a member of The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Curatorial & Acquisitions Committee; Institute for the Ages, Volunteer