For the past three years, Creative Loafing's Sensory Overload has brought artists, musicians and performers together for an evening of multisensory art and revelry. Curator-art director Jay Giroux takes his second turn at the helm of SO (this year in tandem with music curator Becca Nelson), selecting a group of creative participants who reflect both their personal commitment to pushing the limits of artistic expression and this year's theme: the labyrinth.
On Saturday, March 29, from 9 p.m.-1 a.m., a life-sized maze will guide visitors through the Cuban Club's sprawling outdoor plaza, leading them to encounters with paintings, illustrations, photo collages, sculptures and installations created specially for the event, all exploring the possibilities of the labyrinth. Bands from around the Bay area and the country will play on two stages (see Wade Tatangelo's preview on p. 89), complemented by dance and theater performances, film screenings, Indian food and plenty of drink.
When it comes to the Bay area's visual arts community, the idea of a space where artists and audiences can get lost and separated hits close to home, Giroux says. For the first time this year, SO comes with a social networking component — a concerted effort to bring emerging talent together with established artists and help both connect with an audience of patrons and collectors, with the ultimate goal of helping artists stay local and become successful.
"There are a lot of artists who fly through this web," Giroux says, "but only some of them really make it through."
Though the party lasts only one night, the organization, planning and collaborations begin months ahead of time. Because Sensory Overload puts a premium on improvisation, many artists will be working up until the final days before the show. When I caught up with some of the major players last week, here's what they were working on.
Edgar Sanchez Cumbas With Tampa Digital Studios
In the spirit of sensory exploration, West Tampa artist Edgar Sanchez Cumbas converted an unused warehouse on Creative Loafing property in West Tampa into a temporary painting studio — then planned to lock himself inside for five days during the week before Sensory Overload. A former mixed martial arts training facility, the building's interior is literally stained with blood and sweat, Sanchez says. Working on an expansive 8-by-12-foot canvas, he hopes to improvise a series of abstract gestures in response to the space. All the while, staff from Ybor's Tampa Digital Studios will videotape Sanchez and interview him about the experiment. The final piece on view at Sensory Overload will likely incorporate a projection of the edited video alongside the finished painting. For Sanchez, who ordinarily works in a studio at the nearby Bustillo y Diaz cigar factory, the goal is to give his creative process a jolt.
"From what I'm seeing, the project is going to be extremely layered. [The space is] empty and it's got remnants of training: punching bags, murals of fighters. ... It looks very grotesque. You can see the blood in the space," Sanchez says. "My approach is kind of the same thing. Not so much slamming paint on top of the canvas, but working very directly with the surface. I'm looking at it as me going into the space and really sort of activating myself with it."
Rather than traditional oil or acrylic, Chris Parks — owner of Pale Horse Design and Gallery in St. Petersburg — employs the computer-based techniques of digital illustration to create his artworks. In Parks' corner of the Sensory Overload labyrinth, a 4-foot-by-4-foot canvas printed with the artist's contemporary rendering of the nightmarish Minotaur of classical mythology will greet visitors. Two side panels will bracket the monster with images of the Cretan labyrinth where many a hero met his doom. In addition, Parks will create a hallway within the SO labyrinth covered with wheat paste posters showcasing some of his other characters: pirates, zombies and Day of the Dead characters.
"I really like illustrating animals, so that comes into a lot of my work," he says. "I have done a lot of pieces based on Greek mythology and darker fantasy type of stuff. I'm trying to take the theme that I think fits perfectly with this type of work and push it a little bit with the labyrinth theme. ... I've got the haunted part of the maze."
Theo Wujcik, an internationally known artist who remains a loyal champion of Ybor's art scene, reaches back into ancient history with a mammoth portrait (90-inches-by-75-inches) of the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut. The painting is a follow-up to a series of drawings Wujcik completed a few years ago, casting well-known contemporary artists — including Larry Bell and James Rosenquist — in the form of marble Roman portrait heads. A granite statue of Hatshepsut, one of Egypt's most revered female rulers, wearing the gender-bending faux beard customary for pharaohs, caught his eye. Wujcik opted to overlay another of his current concerns on the image: The pharaoh's granite "skin" will be studded with melting chocolate chips, a symbol of global warming.