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


Craig Rubadoux Interview by Pamela Beck

Craig Rubadoux has participated in over seventy exhibitions. Solo exhibitions have included the Ringling Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Lowe Museum of Art, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. His art is included in many public and private collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale; the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; and the State of Florida. He is currently represented by Dabbert Gallery in Sarasota, Florida.

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.

Craig Rubadoux has participated in over seventy exhibitions.  Solo exhibitions have included the Ringling Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Lowe Museum of Art, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.  His art is included in many public and private collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale; the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; and the State of Florida. He is currently represented by Dabbert Gallery in Sarasota, Florida.

In the mid-twentieth century there was an active group of artists and illustrators including Craig Rubadoux, Ben Stahl and Syd Solomon among others, who lived and worked in Sarasota. They garnered both local and national attention and furthered Sarasota’s reputation as a thriving art community.

Craig Rubadoux still lives in this area and also has a seasonal studio in Nova Scotia. His home here is hidden away at the end of a dirt road. It’s nestled in the trees overlooking a bay. Inside, the walls are completely covered with art made by himself, his friends and other artists he admires. Fascinating books, adorable pets and music fill the house. His studio, surrounded by private land and fronted by the bay, is a huge screen porch that opens to the breeze on three sides.

In this setting, Pamela Beck talked with Craig Rubadoux about his early Sarasota days and what’s on his mind today.

Photo of Syd Solomon teaching art at The Ringling. Craig Rubadoux back row, third one from left
Photo of Syd Solomon teaching art at The Ringling. Craig Rubadoux back row, third one from left


PB: What was Sarasota like when you first moved here?

CR: I came to Sarasota in 1945 with my family, when I was seven or eight. Only 45,000 people lived here then. I joined the Sarasota Art association (now Art Center Sarasota) on Palm Avenue. They let me have a one-person show in their storefront when I was twelve.

At that time in Sarasota, there were Beaux Art balls and dances, but I didn’t go to things like that. When I was around thirteen, I took an art class that Syd Solomon taught at the Ringling Museum. I still remember how I spilled a bottle of india ink on the outside loggia floor at the museum during one of his classes. The stain stayed there for years until it came out. I liked watching it fade.

The Ringling School of Art, as Ringling College of Art and Design was formerly called, was only two or three buildings. There was a greater sense of camaraderie between everyone back then there is now. Activities and people from The Ringling School, The Ringling Museum and the Sarasota Art Association all were actively involved with each other.

I took a lot of high school art classes. My art teacher, Mrs. Clements, thought I was promising and took me to meet Ben Stahl at Hilton Leech’s studio. I was a senior in high school and Stahl asked me to be his apprentice. I thought I might be an illustrator like he was, so I could help support my family. But when I saw the hoops you had to jump through—well, let’s just say that I don’t like people telling me what to do or how to paint.

Apres Rodin, 2011, oil on canvas, 40" x 48"
Apres Rodin, 2011, oil on canvas, 40″ x 48″

Then I got a scholarship to Ringling for one year through the Scholastic Art Award. I enjoyed the life classes the best. They had those figure drawing classes three times a week. There was a nice group of teachers at the school, but I couldn’t afford tuition to finish studying there.

When Stahl and his family were getting ready to travel abroad, I was asked to go along as his children’s tutor (although I didn’t do any tutoring…).  We drove through Holland, France and Spain, stopping at museums. We saw a lot of great paintings and it was the first time I saw the Louvre and the Prado. When I saw the Goya paintings at the Prado, they knocked my socks off.

We went to Torremolinos on Mackinlay Kantor’s (the writer) suggestion. Ben Stahl completed his “14 Stations of the Cross” paintings and then he and his family left. I stayed and rented a room. Everything was cheap there. I put out a sign that said ‘Art Gallery,’ on the building where I lived, and had an opening in an unused upstairs space there. The landlady was sympathetic.

I stayed there about eight more months, teaching watercolor and designs for pottery to make money. You didn’t need much money to live. I got another room in the building and had an opening there every Sunday because it was very touristy and new people came to see my work every week. Hotels were just starting to be built.

I painted the fishermen who slept on the beach and the people who traveled by donkey.  At night, I went to the local cafes and had a cognac and sketched the flamenco dancers.

PB: Looking around your house filled with art from many cultures, there’s hardly an empty spot on the walls. What influences are important to you?

CR: Besides much of the art I’ve seen in museums and friends’ work, I also like masks, outsider art and primitive art. I have a lot from Mexico, Africa, New Guinea and Costa Rica and some local Florida work too.  It resonates with me and so I’m overrun with stuff that you see all around my home. I find this kind of art inspirational.

PB: What do you think of the current climate for visual arts in our community?

CR: I don’t get out that much although recently I went to St. Pete. I saw “Post Coital,” a show at Mindy Solomon Gallery I liked, and also the Philip Pearlstein show at the Museum of Fine Arts. But I find that I just have enough time to do my stuff and do my thing. I don’t know what’s happening in places like New York either, and I’m not sure if it would help or hinder my work if I did. But I do get together with painter friends of mine occasionally.

PB: Lately, you’re doing abstract rather than figurative work. Any particular reason?

CR:  I just suddenly felt drawn to explore abstraction again. I’d worked with abstraction in the 80’s. I might go back to figurative.  For now I like working on something I don’t have the answers to; I like the excitement that comes from not knowing how things will turn out.

PB: What’s your first memory of being a painter, even if you didn’t know you were one- as a child?

CG: I always drew, ever since I was a young child. My mother saved drawings of mine from when I was five yrs old. They were from my school class when we lived in Rochester, N.Y. before moving down here.  I remember one—it was of people on horseback seen from a window.

My mother and grandmother both drew and were very supportive of my interest in art. There were those “Learn How to Draw” Walter Foster books all around my house and when my family decided to move, they purposely picked Sarasota because it was known as an arts colony. They thought it would be good for me.

PB: Describe the feeling that makes you want to pick up a brush.

CR: It’s innate; I just have to do it, I have to make some marks in some manner. At this stage in my life, it’s a compulsion. I need to do it, but I like to know that at least one or two people respond to what I do.

PB: What are you thinking about as you paint?

CR: Depends on the mood I’m in or sometimes it’s something trying to get out, it has to get out. They’re not intellectual thoughts I’m having, but rather, how I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing in my life or with the animals or a walk along the beach or river. I think it’s like a diary.

Some of these thoughts could become something I will work on. Or not. It doesn’t matter; I just start sketching. I keep sketchbooks. For example, here’s a sketch I did that got me thinking about the painting next to it.



Rubadoux's notebook with sketch resulting in "Aurora" (Notebook is oriented correctly)
Rubadoux’s notebook with sketch resulting in “Aurora” (Notebook is oriented correctly)


PB: Which artists locally and abroad, dead/alive resonate with you?

Aurora, 2013, oil on canvas, 54" x 72"
Aurora, 2013, oil on canvas, 54″ x 72″

CR: Of people I personally knew, the painter Frank Rampolla was the biggest influence on me. People thought he was my teacher but we were really friends.  After I returned from Spain I took some life classes at Ringling School of Art, where I met Frank. He had a place in Sarasota where we could work. So we hired models and often drew and painted together. Then we would regularly discuss our work and for about ten years, even showed at the same gallery in Coral Gables, the Sindelir gallery. We helped put together a show in that gallery, “The 7 Deadly Sins.”

Eventually he went to USF/Tampa and taught printmaking there.  In fact, he got me a job at USF for a semester or two, but working in that setting wasn’t for me. Sadly, Frank had a heart problem and died at 40 in Tampa.

I like the work of my friends, the people I hang out with like Beatrice del Perrugia, Robert Baxter, Richard Mueller, Joyce Ely Walker, R.O. Woody—I really like so many artists; the list is endless. Of artists I’ve never met, here are some off the top of my head: Paul Klee, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pieter Bruegel (“Hunters in the Snow” in particular), Edgar Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, Odilon Redon, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Hokusai, Balthus, Egon Schiele. I just thrill when I look at the work of these artists. Standing in front of a Botticelli, you almost want to cry.

PB: Your art clearly resonates with a Michigan collector, whom I’ve heard has purchased many pieces from you. Could you please talk about that?

CR: They’re a couple that has bought 160 works from me. They are in the process of publishing a book about me based on their personal collection, which should come out within the next year.

PB: You’re a shy person. How does this quality affect your work?

CR: It gives me more time to paint because I don’t go out to see many people. I have good friends but I enjoy spending a lot of time alone. I find that I can often express through painting what I find difficult to say.

PB: Please give an example of a work you find satisfying and discuss why.

Finn, 2012, oil on canvas, 24" x 24"
Finn, 2012, oil on canvas, 24″ x 24″

CR:  “Finn.”  It sings. I can’t go beyond that. Every stroke seems to fit and help the other one along. Music and dance do that too, when they work. I listen to classical music when I’m painting.

This past year I’ve gone to and enjoyed Momix, the Itzhak Perlman concerts and the opera.

PB: Do you have a conflict between living in world of creative ideas/feelings and living in the practical world?   How do you straddle it?

CR: My kids say not very well. I’d like to approach life the way my high school art teacher told us to: never hurry, never worry, never procrastinate. That’s a good maxim, so I’m trying to live by it more and more. Thing is, I’m having trouble with the ‘never procrastinate’ part.

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.

Interview with Mike Solomon, artist, and curator of Syd Solomon’s Along the Shore

The exhibition, Syd Solomon: Along the Shore 1956-1989 (Where Fishing and Abstract Expressionism Met), is a small selection of Syd Solomon’s work from his estate which will be exhibited in commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts from January 18th through March 1.  Sarasota Visual Art interviews Curator and Solomon’s son, artist Mike Solomon, about Sarasota, his father’s paintings, and his own artwork.

Reefscape © Mike Solomon
Syd Solomon, Reefscape © Mike Solomon

What have you selected for this particular exhibition and why?

You know it’s funny how something can be right in front of you but so close you can’t see it? It is when we transform within, that our external vision opens up. A few years ago Allyn Gallup told us that Murph Klauber had Syd’s big triptych mural from the Far Horizons and wanted to sell it. Annie and I went to look at it. We hadn’t seen the painting in at least 40 years, maybe longer. I was amazed by it. It was done at one of the peaks in Syd’s career, in 1959. After seeing it I started to look back in our archives and I found a little brochure that Syd had done on it when it was first unveiled for the hotel. We didn’t know it had the title; Reefscape: Dawn, Midday, Dusk nor what Syd’s thoughts were about the work. In the small text he talks about the three panels each being an impression of the same place at different times of day and at different tides. The tide thing struck a particular note with me, as I become interested in fishing and was sensitive to this kind of “seeing”. Having become sensitized to this aspect myself, I began to realize how quite a good number of Syd’s works actually referenced fishing. Some works show a view of both above and below the water, like a slice of the picture plane from bottom to top. Others, are even more explicit with views of mangrove islands seen from a boat – totally a fisherman’s view. Others show men in waders and even with fish jumping with tight lines and lures in their mouths. It was amazing to finally realize all this, so I thought a show on this theme would be fun. Syd was a very avid fisherman since he first set foot in Sarasota in 1946. He claimed to have caught a record Snook in the Phillippi back in the day. (32lbs) His fishing buddies were Herb Stoddard and Sam Warson, among others. They shared a number of boats and for 35 years, on every Thursday, they went fishing.

Syd’s work has of course always been associated with nature, but it was always in a more general context. The specificity of fishing, the kind of view one has of the water environments with that in mind, we can now see were part of Syd’s vision in a number of paintings. Syd’s work “Silent World” at the Ringling Museum is also related to the aquatic world, a vision of underwater done from his experience of diving with Dr. Eugenie Clark and Jacques Cousteau in Key West and also painted in ’59. I think it would be terrific if the mural Reefscape could go to the Ringling Museum too. What do you think about using Kickstarter to buy for Reefscape for the Museum?

As the curator, what do you want the audience to walk away with?

Hopefully with a realization that artists see into things we take for granted and in doing so, they wake us up to the possibilities that are right in front of us.

Were you impressed with your parents friends and colleagues growing up?

As I kid, as far as I knew, they were just a bunch of friendly people. It wasn’t till I got a little older that I realized how special the whole thing was. To name names would seem like I was reading from Who’s Who. I did become close to several artists and writers though – people who really helped me understand what it meant to be an artist – David Budd, Joy Williams, Eric Von Schmidt and others were very generous with me. (Joy William’s book, Breaking and Entering has got to be the best book about the underbelly of Siesta Key culture ever written.)

Solomon Family Photo © Lionel Murphy
Solomon Family Photo © Lionel Murphy

In the 1980’s after John Chamberlain moved to Sarasota you started assisting him in his 18,000 square-foot warehouse studio on Coconut Avenue . What are some of your fondest memories working
with Chamberlain?

Actually I started with John before he had 10 Coconut. He hired me in New York to come down and help him get started here and at first he rented a spot in the Nokomis junkyard and had a pole barn put up were we could process metal and he could work outside in our clement weather. That was where I started and it was just me for about a year. He made “Detroit Deliquescence” there among other works. Once he decided he could actually work down here on a permanent basis we went looking, that’s how 10 Coconut happened. Then Heidi (Connor) came on board and she really made things gel for John. Career wise, it was Heidi that got his work into the broader spotlight, through her amazing energy and organizational skills.

I learned an immense amount from John. His work was a revelation in the assemblage process. Dubuffet actually coined the term and John, though he’s described as a sculptor for obvious reasons, liked to think of himself as an assemblagist. Assemblage implies working with autonomous parts that have their own particular identity. In assembling diverse elements John created a larger unity with them while respecting each part’s contribution, and so in a sense, there are political implications. That he did it three dimensionally was his big breakthrough. He would select parts and put them in various piles on the massive floor of the studio. Then slowly they would rise up by being positioned and welded together, and the process would continue till he was done. So you see initial selection was not based on the final form they would serve but rather on some kind of intuition about the inherent quality of each constituent part. That’s a spiritual and un-gratuitous way to approach the making of something and quite rare. Even very well respected artists are more manipulative than that, less ready to be open to real chance. John was exceedingly rare in having more faith in the unknown than most. Once he showed me a pile of parts and said, “These are an irregular set.” In other words, the parts of that group were unlike the parts of all the other groups in the studio and so they formed a set of their own. That taught me that nothing is a “reject”. If it doesn’t fit in the regular program, it can still serve a special purpose. That’s really uplifting.

Mike Solomon, RiP, 1983  postcard with china marker
Mike Solomon, RiP, 1983 postcard with china marker

You began as a painter and began making sculptures relatively recently. How did working with Chamberlain assist with the development of your sculpture– or did it?

Gestural Abstract Expressionism was always about energy made visible and John’s work was certainly the outcome of that too. Minimalism carried it along and I think of my sculpture as a refinement of those two movements. But my sculptures also refer to wave images. That recognizable symbol can be a way people “enter” the work, but hopefully they leave with more, with the idea that all things are the manifestation of an invisible energy. A “billow” is the perfect metaphor for energy in form, energy making form.

In 2005 I started working with nylon netting. I found I could make it take on shapes by building armatures for draping and stretching it. Then I would freeze the forms I found with fiberglass and resin and then cut and edit them once they were solidified. Leaving the grid visible shows the forces present in the forming of the shape, the change in the shape of each square, is the “tell” of the forces that made the shape. In this sense the work is 2d and 3d combined.

Panta Rhei, 2008
Mike Solomon, Panta Rhei, 2008

What are the biggest differences between Sarasota then and now?

Then it was small, intimate, dominated by nature with a small but special culture hovering inside. Now so-called civilization has dominated and nature is seen in the cracks between buildings. But now a greater variety of people come here. It’s not all retiring Mid Westerners and Canadians anymore. Now there are people from Italy, Asia, New York, California, Puerto Rico, Brazil, so it’s getting more diverse. There are younger people here now too. In a sense it’s like the days when my parents came after the war, younger people from elsewhere, looking to make a new life. I like a lot of Sarasota now as long as I don’t try to compare it physically with what was before. However there is still a long way to go as far as the economic and racial divide is concerned. That part hasn’t changed nearly enough.

What are the biggest differences between the visual arts in Sarasota from your young adulthood and now?

I think it is a lot better now. The Ringling College has become a nationally known entity, a real force in arts education and that is great for the community. And the Museum has finally found a balance too and is really working all its historical, modern and contemporary assets. I really like what has been done there in the past few years. And there are just more talented people around and a bigger and better audience. I mean I remember back in the 80s it was just a handful of us, David Stellin, Rik Tweed, Marsa Lazes and my wife Claudia, we were the whole of the young art scene. Now there’s way more and I hope it continues to progress.

Do you feel a relationship between your work and your father’s work?

Sure. Almost impossible for there not to be. Joan Altabe once pointed out that Syd was the romantic and I was the scientist…it’s kinda like that. I am a kind of aesthetic scientist.

Your work seems to always have a relationship with water-from your work with beeswax on paper, your China Marker drawings, to your current sculptures. Can you discuss the relationship in your work with the environment?

I grew up on Philippi Creek, then on Turtle Beach, and we were always at the beach on Long Island so water has always been a huge part of my life, to the extent that it has become a kind of language for me. One of my recent sculptures is called “panta rhei” that’s attributed to Heraclitus and translates to “everything is in flux”. He was dealing with the philosophical problem of putting one’s foot in the river…well, which river? Water can be a metaphor for more abstract concepts. Now of course, we are faced with what we’ve done to the environment and water is the main “tell” as we saw with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Those postcard / china marker works from the ‘80s were a bit prescient, no? – flooded communities and all. “The city is the world of the body, nature is the world of the soul.” That is from the Baha’i Teachings. So in wrecking the environment are we destroying “the world of the soul” ? For all the great art man makes nothing compares with even the slightest thing in nature, which is made by God. If our physical life is the mirror of our spiritual state then obviously, mankind has to find a different way to be. We’ve dominated the Earth, but now, if we want to survive, we have to reorient ourselves and become Earth’s protector. So in my opinion, the environmental issue is at heart, a spiritual one. If we can change on the inside, the outside will come to reflect it.

Engender, 2012
Mike Solomon, Engender, 2012

Please tell us about the direction you are going with your current work and where one might be able to view it.

New work I am doing is a kind of a “getting back to basics”. They are flat works but incorporate the resin I’ve used in sculpture. I am working with vertical and horizontal brush strokes in watercolor, painting them on sheets of rice paper then infusing the paper with resin, which makes it and the colors transparent. I add sheets with more marks, continuing to fuse them together with the resin so the effect is a build up of sheets with marks into multiple layers. Because of the translucent nature of the material, one can see the layers that were done first as well as the layers done later, so there is the history of the entire process with nothing really hidden – the element of time is visualized. In most two-dimensional work, the activity is on the surface. In these, it is in the depths, even though they are only about a ¼ inch deep. Also the new work just seem to have located itself as a kind of impressionism, impressionism without the specificity of place as they are simply works with aggregated, colored marks.

We just closed the show “Returning to The Mark” in Chelsea at Salomon Contemporary (no relation) of these new works and some of the sculptures from ‘08. Lots of great response; Paul Laster wrote a nice piece in Mike, Pollock-Krasner Director and art historian Helen Harrison wrote a very insightful essay. There was also a wonderful piece called Fragrance by Janet Goleas on So I was very happy with the response. Work is lined up for few group shows in New York and the Hamptons this coming spring and summer but I am actually hoping to spend more time down here so perhaps there will be the opportunity have an exhibition locally at some point. I still love Sarasota. Lots of wonderful friends.

Syd Fishing @ Estate of Syd Solomon
Syd Fishing @ Estate of Syd Solomon

Artists Who Made Sarasota Famous- Part II at Art Center Sarasota

October 18 –December 7, 2013
Art Center Sarasota, Sarasota FL

On view will be a retrospective of artists in Sarasota who rose to prominence beginning in the 1960’s and continuing on to those who are still actively creating new works today.

October 18 –December 7, 2013
Art Center Sarasota, Sarasota FL

Art Center Sarasota is opening three new exhibitions on Thursday, October 18, 2012.

In Galleries One and Two, “Artists Who Made Sarasota Famous- Part II”, will showcase the second half of an exhibition of Sarasota Artists in the galleries earlier this year. The exhibition is curated by Dave and Patricia Dabbert of the Dabbert Gallery in Sarasota.

“The Rehersal” by William Jerdon, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of the Dabbert Gallery

On view will be a retrospective of artists in Sarasota who rose to prominence beginning in the 1960’s and continuing on to those who are still actively creating new works today. All of these artists have been part of keeping Sarasota noted as a destination for arts and culture. Their work is found in important collections locally, nationally and internationally. This exhibition is important not only visually but historically as a chronicle of visual arts in the community.

“Encounter and Remy” by Craig Rubadoux, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of the Dabbert Gallery

Complete list of artists in the exhibition:
Joan Altabe, Jean Blackburn, Jorge Blanco, David Budd, Clyde Butcher, Jack Cartlidge, John Chamberlain, Robert Chase, Frank Colson, Jeff Cornell, Kevin Costello, Kevin Dean, Julee Docking, Jack Dowd, Frank Eliscu, Jerry Farnsworth, Patrick Fiore, Larry Forgard, Gale Fulton Ross, Tim Jaeger, William Jerdon, Steven Katzman, Dennis Kowal, Jill Hoffman-Kowal, Nat Krate, Leslie Lerner, Barbara Mc Cann, Joseph Melancon, Moe Mitchel, Florence Putterman, Vicky Randall, Dasha Reich, Anthony Rice, Craig Rubadoux, Helen Sawyer, Syd Solomon, Ben Stahl, David Steiner, Julie Trigg, Thorton Utz and Susan Zukowsky

“Coast” by Barbara McCann, Acrylic/Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of the Dabbert Gallery

Featured in the Main Galleries is the open, all media, juried show “It’s Political” which was timed to coincide with this year’s election. This juried exhibition invites artists to challenge themselves and create a special politically themed piece. Artists have always been the ones to hold a mirror up to society in an effort to bring about change and this exhibition is sure to hold true to that tradition. Jurors for this exhibition are Marty Fugate, Arts Writer for the Herald Tribune & Kim Russo Working Artist and Former Head of the Ringling College Fine Arts Department. Art Center Sarasota has invited politicians running in the current election to greet guests at the opening reception on October 18, which is free and open to the public from 5-7pm. Lite bites will be provided by Jimmy Johns and the DeSoto Beach Club. Confirmed politicians who will be attending the opening include: Liz Alpert, John Torraco, Ed Brodsky, Greg Steube, Adam Tebrugge, Doug Holder and a representative for Ray Pilon.

In Gallery 3 is an exhibition by the Sarasota, Florida Chapter of the Sumi-é Society of America. This exhibit runs from October 18 – November 9, 2012.

(A new Exhibition, “The Curated Unknowns” will be in this gallery from November 14 – December 7, 2012)
The Sumi-é (or “ink painting” in Japanese) Society of America’s mission is to foster and encourage an appreciation of East Asian brush painting techniques and serve as a cultural bridge between East and West. This exhibition showcases the talents of Sarasota’s Sumi-é Society. As a part of the exhibition, artists involved in this show will also be hosting a special lecture about Sumi-é painting and its history, as well as a demonstration on November 2 at 2pm.

These exhibitions were paid for in part by the Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax Revenues
Art Center Sarasota | 707 N. Tamiami Trail | Sarasota 34236 | 941-365-2032 |

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Sarasota has an art history, how about a future?

The likes of Sawyer, Farnsworth, Hartman and Solomon put Sarasota on the art world map, and both art makers and art lovers have been colonizing here ever since. The Sarasota County Arts Council has reported a data base of 3,000 people who define themselves as artists and live and work in Sarasota today.

by Joan Altabe

In the beginning… Soldiers returning from WWII came to town to make art their life. One of those soldiers was Syd Solomon, whose legs were frostbitten during the Battle of the Bulge. He was told to live in a warm climate and came to Sarasota on the first day of 1946. Solomon stayed on into old age to become an internationally recognized painter known for his abstract renditions of the area’s light and land. “When I landed in Sarasota, it was the high point of my life,” he told me in an interview in 1988.

Solomon knew at once that the town was for him because its art scene was already active and well-known. And throughout the years, artists have been drawn to Sarasota for its natural beauty and for the attention paid to art making.

Syd Solomon Dabbert Gallery
"Joust" by Syd Solomon 1951– Gouache (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

You might say our art history began in 1931, when art lover John Ringling, whose circus wintered in Sarasota, founded his museum, along with the School of Fine and Applied Arts of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – known today as the Ringling School of Art and Design. Staffed by 15 faculty members, the school attracted landscape and marine painters from the North.

But even before Ringling’s school began to draw World War II veterans intent on studying art under the G.I. Bill of Rights, the Farnsworth School of Art opened in Sarasota in 1941, attracting students from the United States and Canada and from as far away as the Dutch East Indies.

The Farnsworth School was founded by the husband and wife team of Helen Sawyer and Jerry Farnsworth, two New York City artists with established reputations.

Helen Sawyer Dabbert Gallery
"Soriee" by Helen Sawyer – Oil on Board (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

Sawyer’s New York exhibit credits included the Whitney Museum of American Art, which acquired her work. Many of her paintings have been reprinted for greeting cards by the American Artists Group. Farnsworth’s work also is in the collections of the Whitney, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His portrait paintings – 23 of which were reprinted for Fortune Magazine and 10 for Time Magazine – included likenesses of three presidents: Truman, Roosevelt and Harding.

The couple opened their school in a leaky, made-over cleaning and pressing shop, later they moved it over a garage and then into the original post office in the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. Students flocked to the school, and over the next 30 years, more than 5,000 came – ultimately to a location on Higel Avenue on Siesta Key. By 1970, classes had to be limited to about 35 students with tuition costs beginning at $60 for a two-week period.

Farnsworth students were so serious about their work, Sawyer told the Herald-Tribune in 1970, “If anyone would ever hum or whistle while they worked, they would be hissed.” Many of these students liked Sarasota so much, they made it their home, and in the process, made the town’s reputation as an art center.

Jerry Farnsworth Dabbert Gallery
"Pony Tail" by Jerry Farnsworth – Oil on Canvas (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

One of these was the late William Hartman, the first artist in his home state of Michigan hired under the Federal WPA Program of the Arts. He came to Sarasota in 1946 to study art under the G.I. Bill at the Farnsworth School, the Ringling School and the Hilton Leech Studio, begun by noted landscape watercolorist and teacher for which the school was named.

Leech, a nationally known artist and long-time member of the celebrated American Watercolor Society, came to Sarasota in 1931 and helped organize Ringling’s school. His own school thrives to this day as Friends of the Arts and Sciences.

“Many good artists were already in Sarasota, then,” Hartman told the Herald-Tribune in 1986. He met his future wife, Martha, when both were art students at the Ringling School; they opened their own gallery and school in Sarasota in 1952.

Hilton Leech Dabbert Gallery
"Hidden Lake" by Hilton Leech– Watercolor & Mixed Media (Lee Corbino Galleries, Sarasota)

The couple was so popular that a Herald-Tribune article in the `50s commented: “If there were an election to select royalty in the Sarasota art field, it is safe to say that most people would vote for Sawyer-Farnsworth.”

Speaking about why they chose Sarasota in which to live and work, Sawyer has said, because, “Here we find congenial friends, indoor activities in the fields of music, art, theater; outdoor activities; sailing, fishing, swimming. And such a variety of subject-matter for painting! The swamps and forests of the back country for landscapes and the shores and waters of the Gulf; tropical fruits, flowers, vegetables and sea things, as well as fisher-folk and circus folk. So here we find the spice and substance of the good life.”

The good life in Sarasota inspired paintings that earned Sawyer raves from noted critics. Ernest W. Watson, early editor of American Artist magazine, wrote of Sawyer’s depictions of Siesta Key beaches in 1949: “Always she paints to express a mood rather than to record a particular scene – the threat and fury of seas and sky rather than a particular place in time of storm.” Elizabeth Luther Cary, writing for The New York Times at the time, compared Sawyer’s thunderclouds to Francisco Goya’s and found the 19th-century Spanish master’s wanting. Lauding Sawyer’s skies, she said, “We may think of Goya’s carnival scenes under stormy skies, but I cannot recall any by Goya in which the battle of the two extremes plays such a passionate part.”

Always, though, the good life for Sawyer included teaching, she said. “Teaching never became hum-drum. I fed my students my eyes, my heart. They all swallowed them whole and did the most marvelous things.”
Inspiration for local artists also came from the presence of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which wintered in Sarasota.

Ringling Poster
Circus Poster

“One of the great things we used to do was put on a circus art show. Only circus subjects. It was great,” said Solomon, who studied with the Farnsworths, in a newspaper article. “Jurors invariably included someone from the circus – one of the great performers or one of the great entrepreneurs like Buddy North. It was a very important theme show, and perfectly natural for Sarasota.”

The likes of Sawyer, Farnsworth, Hartman and Solomon put Sarasota on the art world map, and both art makers and art lovers have been colonizing here ever since. The Sarasota County Arts Council has reported a data base of 3,000 people who define themselves as artists and live and work in Sarasota today.

Yet, something is missing. We boast the birth of an arts community. The question is, have we grown? With all the boutique-y galleries, tourist art and match-the-slipcover decorator stuff, not to mention Sarasota signal monument on our bay front – the monstrous “Unconditional Surrender” – it feels as if fine art has moved to another town.

Joan Altabe

Former visual arts critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Bradenton Herald, former New York City art teacher and longtime award-winning art and architecture critic for U.S. and overseas publications, is referenced in “Who’s Who in American Art” and “Who’s Who of American Women” and currently writes as the St. Petersburg art Examiner and National art Examiner. Altabe has written several books including “Art Behind the Scenes” (100 painters in and out of their studio) and “Sculpture off the Pedestal” (25 sculptors in and out of their studio). Both available at