Street Art Heaven: Paradise Cities at the Morean

This all-women cast of artists depicts the world in bold shapes and bright colors.

click to enlarge Kinetic Contrasts 15, Sherwin Series, pigment print on Hahnemuhl PhotoRag, 2010-11 - Joelle Dietrick
Joelle Dietrick
Kinetic Contrasts 15, Sherwin Series, pigment print on Hahnemuhl PhotoRag, 2010-11

Take me down to Paradise Cities, where the grass is green (in areas that haven’t been attacked by chinch bugs), and the girls are pretty. Awesome. Artists. Aligning the exhibition with all of the SHINE mural events in September, these 10 Florida female artists prove that they can thrive in a male-dominated street art community.

The great thing about street art is that it’s free for the people — there’s no need to spend a dime to come to St. Pete and walk around the outdoor museum that makes up downtown. It’s a liberating, democratic art form where artists, whether trained or un-trained, can come together to make a neighborhood more colorful. Referencing the popular song “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses, this group of artists reflects on an active urban life, or some sort of escape to a better place.

The theme of an escape back to home couldn’t be more evident than in Jennifer Kosharek’s paintings of Gretchen, an innocent-looking character that has been developed throughout her work as a figure for storytelling. In many of her paintings, like “Sail with Me, Stay with Me,” the redheaded Gretchen actually transforms into the vessel of her own escape, her body acting as a sail to carry her off across turbulent waters. This particular piece also alludes to how street art (and life in general) has become globalized, with doll-like Japanese figures standing next to a pink-haired Russian nesting doll. Her works are loaded with personal symbolism, but she also uses more universal symbols of love, fun Florida clichés (including recurring flamingos), and pop culture memes, with Grumpy Cat making an appearance in her piece “Influences.”

I’m especially drawn to Joelle Dietrick’s Sherwin Series, which seems to reference op art’s use of color and illusion. The color palettes for each work are particularly pleasing, since they are taken from Sherwin-Williams 2007 Color Forecast — colors specifically chosen to be more optimistic in nature to dampen the negativity of the housing bubble that was in full effect at the time. In essence, Dietrick’s compositions show the bubble bursting, with shards of abstracted architectural structure flying across her prints.

In “Kinetic Contrasts 15,” the image is a mix of a blueprint, the skeleton frame of a building, and sections of walls and windows that create a visual space that simultaneously has infinite depth and no depth at all. Because of the use of flat colors and angular lines and shapes that mimic interior design aesthetic, the flat print confuses the eye as it wavers between a 2-D image and a dimensional space that the eye can wander through.

Iryna Kanishcheva isn’t a street artist herself, nor do her pictures have a street art aesthetic, but her documentary photography of Floridian muralists is an overlooked and welcome view of this subculture. I’ve always been a fan of seeing other artists’ studios and here, the street is the temporary studio. Because artists have to work quickly, it’s incredible to see how these large-scale murals are made — whether an artist has to work around scaffolding or reach uneasily from a ladder — and to see the tools used to get the job done. From notebook sketches to cans of spray paint, from large brushes to even larger cups of Starbucks coffee, we’re allowed access to the creative hands and minds behind the paint. From its speedy production to its inevitable destruction, Kanishcheva’s photojournalism documents the fleeting nature of this art.

The show is mostly cohesive in it’s color and style, but Suzy Schultz work seems to stick out like a DaVinci drawing in a room of colorful Frank Stella paintings; I actually didn’t even think it was part of the exhibition. Other than the unfinished look or a few paint drips in some pieces, the earth-toned palette and detailed figure rendering, as in “Send,” spoke more about tradition than paving the way for innovation and originality — which seems to be what street art is about. While the wall texts acknowledge that her work is “at odds with the typical street art aesthetic,” it seems like a disservice to include her works alongside much edgier pieces that allude to the “urban vibe” the exhibition was aiming for.

With everything in mind, I came into the exhibition with a particular notion of what street art typically looks like. The show as a whole seems to say there’s not one way to describe the look of street art, because it is defined as art made and viewable in public spaces.

This genre of art is an art for the people.


Paradise Cities: Urban Art in Florida.

Through Oct. 30. Morean Arts Center. 719 Central Ave., St. Pete.

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