Josette Urso: Unexpected

"I am more interested in chasing something down, discovering, working back and forth between observation and invention, representation and abstraction." - Josette Urso

  Beach Day,  2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Beach Day, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

New York-based artist Josette Urso returns home to Tampa Bay, fall of 2017, with an assemblage of her newest works: dense, warm, romantic, evocative paintings that offer a view of a landscape that appears to fully unfold the more time spent with each painting. 

Well placed at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Urso’s paintings showcase her self-stated approach to painting involving “ ‘moment-to-moment’ extrapolation where the contrasts and cross-fertilizations are cumulative, non-linear, free flowing and interpretive.”  Urso’s landscapes are not representative but contain recognizable forms and shapes. The paintings capture a state of in-between with the viewer and the artist’s physical environment. Her titles -Sky Walk, Beach Day, Amber Sea - allow the viewer to evoke their own connection with a favorite painting. 

Urso still considers Tampa home after being raised and educated there through graduate school, but resides in New York, and travels frequently creating new works. Her artwork is full of energy and movement, much like the artist herself. Urso is a full-time artist, and prepares her environment to maximize creativity. Her studio design allows her to bring the outside in for inspiration; she keeps a collage at the ready for work, on a day when interruptions are too frequent for painting. 

Urso is committed to her craft, presenting a full palette of color and rich artwork in each show I have had the privilege to view. St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts curator Robin O’Dell labeled the work unexpected when we were together in New York, and the term still fits for these new paintings. The Morean exhibition paintings are smaller in scale, allowing for easy shipping and a full gallery of artwork. I noticed lighter more whimsical elements than I observed in a more rushed viewing in NY - more of the unexpected. Just enjoy Boo, pictured below, and its light hearted imagery.

Urso has a demanding, one might say, enviable exhibition schedule. A hurricane - delayed opening featuring her paintings in St. Petersburg, Florida will be quickly followed by an opening of her watercolors in Germany, and another exhibition scheduled for January of 2018 in New York.

Here is an edited Q & A with Josette Urso as she answers questions about her artistic process, how location influences her work, her studio and more:

JC: I understand you have an amazing studio. Has it changed your work?

  Dragons Only , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Dragons Only, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: I live beyond Williamsburg on the L train, and have been out here for about ten years. I love everything about being here. The studio has had a huge impact on my work. I have walls of windows so the outside really comes in. Where I live is up on a hill, so the city swoops down; it is kind of big sky country. It is the experience of being out in the weather and in the city when I am inside. Being in here when things are happening outside is pretty amazing. 

Everything about the scale of the windows has really influenced the scale of my paintings.  When I was in my studio in Chelsea, I usually worked with my collages. I always work on several projects simultaneously and I did make some paintings based on invention. At the very tail end of my stay in Chelsea, I began to venture up to the roof and start some landscape paintings by responding to my immediate environment. 

Moving here, all of the sudden, everything about the thrust of what I was doing in the city changed. I was just very compelled to start working with my immediate surroundings. 

JC: I notice there are repetitive forms in this work, basketweave for example. Is there a particular impulse or meaning behind any forms?

  Heart Throb , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Heart Throb, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: I think it was just what came up in that moment, perhaps there were some wire sculptures hanging in my windows. These are very dense paintings, they are more textile in a way. 

JC: Is the work at the Morean Art Center a series, a full body of work? 

JU: A chunk of these (Morean) paintings were (painted) back to back to back. I don’t think in terms of series, more sort of an ongoing series.  I am working on paintings for a show in January. I am sure aspects of what I am thinking about now will feed into the next painting; I don’t let anything completely go. When I travel to the country and have been in the city, I always bring a little of the city with me and when I return I bring a little of the country, there is always a flow. 

I am constantly working. There is usually kind of thread in the pieces; often they are influenced by time of year. I am constantly absorbing the colors around me.

JC: You returned to Spain this year. Is this work the fruit from that time period? 

JU:  it wasn’t. I finished these paintings prior to going.  But Spain was really important; it was so interesting to go back this year. The first time I started working outside was in Spain. I arrived in ’93 or ’94 and my studio overlooked a wall. It was crazy to be inside when I was in this charming fishing village. I had been working on these small imaginary oil paintings at the time, and I thought the work would be a continuation of what I had been doing in the city but I was in a new place and working outside. I started to really absorb the place, the sounds in the harbor, the shapes of found cacti. Insects would walk across my paper and influence what I was doing. Everything about being outside started to work its way into my painting, just by chance, because I happened to be in that environment. 

My third trip there, in 2010, was when I reactivated my watercolor practice which is running parallel to my oil paintings. This summer in Spain, I worked on water color paintings outdoors. They are based very close to my oil paintings in terms of absorbing place, but not a picture of a place. I am more interested in the sensation of the overall place.  I am more interested in chasing something down, discovering, working back and forth between observation and invention, representation and abstraction. 

  Cascade Sea , 2017, Watercolor on Paper, Josette Urso

Cascade Sea, 2017, Watercolor on Paper, Josette Urso

JC: How does working outside differ from your studio? 

JU: In my studio I am looking out the window, but I am also painting indoors, so it is like indoor/outside. I am manipulating the near and the far. I hang things in the window, I make a lot of objects that I place around the studio, I have a lot of plants. So I am manipulating the space; I work very intuitively, my process is very exploratory and open ended. I can begin anywhere and end up anyplace. 

Even when I am painting outside. I am happy wherever I am plopped down; I am not one of these painters that agonize over what is the right place. Because I don’t know what I am going to find when I arrive, I guess I thrive on being as lost as possible during my process. I thrive on not knowing and looking for something. 

JC: I can’t take credit for stating your work as unexpected. Robin O’Dell, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, characterized it when we were in New York. I do strongly agree with that element of your paintings. Particularly after having viewed two exhibitions this year. 

JU: I think that is why I paint a lot when I travel. It shakes me up a lot to be in a new place. Looking for that unexpected or finding a way to surprise myself. It is really good for my work to see the world for the first time. I like a location that is punctuated by human activity, not really as much about being just in the landscape, but something happening in the landscape. 

For instance if I am sitting by the river, I am painting and chasing, chasing, chasing something all day, and maybe a red kayak passes through, all the sudden I find something. It is that something happening, that something unexpected that comes and introduces itself in a very unexpected way. I like it when I am chasing something that is moving, not a still quiet. The surprise element that you can’t predict is what I thrive on. And you have to figure out how to use it, if it is useable. 

  Boo,  2010, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Boo, 2010, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JC: I really enjoyed the whimsical element in some of these paintings, the pumpkin and ghost? 

JU: Yes, that piece called Boo. It is all little objects that were in my studio. The little pumpkins; I like to put out little props. And that is humor, I am looking to surprise myself when I when working. I like to keep things wobbly and off kilter. I feel when the painting starts to make me laugh it is starting to become something. Looking for that surprise and wondering if I can get away with this has an energy and life to it. When that happened it was not something I would have ever predicted I would do, but it was just so right. It was something special. 

JC: When I was at your exhibition in New York earlier this year, the canvases were larger, perhaps a little more white space in the paintings. These are very dense, full of energy and exciting.

JU: I am always working in different sizes. Partially the reason we decided to show smaller paintings was because of the shipping. To pack a large painting is very risky, I am always working in multiple sizes. Usually for a show I mix them up a little more, so I have small and large, but the larger paintings are getting harder and harder to ship because they have thick paint. 

JC: I am curious about this show title, Josette Urso: More Than Before. A mutual friend, Marilyn Mars, suggested it means you feel you still have more to do. 

JU: It represents my ever expanding love of painting. But yes, definitely more to do, I like that. Painting becomes more demanding as you continue with it. The more you know, that you don’t know yet, the more you are discovering. 

JC: Again, in the New York exhibition I visited, your drawings were part of the show. I was really attracted to them. You said at that time, drawing played a big part in your painting process. 

  Daffodil Iris Tulip,  2017, Watercolor Shellac Brush Drawing, Josette Urso

Daffodil Iris Tulip, 2017, Watercolor Shellac Brush Drawing, Josette Urso

JU: I do make drawings along side the paintings. I don’t make drawings as preparatory sketches; but when I spend time drawing, I am much freer with painting. It gets me ready for the process of painting. Drawings require intense engagement with what I am looking at; it is pure engagement with the moment to moment experience. I especially love making them with ink, because ink cannot be erased. There is something important about spending time with that kind of intense time of engagement with the world. Drawing is seeing, seeing is knowing.

I am more disciplined with drawing when I travel; I do it every morning (sometimes I do collage) and switch to painting in the afternoon. Maybe because I know if I am in Spain for two months it is such a finite period and you want to get the most out of that experience;  the drawing helps me connect quickly to the place. 

JC: How does watercolor fit into your practice? Is it equally important? 

JU: Whenever I travel I work with watercolor. It is portable, I can take a lot of paper, it dries faster.  The paint is so luscious, I can layer and layer. They are easy to bring home; it has become my travel medium. The thrust of getting back into watercolor was an invitation for a show in 2010, titled Painting Paper

I had always worked in watercolor, but they felt different, more like my drawings. They didn’t have the exploratory quality of my paintings, but now it has become more important. I have a watercolor show opening in Germany.  I am toying with the idea of piecing papers together to make larger watercolors, somewhat similar to the way (Charles) Burchfield worked. But it has turned out for now, 12 x 13, was the perfect size. At some point I am going to start exploring larger watercolors. 

JC: I know you enjoy the dedicated time available for work in a residency. Have any residencies influenced your work in any particularly way? 

JU: This summer I had a residency in Steamboat Springs - a mono print residency with Oehme Graphics and a master printer. I made some watercolor mono prints that are larger in scale. That was very valuable. I feel like I had a very productive learning summer,  valuable experiences that are feeding my work. 

JC: You are a full time artist, and have always had the opportunity to be an artist full time?

JU: Yes, I do teach part time one night a week at Cooper Union. Occasionally I do a visiting artist job or a workshop, but the main thrust is being in my studio. I have a demanding exhibition schedule. As an artist you are very resourceful, there were many projects along the way, but always related to my work. It is like a gift, a wonderful gift. 

JC:  I like your  website design, very exploratory as is your art work. It gave me the sense you would prefer the viewer would discover your work for themselves.

  Zero to Eight , 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

Zero to Eight, 2017, Oil on Canvas, Josette Urso

JU: Exactly! I hope the paintings unfold themselves. I find when I am making them, when I know less about them, and they really surprise me and when the painting is never quite settling, it is many different kinds of experiences. Then, it is the most interesting for me and I hope they do that for the viewer as well. 

Urso has shown widely in the United States and abroad in galleries, public institutions, and museums including the New York Public Library, the Drawing Center, and the Bronx Museum for the Arts. She has had numerous grants and residencies including those from the NEA, Basil H. Alkazzi and the Gottlieb and Pollock-Krasner Foundations as well as the Camargo Foundation, Ucross and Yaddo.

All images included are courtesy of Josette Urso studio. View her representation, contact information and upcoming exhibitions here: 


I try to give myself over to whatever it is.” - Josette Urso

Rest in Peace James Rosenquist

“History is remembered by its art, not its war machines.”—James Rosenquist

 Images of James Rosenquist by Theo Wujck.

Images of James Rosenquist by Theo Wujck.

Theo Wujck and James Rosenquist were friends and contemporaries. Rosenquist was also a mentor to Wujcik. They are together once more. For more images click here

Janet Echelman, Early Paintings

  Image courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Image courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Tonight in Tampa, Janet Echelman will be honored by the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts. An excellent choice. Echelman is an internationally known artist, creating ethereal, experiential sculptures, often immense in scale, that transform with wind and light.  She is also a hometown girl. Long before she became the artist now recognized for her aerial sculptures, she was a Gorrie/Wilson/ Plant girl. 

That hometown girl just happened to go on to Harvard, become an artist and receive a Fulbright scholarship. She also exhibited in Tampa. Around 1989, right about the same time that Robert Rauschenberg curated an exhibition of her work, she was exhibiting in Tampa at One Tampa City Center. My neighbor, Joanne Frazier, and her husband, bought two paintings from the exhibition . He had discovered Echelman's work on the way up to the Tampa Club for lunch.  

  Image Courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Image Courtesy of Joanne Frazier

Frazier had read my profile on Echelman and invited me to see the paintings. They feature some of the same vibrant colors Echelman uses in her aerial sculptures. Frazier knew Echelman's mother and Echelman personally delivered the works to Frazier's home, "Janet is an old soul, she was so mature even then, you could tell she was very talented," Joanne said. 

I thought Tampa readers would enjoy seeing these early works, from a hometown girl. Congratulations to Janet Echelman on her latest acknowledgement.


I take no credit for the background colors, the titles and dates are not available, but the talent is evident. Read my earlier profile on Echelman here

Josephine Sacabo: Lessons From The Shadows

I believe in Art as a means of transcendence and connection.  My images are simply what I’ve made from what I have been given.  I hope they have done justice to their sources and that they will, for a moment, ‘stay the shadows of contentment too short lived’ (Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz).”    —Josephine Sacabo

  El Arbolito,  Silver Gelatin Print, From Susana San Juan,  © Josephine Sacabo Image Courtesy Polk Museum of Art

El Arbolito, Silver Gelatin Print, From Susana San Juan, ©Josephine Sacabo Image Courtesy Polk Museum of Art

Josephine Sacabo is a New Orleans based photographer currently exhibiting at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida. Sacabo uses poetry as inspiration for her photography, created with alternative photographic processes. Sacabo’s photography is included in the permanent collections of the George Eastman House, the International Center of Photography, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and la Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, France.

In person, Sacabo is remarkably humble and generous with her time and knowledge. I would note she is also self-deprecating and humorous. During a recent artist talk she shared her inspiration sources for the series of images on display at the Polk.

Sacabo named two women whose writings had inspired some of her photography: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th century nun, self-taught scholar and acclaimed writer of the Latin American colonial period and a staunch advocate for women's rights; Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories. 

“I have always tried to tried to walk the line between the secular and the religious," said Sacabo.

 Josephine Sacabo at Polk Museum of Art

Josephine Sacabo at Polk Museum of Art

Her talk was interspersed as much with these authors quotes as images of her own photography. Sacabo said of Lispector, “she speaks of the most obvious things that you see every day, I love her for that. As I read her work, I also began to notice the ordinary. And for the first time actually, I did something that is not a narrative of any kind. It is just photographs of things that I saw and loved. That is the secret. My kitchen window in New Orleans on a rainy day. A tabletop. The simplicity of my kitchen table, the light through my bathroom window. And I began to photograph these things.”

"What I love about Clarice Spector is not only how Intellectual she was, but there was a tenderness to her writing: I offer these flowers to whatever hurts inside you. It is hard to imagine putting that more tenderly or more beautifully," said Sacabo.

She has an impressive photography career, she is a masterful storyteller, creating series/ portfolios of photographic works inspired by writings, the ethereal sound of music, or in one case, a fantasy architecture, an alternative to the physical architecture of a female’s confinement.

Sacabo’s website gives a description of her photographic processes, and how she transitioned through these processes: Her early portfolios are toned silver gelatin prints. Later and current works are photopolymer gravures printed on handmade Japanese tissue and chine-colléd on to velvet rag paper. All images are printed by the artist.

Sacabo’s transition from silver to gravure began as photography moved from chemical to digital. Her silver gelatin papers of choice were repeatedly discontinued. “From the moment I made my first gravure,” Sacabo explains, “I realized I’ve been trying to do this for thirty years in the darkroom…jumping through every hoop I can think of to come up with this effect. This is what I’ve been looking for. And there’s no way they can make it obsolete.”

  The World Beyond 2  , Wet Collodion Tintype, from   Juana and the Structures of Reverie  , ©Josephine Sacabo, Image courtesy Polk Museum of Art.

The World Beyond 2, Wet Collodion Tintype, from Juana and the Structures of Reverie, ©Josephine Sacabo, Image courtesy Polk Museum of Art.

First developed in the 1830s, photogravure is a print making process whereby light sensitive chemicals are used to etch a photographic image onto a copper plate. The plate is then inked and pressed on to paper to produce an image.

Photopolymer gravures, a modern adaptation of the 19th century process, uses UV light and water instead of chemicals to create the plate, which is then inked and pressed in the traditional way. There are many steps in creating the final print, all crucial to Sacabo’s manifestation of the image.

Audience questions gave even more insight into Sacabo’s photography and how she photographs, revealing again, her generous spirit; “I would love it if someone would ask me questions, I am open to telling you all the secrets.“

Of a projected image: “I found these two kids in San Miguel, who perform in the main square. They take people around for money, like the ghost tours they have in New Orleans. These two kids dress up like that and they take people and tell them the different sights and sounds of San Miguel at night. So I asked them if they would come to my studio and let me photograph them. And they did.”  

Why tintype: “It wasn’t hard enough to do photoengraving, I had to discover tintypes, which is the most difficult photographic process of all to get right. You can’t rely on it… if it is humid it has a mind of its own. So, you just save the ones you like and throw away the rest of them.

Normally a tintype is done in the camera itself, but what makes it a tintype is the collodion. It took me a year, but I developed a system where I can create images at home in my computer. I can put them on transparent film and I can take them in the darkroom, do the tintype but instead of exposing them in the camera I expose them in the enlarger, then do a contact print.”

How did you get to be so creative: “When I was young, I loved poetry and I studied literature in college. Photography nothing. I never took a photo class or had anything to do with visual arts. I was an actress for a while and had always been in that kind of group. Photography came into my life completely by accident, and it really hit the spot. I don’t know why.” (Sacabo was introduced to photography by accident, by an American neighbor, while living in France)

Have you ever considered digital photography: "I do now use digital photography on the front end of everything I do. I take pictures with a digital camera, with my phone a lot of the time, then transform them into whatever process I am working in. I have the best of both worlds because I have a camera with me all the time. Whereas before I used to work with a Pentax 6 x 7, a huge machine for a person like me. Digital capture yes, but I don’t care for a digital printing of my work. Some people can do it, I can’t."

Photoshop: “Yes, because when I used to put negatives together, in the darkroom, I would have to put one negative, then the other, make a picture, look at it… I would go through a whole box of paper. Now I can do all of that on the screen (in Photoshop) and then throw it away (laughter). It has been very freeing.”

How she discovered photography: “My husband and I were living in a tinyvillage in the south of France, where we had bought a house for fifteen hundred dollars, which tells what size house we had. We had lent it to a friend before we arrived and he had left his camera. I was an actress at the time, and had been working in London. My husband was writing and writing, me the actress, I was knitting. An English friend was near, a photographer living in the same village, he showed me how to use the forgotten camera; I wasn’t that interested until he showed me how to develop my first contact sheet. That was my only photography lesson, but he taught me technique. My husband made me a darkroom in our bathroom, with our bathtub underneath. I have a picture of him taking a bath with my enlarger and equipment above his head.”

Sacabo was equally generous after the talk, inviting some local photographers working in similar media to visit her in her New Orleans studio, and sharing titles from Clarice Lispector’s work. The Polk Museum exhibition is large; curiously there are no titles next to the images which are arranged by series. Several of her photographs have script below the image, etched into the plate before printing. The work is of exceptional quality, created by processes that are challenging. For those interested in these photographic processes, you will be impressed. For others, appreciative of quality artwork, the same. All works are printed by Sacabo.

 Suggested reading from Josephine Sacabo

Suggested reading from Josephine Sacabo

Author's footnote: If you are traveling to the show locally: Because of an accident on the main highway, we traveled the back road, state road 574 which traverses Plant City, winds past the Publix birthday cake and candles atop the water tower, past large trees and churches. A photographer’s paradise.


Herb Williams: The Subtext of Crayons

“My intent is to continue to seriously create art that looks at itself unseriously.” – Herb Williams

Herb Williams

A large dog, featuring contour labels, created in crayon was my first sighting of a Herb Williams sculpture. Across the gallery, the medium of creation was not immediately evident. There was a pointillism affect, but closer examination revealed the crayons tips.

Crayola Crayons are the first choice medium for Nashville, Tennessee artist Herb Williams. However, it was a rough road discovering this medium. Trained in sculpture, Williams reports, “I tried everything, in every medium I could think of - I could not find it. I really felt I had no way to go." 

Perhaps another artist would have made themselves happy picking a medium and simply moving forward; Williams was unwavering in “finding my own voice. How you set yourself apart as an artist is only relevant if what you are saying is unique.” On William’s website his words are captured in a short documentary, The Call of the Wild, by Jeremy Adams, describing a dream   where Williams saw a giant sculpture created out of crayon. He had found his voice.

  The Ripple Effect,  Herb Williams

The Ripple Effect, Herb Williams

Williams works out of a studio in downtown Nashville, where he creates sculptures and bodies of work, often in large scale. Using his skills from summer construction jobs and years studying and creating bronze castings, Williams uses a child’s tool to create sculptures that explore iconic images and sometimes darker themes: “sexuality, religion and social hierarchy. I like to explore man’s place in the world of nature.”

His themes are representative in the titles of his bodies of work: Call of Contour, Call of the Wild, Plunderland, The End of Nature, The Color of Luck. Williams likes titles and language and he often incorporates words into or onto his artwork.

“Word play when done right can transform into art.” But color plays an equally strong component: “The sculptures are childlike in their curious approach to the object as icon, but beguiling and satisfying to me in the use of color as pure form.”   

Color is also part of the communication. I asked his favorites of the Crayola colors. Season is one he is working a lot with right now. Love Dandelion is a favorite. Carnation Pink, “it is amazing what it can do in small batches.” Color can be unspoken“communication.” The stripes of color adorning his animal sculptures, are also representive of animals hiding in plain sight. They can only be seen (or saved) by paying attention.

Williams speaks often of paying attention. And what we can see and discover if we are paying attention. He states, “I often revisit the same themes again and again. If I pay attention and really look at them again, I can see there is more work to be done. I am never finished.”

Creating the larger scale sculptures is a process. Wall sculptures are mounted on panels of wood, to support the weight (“crayons are heavy”). Large sculptures are sculpted with clay, then brushed with fiberglass paint. “It is an arduous process, but I love it – It is like therapy. I get a lot of ideas when I am working, so it is a real commitment to a sculpture to finish.”

  Louis Vuitton Doberman,  Herb Williams

Louis Vuitton Doberman, Herb Williams

The clay must be hollowed out to reduce the weight. Then the crayons are added. Williams rarely uses full sized crayons. Usually the tips. As always, artists discover unique tools, for Williams dog toenail clippers work best; each crayon is cut by hand. The crayons are bonded to the art by the paper – wax is a release agent. William's dog sculptures sell in the neighborhood of $7500. - a reflection of the time and skill needed to create one sculpture.

Crayola crayons are the best. Williams is the only individual wholesaler of crayons. “I’ve tried them all, I have even cast my own, and Crayola is what I use, and it smells the best.” Do not underestimate the added sense of smell in relationship to Williams work. Crayons smell wonderful in mass. “Crayons are a gateway drug,” says Williams. I agree. The smell of crayons is one of the most nostalgic, if not the most nostalgic smell that brings you back to childhood.

The Plunderland exhibit, at the Rare Gallery in  Chelsea, an enclosed gallery installation piece, must have smelled somewhat magical. Plunderland was created after the recession, and focused on “finding your place after loss.”  

Williams is a prolific creator of artwork.  A recent show at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery in Ft. Pierce, Florida exhibited so much work I initially thought it was a retrospective. Williams admits, “I don’t sleep much.”

I always ask any artist working in an alternative medium, "Are you concerned about the permanency of the material?" Williams pondered, "Crayons are more permanent than we are; they will last as long as we will. It is not about the medium - it is the idea that is worth doing." 

A Few More Facts:

Website: Herb Williams is the co-founder and curator of The Rymer Gallery in Nashville. "I love my job, if I have to have a title artist/curator is pretty good." He is a Dad and a musician. He is also a painter, though he often uses it simply as inspiration for sculptures. He sometimes “tags” his paintings on locations around Nashville. Crayola has purchased one of his sculptures. Williams likes to say he is from L.A. – lower Alabama. A fun part of this interview was hearing some honky-tonk through the phone as Williams walked from his studio to his next appointment. Was it Printers Alley or Broadway, or simply a studio with their door open? I don’t know. 

  Foowolf                           Herb Williams    

Foowolf                          Herb Williams 


Special thanks to Andrew at The Rymer Gallery. If you were not doing your job so well, this article never would have been written. 


Theo Wujcik: A Giant

These artist's boots cannot be filled.

Today I am remembering Theo Wujck, who passed away two years ago.  As an artist he cannot be replaced, but as a father and man he will never be forgotten; thinking of Theo's family, Susan Johnson, and his daughters.

 Theo Wujcik Studio Still Life                                                                

Theo Wujcik Studio Still Life                                                                

growing up in neverland

growing up in neverland is the current exhibition at Scarfone/Hartley in Tampa. The exhibition showcases artworks created by eight outstanding Cuban artists who reside in Cuba, the island of their birth. The exhibition aims to foster a cultural dialogue within the Tampa community by presenting a historically significant selection of contemporary practices in Cuban art. 

The artwork is edgy, compelling and provocative. The subject matter details decision struggles: to leave their homeland, to speak out or not to speak out if they stay. Sculptures foreshadow escape with clarity, others contrast the dream of America and Cuba. The quality of the artwork in the exhbition is excellent. 

The entrance to the gallery allows a journey from Florida to Cuba or Cuba to Florida via an illuminated photographic installation. While the gallery had the installation steps blocked with Do Not Walk signs for safety, the artwork was designed to allow movement, even dancing, on its surface. Amid the over sized works on the walls and sculptures within the gallery space one piece hung from the ceiling. 

Gallery director, Dorothy Cowden, shared a companion piece to the suspended sculpture Goodbye My Love, another airplane sculpture measuring thirteen feet had yet to arrive. She explained any of the artwork shipped from Cuba went to Canada, before arriving on American soil in Miami.

" There's an embargo." One can only imagine shipping costs to display an exhibition of this scale and quality. The show is curated by David Horta and Jack King; it is dedicated to building on the "cultural evolution that has taken place - and continues to grow - both on the island and throughout the U.S. Cuban diaspora."

A variety of lectures and Cuban cinema events are scheduled over the next two weeks at Scarfone/Hartley and the Tampa Museum of Art and will include an opportunity to dialogue with the visiting artists. 

More information about the visiting artists: Ernesto Leal, Esterio Segura, Javier Castro, Jose A Vincench, Lazaro Saavedra, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Sandra Ramos, The Merger and The Cuban Arts Group is available at www.growingupinneverland.orgThe Cuban Arts Group,Inc. may be reached at

Pictured works include: Against the Tide, The Merger: Alain Pino, Mario M Gonzalez, Niels Moleiro; Goodbye My Love, Esterio Segura;  ; Homemade Submarine, Esterio Segura; Cuban Dream, American Dream, The Merger:Alain Pino, Mario M Gonzalez, Niels Moleiro; A Question of Optics, Jose Angel Vincench.

  The Ruins of Utopia , Sandra Ramos

The Ruins of Utopia, Sandra Ramos

Please be careful when walking through this artwork...

We have much more in common than we think. Borders, flags, nationalities are more an invention than a real thing. Art has a tremendous capacity to build bridges between us. - Jaume Plensa
  Speak No Evil , Jaume Plensa

Speak No Evil, Jaume Plensa

Please be careful walking through this just might love it.  

This title phrase belongs to the Tampa Museum of Art artist label for Jaume Plensa's, Silent Rain, pictured near the end of this post. The "you might love it" is mine. Indeed, I am sure most visitors to the museum will enjoy this artwork. Gauging by social media posts, many visited the show over Valentine's Day weekend. I am excited this artwork is here.

The show is Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape. Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist, born in Barcelona, internationally known and recognized. He has created artwork related to the human figure, immense in scale, that is and has been exhibited around the world in public spaces and museums.  His sculptures, some of those that are immense in scale, are positioned inside and outside the Tampa Museum. Plensa's artworks feature "multilingual text-based imagery and the simple human form — which he calls a funny kind of container — to create a universal visual language that hurdles cultural boundaries and unites people around the world."

Plensa believes his sculptures "act as respites within their surroundings;  conduits for meditation and reflection. I've always tried to generate silence in my work. We are in a noisy period of time, we hardly know if our words are our own or just an echo.  He dreams of someone standing in front his work and not necessarily seeing a sculpture, but seeing themselves reflected so that they must turn inward and begin to search for beauty there."

  The Soul of Words 1 , Jaume Plensa

The Soul of Words 1, Jaume Plensa

The artwork included in the Human Landscape titled exhibition may be exhibited indoors or outdoors depending on the venue environment and public spaces.  At the Tampa Museum, visitors can engage with some of the artwork whether the museum is open or closed.

I first saw this work last summer in Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts, part of a cross-city exhibition of his work. Plensa's See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil  were on view and contained in a smaller space than allowed at the Tampa Museum. I wrote: "Jaume Plensa's figures stole most of my attention.  Large in scale, some pieces over seven feet high, his sculptures are transfixing. The three immense figures are illuminated and superimposed with representative words. The effect was alternatively distressing and transformative, certainly mesmerizing." At the Tampa Museum there is more room to explore these figures, even space for seating. Visitors are encouraged to consider how unwilling we are "to say the right words....How many times our mouth is not saying the word that we would have said, our eyes cannot express our real intentions, or our ears are sealed to listen..."

Here, where all of the works are together, the next room contains Awilda and Irma, a consideration of outer and inner beauty. These  immense stainless steel "mesh" sculptures were placed in a pond at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.  At the Tampa Museum, visitors can touch the sculptures. Rub them and you will  feel the vibration of the metal.

  Awilda and Irma , Jaume Plensa

Awilda and Irma, Jaume Plensa

Rubbing the sculptures was a tip passed on by the guard on duty, who was enjoying the artwork as much as the visitors. He carefully dusted the nose of this artwork, and moved over to gently untangle the words of Silent  Rain.

He offered as much insight as a docent, sharing with us the viewing tips for Silent Rain, the first in a series of works in which Plensa combines poems into curtains of vertical lines of text. Before you explore the artwork, pictured below, note the text is not the horizontal, left to right format of Western tradition, but rearranged in vertical strands of letters "seemingly falling down like rain drops."

  Silent Rain, Jaume Plensa

Silent Rain, Jaume Plensa

The guard shared you must read from the top left, down and continue over to the right. The words are continuous and flow through multiple languages: English, French, German, Macbeth, Italian and Spanish. Visitors can walk through the strands of words, challenge their reading skills and see the reflection of words against the floors and walls.

As we walked on, I wished I had captured the name of the guard; he was a wonderful ambassador for the museum. The entire museum staff seemed engaged in this exhibition. The front desk noticed my camera and encouraged me to photograph the artwork.

I believe the new Tampa Museum director, Michael Tomor, has brought new energy,  new life to the museum. A recent acquisition,  Simply Beautiful,  a mixed media installation of flowers and bicycle wheels which engage by motion detector - produced by Mabel Poblet Pujols - has livened up the lobby and the gift shop was bustling. It feel alive in there. I renewed my membership.

The exhibition of Plensa's artwork is beautiful. It is touchable, engaging, understandable and conveys a wonderful message. Perhaps it is particularly germane for today's sometimes contentious times.

I leave you with the artists words:  "I don't feel you have to travel thousands of miles to understand human beings. I guess the most important thing is to try to understand yourself first, then you can probably understand others much better. We have much more in common than we think. Borders, flags, nationalities are more an invention than a real thing.  Art has a tremendous capacity to build bridges."

Nashville - It's Not Just Music...

 The Frist Center for the Arts

The Frist Center for the Arts

Nashville and music are nearly synonymous. During my last visit, I toured the amazing (I know it is overused, but it fits) Ryman Theater - Home of the Grand Old Opry  - also known as the Mother Church, where it all started.  I have great appreciation for supporters keeping open that historic site of music history, but I was ready to see what visual arts Nashville had to offer and I was not disappointed.

Staying on the preservation tour: The Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The Frist Center -  the former Downtown Nashville post office and a Nashville architectural treasure from the Art Deco period - showcases regular visual art exhibitions. For those interested in its architecture and the Art Deco period, it also offers a regular Saturday Architecture Tour or an audio tour.

But it was the art I was after. My visit coincided with a fashion exhibition: Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945. It chronicles the birth and growth of the Italian fashion industry from the post-World War II recovery years to the present day. 

The show did an excellent job of juxtaposing film with the fashions displayed on dress forms and bringing the exhibit to life. The actual dress, worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, was paired with video from the film. Audrey Hepburn dancing in the film, showed the movement of the actual dress positioned in front of me.  I ended up walking the whole show; it was very good. Without the video, it could have been much less interesting.

But it was Human Landscape, an second exhibit of Jaume Plensa 's figures which stole most of my attention.  Large in scale, some pieces over seven feet high, often illuminated, his sculptures are transfixing.  Housed separately in a large room, three immense figures, internally illuminated, representing See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil were superimposed with representative words. The effect was alternatively distressing and transformative, certainly mesmerizing.

While not walking distance from The Frist, Nashville has it's own downtown 5th Avenue of the Arts. There are several galleries and an Art in the Arcade building, housing artists studios. The Art in the Arcade is only open fully for the First Saturday Art Crawls. Three galleries are close together across from Art in the Arcade, allowing a visitor to see a number of different artworks in a short period of time.

The Arts Company gallery space  is well staffed with engaging employees. I think for most visitors the artwork would appear the most accessible of the three galleries. It was full of interesting work. The featured artist was Charles Keiger, an important  artist based in Atlanta. John Petrey's sculptural dresses of found objects, including aluminum siding were particularly captivating.

Two other exhibits of artwork by Daryl Thetford and Jorge Yances filled the space. Thetford's photo collage's felt very Nashville, guitars and music scenes, though he hails from Chattanooga. I have since seen more of his pieces and they are very diverse, sometimes immense in scale. Very likable. The Arts Company is a visitor friendly gallery, full of work without being overcrowded,  and showcases artwork at competitive prices. 

A few doors down are the Rymer Gallery and Tinney Contemporary. Both, at the time I was there, featured artwork at higher price points. The Tinney Contemporary had a large exhibition of Lyle Cabajal works, a multimedia artist. The exhibit included a large installation piece which was very interesting. This is a very contemporary gallery space with good works.

The Rymer Gallery also had a number of contemporary pieces, including several wrapped and set aside for sale. Always good to see artwork going out of the gallery to new homes. The staff was very engaging and offered a lot of knowledge about the variety of artists represented. It also carries Herb Williams, a now nationally known Nashville - based artist, creating artwork using crayons as his medium. Excellent. Both of these galleries were very nice to discover.  

I wanted to come home and tell Tampa artists to raise their prices. All worth a visit. 

Celebrating Artist Labor

The first proposal of the Labor Day holiday recommended — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

Please scroll and enjoy this parade of images, the work of Tampa artist Kimberli Cummings,  to celebrate the "espirit de corps" of all artists.

"Out of the kiln.
The pot being created
The pot bisque fired
The pot being glazed
The pot glazed...
33 hours on this custom vase."

Kimberli Burns Cummings