Artists and athletes have something in common. You could be a comedian with a mic, an artist with a paintbrush, or a boxer. Whatever your specialty, there’s a private place where you get your act together, and a public arena where you let it all hang out. Ringling College of Art and Design is now celebrating both realms with two exhibitions of instructor artwork. One is all about the public sphere. Let’s start with that.
“2022 Annual Faculty Exhibition”
This show is open to Ringling College faculty members from every department. The instructors themselves decided what to submit and responded with work across a range of mediums. Tim Jaeger, the exhibition’s curator, says the resulting diversity paints a clear picture of the college’s mission to the public.
“Ringling College is a community of its own,” he says. “We’re also part of a greater community where people naturally wonder about what we’re up to. Visitors can satisfy their curiosity with exhibitions like this. They’re an important way we tell our story.”
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In case you’re curious, here’s a sample of what you’ll see.
Vicky Randall’s “Clockwork: The Embrace” is a study in structure and strength. Her stainless-steel sculpture is a tall, double helix of spiraling metal. It evokes organic opposition; the limbs of an oak tree twining around each other, or a dancer’s legs in the contrapposto position.
Joe Fig is the head of Ringling College’s fine art department. His painting here is fine indeed. “Lightning Bolt” depicts Pearl Jam’s 2013 concert at the Hartford Civic Center. A bird’s eye view, looking down at a vast volume crackling with energy and life. There’s a lot going on. Eddie Vedder’s massive face in the Jumbotron. The oddly diminutive band on stage. The superfans standing in front of the stage bathed in the yellow-green spotlights. The fans in the nosebleed seats sitting in darkness high above. The painting doesn’t feel static. It seems to move and you can almost hear the music.
Matteo Caloario’s oil-on-canvas “Self Portrait in the Studio” has a similar clarity of vision. It’s a self-portrait of the artist looking at himself in the mirror. Unlike most folks, Caloairo doesn’t pose at the sight of his own reflection. His expression is neutral and pokerfaced and no more important to the painting’s hierarchy than the brushes in front of him or the flat files behind him. Each detail is precisely observed. But the forms of these objects seem to melt at the verge of abstraction. This painting is as much invention as observation.
Such high-powered perception coexists with wry humor in this exhibition. Rebecca Zomchek has a witty line drawing of a woman on the phone shouting, “Drop Everything! The avocados are ripe!” Regan Dunnick goofs around with flying cars. “Eat Fish” reveals the mordant wit of Scott Gorley, the head of the college’s illustration department. His oil-on-canvas painting depicts a corpulent individual oozed into a rocking chair. (It must be winter: he’s bundled up before a roaring fire.) The artistry of Gordley’s portrait recalls the deft hand of Andrew Wyeth. It’s serious skill with no high seriousness. The goofy “Eat Fish!” hat on the man’s head gives you permission to laugh.
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These artists definitely have their act together. But where did they do it?
In their sketchbooks, of course.
“2022 Illustration Faculty Sketchbooks”
“The sketchbook is vital to a visual artist’s creative process,” says Jaeger. “Not to sound corny, but to a visual artist, it’s kind of like your gym. The sketchbook is the place you go to get your ideas on paper and fine-tune your hand-eye coordination. If you work out every day, you’ll stay in shape.”
This exhibition offers glimpses of that workout. It does so by showing you the sketchbooks of ten members of Ringling College’s illustration faculty. These art instructors 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’s still cooking. And you’re invited into the private, highly 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 Lucite displays. Thanks to handy white gloves, you can flip through their pages and leave no fingerprints.
Each sketchbook reveals one artist’s stream of consciousness. The free association that jumps from image to image. That, and recipes, phone numbers, and notes for classes they’ll be teaching. It’s like reading the artists’ private journals. But their visual diaries aren’t private anymore, so it’s OK.
One of Regan Dunnick’s sketchbooks is wide-open at the centerfold. Nothing prurient. The page on the left has a sketch of two trim, teenage Boomers “Doin’ the Frug.” The right-hand page has a scary 1950s horror movie title: “They walk among us! The real story.” You expect sketches of scary monsters. But it’s just ordinary (if slightly weird) specimens of humanity.
Sean Murray has a flair for fantasy. (As an architecture school dropout, I can testify he also has a keen sense of how buildings work.) His sketchbook pages are home to massive castles and hilltop villages, all crammed with crenellations, pendant vaulting, arches, turrets, and other intricate details. Murray inks these dreams with a fine-point pen in 7 x 5″ sketchbooks. And he’s fairly typical.
A few artists go up to 9 x 12 inch pages, but they go no further. A sketchbook’s no good if it isn’t portable, after all.
This exhibit accompanies the artists’ miniature marvels with high-res displays. These enlarge the originals to ten times their size. Even blown up, Murray’s art still looks good. That same came be said about the magnified images of Don Brandes, Oliver Dominguez, Hunter Huang, and all the rest. These artists may work small. But they think big.
They also make you think.
Art for arts sake is a final statement, like the last note of a symphony. But illustration art serves the story. As John Irving once observed, readers keep reading because they want to find out what happens next. These sketches tease you with the promise of narrative. Who lives in Murray’s villages? What’s the deal with Dunnick’s painted man? What happens next?
These sketchy stories are incomplete. But you want to know.
The artists probably do, too. Along with their eyes and hands, these illustrators have exercised their imaginations. Their sketchbooks are a perfect illustration of how they keep their dreams in shape.
Ringling College showcases
“2022 Annual Faculty Exhibition” runs through Oct. 22 at RCAD Lois and David Stulberg Gallery. “2022 Illustration Faculty Sketchbooks” runs through Oct. 22 at RCAD Selby Foundation Gallery. 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-359-7563; ringling.edu/galleries
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota's Ringling College faculty shows public, private sides of art