Seeking (and Finding) Provocative Art in Central Florida

Last summer, I filled three posts with observations about art here in central Florida, as well as thoughts on returning to a place from my past. While my visit this time still evokes bittersweet nostalgia as I stroll the tree lined streets around Winter Park and Rollins College, my need to write about memory and the past was fulfilled during last year’s visit. Today, I’ll stick with the art. Once again, the art rich area does not disappoint.

“Then They Came For Me” by Patrick Martinez

Like last year, I’m noticing artist statements about political turmoil and displacement. I’ll start with my Sunday afternoon visit to Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. In his solo exhibit, “American Memorial” Los Angeles artist, Patrick Martinez uses several mediums and strategies to communicate ideas of unrest and fear.

As he states in the exhibit brochure, Martinez uses neon due to its common use in Los Angeles and across America.  It often has a base appeal, an urgent neediness, and a desperate element. In contrast, the words he chooses are associated with deep fear and a dark time in history. The words, “then they came for me” are attributed to Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller who spoke out against Germans during the rise of Nazi power.

In his series, “25 and still alive”, the artist creates birthday cake sculptures with portraits painted on the surface of the cakes. What strikes me about these pieces, in addition to the richly painted portraits and inviting faux confections, are the titles. We initially sense a celebratory message which is quickly replaced with the idea that for some people, reaching the youthful age of 25 is a feat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another section of the museum, I am delighted to see what feels like an old friend, a collection of Paul Signac drawings and paintings on loan from my own beloved Arkansas Arts Center. Seeing the pieces far from home made me proud of the renowned AAC collection and grateful to the Dyke family for their generosity.

Next up, via the affordable, convenient and comfortable SunRail train system, I visit the Loch Haven Park area, home of the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Reperatory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. Lakeside views and trails abound and aside from the heat, walking around this area is a treat.

This tree was here during the signing of the U.S. Constitution!

Approaching the Mennello Museum, I am drawn to the surroundings. Formerly a private residence, the intimate building is ensconsed by trails, gardens, a lakeside view, old trees (such as the one here on the right) and sculptures by American sculptor and installation artist, Alice Aycock.

My timing is off for this museum visit as I arrive just after a Bo Bartlett exhibit and just before a William Eggleston exhibit. I am able to see a Bartlett painting that, I’m told, is being purchased by the museum. And I get to peek at the Eggleston photographs propped against the baseboards ready to be hung. The Bartlett painting reminds me of one of his at Crystal Bridges Museum of Amercian Art due to the seemingly simple composition, the lonley yet brazen position of the figure, the brushwork, and the enormous canvas size.

“Untitled (Veronica)” 2015, oil on canvas

After a short walk from the Mennello Museum, I arrive in the cool comfort of the Orlando Museum of Art. I’m lucky to visit again this summer during the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, which showcases 10 progressive Florida artists. Though the three dimensional structures, photography and video installations are engaging and provocative, my favorite works are the paintings of Chase Westfall. I’m sure I’m drawn to these because of my own penchant for paint on a two dimensional surface but it is his extreme combination, and therefore, contrast between abstraction and figurative representation that I absolutely adore.  It is jarring and slightly disturbing to see the sharply painted geometric patterns imbedded in a tense push and pull with various body parts.  I typically don’t find geometric and heavily patterned paintings very engaging but Westfall’s use of rigid line against loosely painted forms sets up an energetic contrast that is confusing in a good way.

Other favorites at the museum include two pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, a chandelier sculpture by Petah Coyne, and a painting by Lavar Munroe.  Munroe uses found objects and discard in his cut canvases, making the pieces a hybrid between painting and sculpture.

Ravenous after miles of walking, I find a superb Cuban restaurant near the SunRail Station before heading back to the Alfond Inn for more art exploration. I incorrectly thought I was thorough last summer when searching the hotel hallways for art. But this time I find corridors and conference rooms I was unable to access during my last visit. As I’ve stated many times, the work of Hank Willis Thomas is a powerful influence on my own work. After hearing him speak at the Arkansas Arts Center two years ago, I basically idolize his ideas and techniques. And seeing the work in person is so exciting. I also stumble upon these three Terry Winters paintings in a dimly lit conference room.  I hope those meeting in this room when the lights are on appreciate this trio of printmaking masterpieces!

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As I write about art highlights during this central Florida visit, my daughter is in her final day of tennis camp at Rollins College.  I’ve passed my time with long walks, with a couple of movies, and of course, finding as much art as I can each day. But these idle hands are meant for making. I itch to return to my studio invigorated and inspired by the work of so many thought-provoking artists and the collections that thankfully share the work with the public.  Great art makes us think and I have plenty to consider during our travels home. Thank you for reading!

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