Artists and athletes have something in common. You could be a comedian with a microphone, an artist with a paintbrush, or a boxer. Whatever your specialty, there’s a private place where you have fun and a public arena where you let it all out. Ringling College of Art and Design is now celebrating both realms with two displays of instructor artwork. One concerns the public sphere. Let’s start with that.
“2022 Annual Faculty Exhibition”
This show is open to Ringling College faculty members from all departments. The instructors themselves decided what to submit and responded by working on a range of mediums. Tim Jaeger, curator of the exhibit, says the resulting diversity paints a clear picture of the college’s mission to the public.
“Ringling College is a community in its own right,” he says. “We’re also part of a larger community where people naturally wonder what we’re doing. Visitors can satisfy their curiosity with exhibits like this. They are an important way to tell our story.
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In case you’re curious, here’s a sample of what you’ll see.
“Clockwork: The Embrace” by Vicky Randall is a study in structure and strength. His stainless steel sculpture is a large double helix of spiraling metal. It evokes an organic opposition; the branches of an oak tree winding around each other, or the legs of a dancer in a contrapposto position.
Joe Fig is the head of the fine arts department at Ringling College. His painting here is really beautiful. “Lightning Bolt” depicts Pearl Jam’s 2013 concert at the Hartford Civic Center. A bird’s eye view of a vast volume crackling with energy and life. There’s a lot going on. The massive face of Eddie Vedder in the Jumbotron. The oddly small group on stage. The superfans standing in front of the stage bathed in yellow-green floodlights. The fans in the nosebleed seats sat in the dark above. The painting does not appear static. It seems to be moving and you can almost hear the music.
Oil on canvas “Self Portrait in the Studio” by Matteo Caloario has a similar clarity of vision. It is a self-portrait of the artist looking at himself in the mirror. Unlike most people, Caloairo does not pose in full view of his own reflection. His expression is neutral and impassive and no more important to the hierarchy of the painting than the brushes in front of him or the flat files behind him. Every detail is observed with precision. But the shapes of these objects seem to merge at the limit of abstraction. This painting is as much an invention as an observation.
Such powerful perception coexists with ironic humor in this exhibition. Rebecca Zomchek has a witty drawing of a woman on the phone screaming, “Drop it all!” The avocados are ripe! Regan Dunnick has fun with flying cars. “Eat Fish” reveals the biting wit of Scott Gorley, the head of the college’s illustration department. His oil on canvas painting depicts a portly individual seeping in a rocking chair. (It must be winter: he’s bundled up in front of a crackling fire.) Gordley’s portraiture recalls the skillful hand of Andrew Wyeth. This is a serious skill without great gravity. The awkward “Eat fish!” hat on man’s head allows you to laugh.
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These artists definitely have their number together. But where did they do it?
In their sketchbooks, of course.
“2022 Faculty of Illustration Sketchbooks”
“The sketchbook is essential to the creative process of a visual artist,” explains Jaeger. “I don’t want to sound corny, but for a visual artist, it’s kind of like your gym. The sketchbook is where you go to put your ideas on paper and hone your hand-eye coordination. If you train every day, you will stay in shape.
This exhibit offers glimpses of that training. He does this by showing you the sketchbooks of ten members of the illustration faculty at Ringling College. These art teachers are also artists in their own right.
Unlike the polished art of the faculty show, this sketchbook art isn’t ready for prime time. It’s more like watching a chef at work in the kitchen. This art is still cooking. And you are invited into the private and very personal place where it all happens.
Originally, these sketchbooks were private. This exhibition makes them public. You can see (and touch) the actual sketchbooks in the Lucite screens. With handy white gloves, you can flip through their pages without leaving fingerprints.
Each sketchbook reveals an artist’s stream of consciousness. The free association that jumps from image to image. That, along with recipes, phone numbers, and notes for the classes they’ll be teaching. It’s like reading the diaries of artists. But their visual diaries are no longer private, so that’s fine.
One of Regan Dunnick’s sketchbooks is wide open in the center. Nothing lustful. The left page features a sketch of two young “Doin’ the Frug” Boomers. The right-hand page bears a chilling 1950s horror movie title: “They Walk Among Us!” The real story. You expect creepy monster sketches. But these are just ordinary (albeit slightly odd) specimens of humanity.
Sean Murray has a flair for fantasy. (As an architecture school dropout, I can attest that he also has a keen sense of how buildings work.) His sketchbook pages feature massive castles and hilltop villages, all stuffed with battlements, of hanging vaults, arches, turrets and other intricate details. . Murray inks these dreams with a fine point pen in 7 x 5″ sketchbooks. And it’s pretty typical.
A few artists go as far as 9 x 12 inch pages, but they don’t go any further. A sketchbook is useless if it’s not portable, after all.
This exhibition accompanies the miniature marvels of the artists with high-resolution presentations. These enlarge the originals up to ten times their size. Even puffed up, Murray’s art still looks good. The same has been said of the enlarged images of Don Brandes, Oliver Dominguez, Hunter Huang and everyone else. These artists can work small. But they think big.
They also make you think.
Art for art’s sake is a final statement, like the last note of a symphony. But the art of illustration serves the story. As John Irving once observed, readers keep reading because they want to know what happens next. These sketches tease you with the promise of a narrative. Who lives in Murray Villages? What’s wrong with Dunnick’s Painted Man? What happens next?
These sketchy histories are incomplete. But you want to know.
Artists too. With their eyes and hands, these illustrators exercised their imagination. Their sketchbooks are a perfect illustration of how they keep their dreams in shape.
Showcases of Ringling College
“2022 Annual Faculty Exhibition” runs through October 22 at RCAD Lois and David Stulberg Gallery. “2022 Illustration Faculty Sketchbooks” runs until October 22 at the RCAD Selby Foundation Gallery. 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-359-7563; ringling.edu/galleries