TAMPA — Today’s burgeoning urban art scene has been cutting new trails into the Tampa Bay area lately and may have found a good place to set up camp on South MacDill Avenue.
After the successful “SHINE on St. Pete” mural festival and accompanying “Leave a Message” exhibit at the Morean Arts Center last fall, Cass Contemporary followed up with the show “Corrosively Bright,” featuring work by 12 artists, including international heavy-hitters like Ben Frost and Shark Toof. They also hosted the notorious Secret Walls live illustration battle with artists Frank Forte, Denial, Greg Mike, and local favorite BASK.
Cass Contemporary now has brought together 40 artists for its “20x16” exhibition, running through Feb. 13.
To ring in the new year, gallery owners Jake & Cassie Greatens asked this carefully curated group of artists to create works that were exactly 20 inches by 16 inches for this show. Next year they plan to do a “20x17” show.
A week ago, scores of people converged on the gallery, where live music played and projections flickered on a wall. The dance of the night was the “gallery shuffle,” moving from one artwork to the next, pausing only to discuss perceived merits or missteps. Cass had a full-page ad for the show in Juxtapoz magazine, an oracle of art and culture for the past decade. Art Week Miami may have been last month, but that vibe migrated to Tampa, at least for this one night.
“We wanted something that made us stand out and made the art stand out,” said co-owner Cassie Greatens, “and to bring a new art scene to Tampa.
“The idea was to show Tampa 40 different artists, and to put something in the space that’s good for everyone, not just different styles but also the price point, there’s a variety of prices and styles, and I feel like anyone can come in here and find something they like,” Greatens said.
With so many different artists there’s not a binding theme in this exhibit, but the size constraint does make it feel like a cohesive show.
There’s an urban/street art feel to many of the pieces exhibited. A majority of the artists have, in fact, made their bones by spray painting on outdoor walls before they moved to indoor works on gallery walls.
St. Pete painter BASK is a stand-out. His work titled “Debate” hangs alone on a smaller wall of the gallery. It offers the viewer an obscured scene of two wolves fiercely attacking each other, but seen through a finely painted grid of hexagons that give the impression of chicken wire and blood spatter.
“It seems like a fitting piece given the escalating political climate, and given that it’s an election year and so forth,” said BASK about his painting.
Another local artist, Pale Horse, contributed his two mixed-media illustration pieces titled “Forbidden Knowledge” resembling polished enamel and copper etchings. In these cleanly executed works, a hand hovers just above a trio of mushrooms that are guarded by a devilishly decorated and fork-tongued serpent. These pieces feel like new versions of ancient icons.
Speaking of icons, there’s no lack of pop-art iconography in this exhibition. In 1962, Andy Warhol put his giant thumb down on the art world, and 50-plus years later, some artists are still struggling to get out from under it.
One could grab a handful of dice with the usual pop-art suspects printed on their sides. Things like: cartoon character, super model, couture emblem, graffiti tag, dollar bill, soft-drink logo, etc, then just roll the dice and paint whatever comes up together. (Wait, did I just give away the best idea for a pop-art app?)
Anyway, this often results in a less-than-inspiring combination, but once in a while you’d throw a true winning roll.
Massachusetts-born artist Rene Gagnon certainly has a winner with his piece “Equality of Paint” which presents a spray-paint can adorned with the Campbell’s Soup logo, accompanied by a rainbow background and the word “equality” replacing the soup variety. The frame is even spattered with a rainbow of paint, which brings the piece together. It rises above the simplicity of its blatant appropriation to make a real statement for our time.
Another winning painting strays pretty far from the typical imagery and brings us the masterful and mystical visage of “Nadi,” a character brought to life by Miami native Tatiana Suarez. Her exotic and mythological large-eyed figures first got my attention at SCOPE Art Miami in 2014, and I was delighted to see her work in the gallery.
Local star Tes One (along with BASK & Pale Horse) has been bringing creative color to some of the Bay area’s well-trafficked walls, most notably a five-story mural on the Poe Parking Garage in downtown Tampa. For this exhibit, his acrylic on wood piece titled “Frostbite” was drawing a warm reception from gallery visitors.
Michigan artist Kelly Allen had perhaps the most unique piece in the show, a simplistic face, seemingly finger-painted into deep, rippling stripes of vibrant color. Titled “Cocoon,” it pulls you in and demands contemplation.
Others that need mentioning are Greg Gossel’s puzzle-like wood collage “Butterfly,” Chris Buzelli’s elephant/tiger/monkey beast titled “Lotus” and Beau Stanton’s surrealist oil painting “Elysian Voyage.”
But these are just my favorites. You should visit the gallery and pick out your own.