It’s hip to be square at Blue Lucy

It’s amazing what an artist can do with a 15-inch square panel of wood.

click to enlarge SMALL WONDERS: Calan Ree’s “Inseparable.” - Bluelucy
SMALL WONDERS: Calan Ree’s “Inseparable.”

What happens when you give 106 Tampa Bay area artists (and one from Boston) identical 15-inch square wood boards and challenge them to make artworks? The answer is Scratch the Surface, an exhibition debuting Saturday at Bluelucy Gallery on the 600 Block in St. Pete.

Bluelucy owners Chad Mize and Phillip Clark conceived the show as a way to open up the gallery’s walls to new artists. About a month ago, they began selling boards at $20 a pop with the agreement that artists who returned them to the gallery as finished works would be featured in the exhibit, set the price of their pieces and keep any and all earnings. Artists clamored for the boards, dispelling Mize’s initial fear that the project would struggle to attract 100 participants.

“I think I could have gotten 150,” he says.

Who showed up to nab a board is almost as interesting as how the artists transformed each panel by painting, drawing, burning, pasting, printing, building or otherwise tinkering on its surface. Artists of established repute came — Frank Strunk III, Calan Ree, Allen Leper Hampton and Sarah Gail Hutcherson, to name a few — along with new talents like Cody Williams, a USF Tampa student who cites John Cage as the inspiration for his kinetic, audible piece. Bluelucy’s call even lured makers from outside the visual arts, including Margaret Murray (a former executive director of the Tampa Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival), who says the premise of Scratch the Surface was too fun to pass up.

“Perhaps the most appealing aspect of [the exhibit] is that it’s a group show filled with people I know, care about and respect artistically. It’s nice to be a part of that group and to revel in a sense of community,” she says.

As a preview of the exhibit, last week I asked all of the artists (many of whom were still working on their pieces) to answer the question, “What did you set out to make with your board?” Below are excerpts from their responses; check out the finished results on Saturday.

Mark Mitchell: The theme conjures up the notion of seeing past the obvious, of wanting to dig deeper. My painting “Spin Control” deals with the same theme — that what you see is often not nearly what you get.

Ceri Watkins: I wanted to do a portrait of Freddy Krueger in this new color-by-number kind of style I have been playing with recently.

Melissa Turkel: I set out to make a bright and colorful piece that reminded me of the beach and the old-school art deco Florida architecture of the Don CeSar Hotel, which is right across the street from our house.

Dominice Gilbert: I had this vision of these organic glowing objects just pop into my head, and I decided to make it a reality…

Ryan Overfield: A surreal-style charcoal drawing influenced by my imagination and love for mechanically and naturally repeating patterns.

Calan Ree: One day while I was trying to narrow the ideas down, I really looked at the surface. It was so smooth and rather lovely. Why not find a way to honor that and maybe challenge myself a bit, too?

Margaret Murray: The journey from riffing on a piece at this year’s Whitney Biennial to a screed against the 1 percent finally ended up as a tiny, tactile installation.

Coralette Damme: Something cool that would stand up next to work by Frank Strunk III.

Missy Roll: A visual representation of an uncomfortable question pertaining to race.

Julie Brookins: A portrait of my beloved grandfather, Pap Pap, who passed away in 2006. He was my everything and was the epitome of true beauty. Sweetest soul that ever lived.

Samantha Churchill: Day of the Dead meets Cinco de Mayo.

Sara McClarnon: I wanted this piece to reference mapping in an abstract way… The piece is based on a selection of paths that I traveled during time spent in NYC during June 2011.

Jason D. Ault: I decided to use Mr. Potato Head as the character, as he is recognizable, and hoped it would make a suggestively vulgar joke more funny.

Ellen Ault: My final piece is titled “Adventure is Out There!” I was inspired from Up by Pixar and decided to create one of my plush monsters as the main character from Up on the panel.

Cody Williams: I set out to make an interactive and kinetic sculpture with my board that incorporated different options of sound controlled by the viewer.

CyberCraft Robots: The idea is that you see a spaceship flying by. The surface is patched with riveted hull plating, there are pipes in various places that come out, go across the surface a bit, and go back in… On the side of this ship is a porthole, out of which a robot peers…

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