Tampa artist Joe Testa-Secca's life in art on exhibit at UT gallery

The University of Tampa honors former UT professor with a career-spanning solo art exhibition.

click to enlarge Scarfone/Hartley Gallery during the opening reception for Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Scarfone/Hartley Gallery during the opening reception for Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color.

Last Fourth Friday, former UT professor Joe Testa-Secca’s career retrospective exhibition opened at the Scarfone/Hartley Gallery in downtown Tampa.

Curating the exhibition was a challenge for Francesca Bacci, she admitted during a brief gallery talk. Even a 4,500-square-foot exhibition space wasn't enough to display it all. She had to cull through 60 years of artwork, and Testa-Secca didn’t always agree with her on what to include and what not to include.

Then there was the issue of how to arrange the artwork. I might have enjoyed a chronological arrangement, where Testa-Secca’s evolution would have been more obvious. But doing it this way, I think, would have presented its own challenges.

Bacci decided to group the work by theme. She mentions eight different themes in her gallery talk:

1. Public works

click to enlarge Joe Testa-Secca completed several public art projects between 1959 and 1979, many of which you can still see here in the Tampa Bay area. This includes a mosaic mural for the University of South Florida, stained glass for temples in Lakeland and Tampa, and an alterpiece for a Christian church in Tampa. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca completed several public art projects between 1959 and 1979, many of which you can still see here in the Tampa Bay area. This includes a mosaic mural for the University of South Florida, stained glass for temples in Lakeland and Tampa, and an alterpiece for a Christian church in Tampa.

2. The 1980s rock star/Hollywood phase

click to enlarge Hollywood Cowboys, 1987, two panels mixed media on ragboard, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca - Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Hollywood Cowboys, 1987, two panels mixed media on ragboard, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca

3. The cross as a compositional feature

click to enlarge Golden Bough, 1972, mixed media, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca - Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Golden Bough, 1972, mixed media, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca

4. Lovemaking

click to enlarge Love in Bloom, 1987, mixed media, from the collection of Oscar and Anne Sierra - Testa Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Testa Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Love in Bloom, 1987, mixed media, from the collection of Oscar and Anne Sierra

5. Nature and puzzles

click to enlarge Close-up of Florida Jigsaw, 1986, mixed media, from the Tampa Prep School collection - Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Close-up of Florida Jigsaw, 1986, mixed media, from the Tampa Prep School collection

6. Psychedelic art

click to enlarge Artwork from Testa-Secca's short-lived psychedelic phase - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Artwork from Testa-Secca's short-lived psychedelic phase

7. American Indian struggles

click to enlarge Close-up of North American Totem, 2007, mixed media, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Cruz - Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Close-up of North American Totem, 2007, mixed media, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Cruz

8. Drafting/drawing as a foundation for his technique

click to enlarge Catatonic Dream, 1969, mixed media on paper, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca - Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Joe Testa-Secca; photo by Jennifer Ring
Catatonic Dream, 1969, mixed media on paper, from the collection of Joe and Rosalie Testa-Secca

Walking around the space, I understood how some of these themes were brief explorations or phases, like the '80s rock-star phase, while others were lifelong fascinations, like Testa-Secca's studies of the human figure.

Given Testa-Secca’s local popularity, Bacci had to grab art from all over Tampa for the show, about 55 works total. Many came from the homes of private collectors, their names listed on the adjacent labels. Many came from Testa-Secca's studio collection.

I am most drawn to the patterns in Testa-Secca’s work. So much of his artwork is dominated by these patterns, whether it be alternating patches of light and dark, colorful stripes, dots or puzzle pieces. Art like this is sometimes referred to as fragmentation or deconstruction art, and it was popular in the late 20th century, when Testa-Secca was actively teaching and creating art at the University of Tampa.

Two hours on a Tampa Fourth Friday wasn't nearly enough time to digest all the artwork populating UT’s ginormous Scarfone/Hartley Gallery. This is one of the reasons I'm looking forward to the closing reception next Fourth Friday, February 22, from 6-8 p.m. The other reason is that the exhibition catalog will be released during the closing reception, and I hear Testa-Secca may be present to sign them.

The Testa-Secca exhibition catalog is only the second produced by the University. They did their first with the Pedro Pablo Oliva exhibition in 2018, and it was so successful they decided to continue producing these catalogs. The Testa-Secca exhibition catalog includes essays from gallery curator Francesca Bacci and CL alum Caitlin Albritton alongside reproductions of Testa-Secca’s works.

You can pre-order your copy here.


Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color

Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, 310 North Blvd., Tampa | Through Feb. 22.: Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat., 1-4 p.m.; Closing reception Feb. 22, 6-8 p.m. | 813-253-6217 | ut.edu/scarfonehartleygallery


About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jennifer studied biology for six years, planning for a career in science, but the Universe had other plans. In 2011, Jen was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that sidelined her from scientific research. Her immune system, plagued by Scleroderma, had attacked her lungs to the point of no return. She now required...
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