Monday, February 12, 2018

11th Biennial National Art Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center

There are many things I'm going to miss about living in Punta Gorda. Of course the friends I've made are at the top of the list. My involvement with the Visual Arts Center runs a close second, though. Chairing the 11th Biennial National Art Exhibition has been the perfect swan song before I head up the road to Sarasota.
"Yvonne" by Sandra Kuck
First, some quick statistics. We received 574 digital entries from 218 artists in 38 states, Austria, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and the UK. (Each artist could enter up to three works.) Our juror, Steven J. Levin, selected the 137 works on display for inclusion in the show. Steven then came down to Punta Gorda from Minneapolis and selected the 16 winners of the $7900 in prize money. All judging was done on a blind basis. His criteria were concept, color, composition, drawing and emotion.

Best of Show (with a check for $2000) went to "Yvonne" by Sandra Kuck of Boca Raton.  I've been involved with four national shows, and this is the first time I've agreed with the judge. In fact, I picked "Yvonne" as the award winner the second I saw it online.

But while "Yvonne" is stunning--Steven called the work a tour de force--it's not my favorite in the show. In fact, par for the course, the works that speak loudest to me didn't win awards. But that doesn't mean I can't share them here.

"Who's Next (#whosnext)"
by Dan Simoneau
"Who's Next (#whosnext)" is getting my vote for the People's Choice Award. (So much for the sanctity of the ballot box!) What initially drew me to Dan Simoneau's work was his use of light and shadow and the depiction of his model's musculature. Simoneau's intentions behind the painting put it over the top.

Simoneau lives near Chicago and frequently uses African-American youth from the city as his models. The painting shows Prince, one of his favorites. Prince came into the studio and, as he's wont to do, put on some music. On this occasion, it was heartbreaking blues. Simoneau's mind was immediately drawn to the high rate of shootings, arrests, stops and interrogations of African-American men. The striped shirt reminded him of prison bars. The position of his hands on his head evoked both the fetal position and the universal sign for "I don't have a gun." The vein pulsing in Prince's forehead indicates stress. It's a remarkable commentary on our times as well as an amazing work of art.

"Exodus 2:22" by Shirley Fachilla

Then there's "Exodus 2:22" by Shirley Fachilla. I was drawn immediately to the gorgeous colors of this painting. Perhaps I also sensed that the artist took the photograph used as her reference point in New York's Central Park. Again, the intention behind the painting gives it more meaning.

Fachilla says the painting is about how it feels to be alone in a new country. Her inspiration statement goes on to say, "In Exodus 2:22, Moses gave expression to every immigrant's feeling whether an immigrant now or in the second millennium B.C. 'For I am a stranger in a strange land,' said Moses."

"Happy Drinking Bird" by Kyle Surges

But don't worry -- I haven't gone totally political on you (nor has the exhibit). "Happy Drinking Bird" by Kyle Surges took Second Place in the show. It made me laugh in surprise and amazement the moment I saw the image of this work online.

Surges' artistic statement says this work was inspired by an episode of "Mad Men" in which the guys are standing around trying to figure out how one of these things works. This bird's drink of choice is an old-fashioned, another nod to our advertising execs. Kyle said that, like the bird, "I found that once you start drinking these, you really don't want to stop, which pairs nicely with the slogan on the box that the bird is packaged in."  My favorite part of the painting is the tiny drop of liquid on the bird's nose.

"The Reading Chair" by Ginny Lasco
Ginny Lasco's "The Reading Chair" is also high on my list of faves -- for obvious reasons. Her chair is so inviting that you want to just sit down and enjoy the view. (Our installation committee cleverly positioned the woman in "Exodus 2:22" so the chair appears to be her destination.) While Lasco's image is striking from across the room, it's only when you get up close that you truly appreciate the work. You can see the detail of every screw and pebble. The tiny cracks in the chair from sitting outside in all kinds of weather are another nice touch. We couldn't resist using this work as our primary image for marketing materials.

"Bleat" by Stephen Bufter

I'll leave you with a painting that makes me laugh every time I see it -- "Bleat" by Stephen Bufter. The story behind this painting was a bit of a surprise. Bufter got the idea for this work after helping birth lambs at a 15th century working farm B&B outside of Manchester, England. What really makes this painting for me is the fact the sheep is sticking out its tongue at the viewer. It makes me wonder if Bufter was taunted by his charges for taking a "City Slickers"-like vacation. What I can say with certainty is that it's the way I feel about anyone who misses the opportunity to see this fabulous show.

The 11th Biennial National Art Exhibition runs through March 20 at the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda, FL.

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