Behind the neon window: Ybor's Capricorn Studios specializes in erotic art

Just above New World, a gallery of erotic art beckons quietly.

click to enlarge CAPRICORN COUPLE: Daphne and Larry Haines stand before a photograph by Michael Shane Bowle at Capricorn Studios. - SHAWN ALFF
Shawn Alff
CAPRICORN COUPLE: Daphne and Larry Haines stand before a photograph by Michael Shane Bowle at Capricorn Studios.

Erotic art is one of the oldest forms of human expression. Paleolithic cave dwellers carved nude forms in wood and stone. Ancient Greeks depicted sex acts on pottery which, if circulated today, could get them arrested. Hindus catalogued sex positions in the Kama Sutra. Now a new Ybor art gallery celebrates this long affair between art and sexual expression.

Capricorn Studios is the lovechild of husband-and-wife team Larry and Daphne Haines. While neither is an artist nor has experience operating a gallery, they have an abundance of artist friends who needed a place to display their work.

"We wanted our friends to have a great venue to sell their work and be seen," Daphne says. "Of course, we also want to be busy."

On Valentine's Day, the apartment-sized studio opened, showcasing mainly the type of sensual art that can be framed on walls: photographs, paintings and mixed media. A woman in underwear reclined on a glossy pallet while an artist painted red streaks up her limbs. A female DJ in a red slip spun throbbing beats, accenting the sexual feng shui of the art, most of which featured solitary nude women.

Perhaps what is most shocking about Capricorn Studios is the lack of controversial content: no penetration, no body fluids, no erections. Michael Shane Bowle's photography is the notable exception, featuring a blindfolded woman with a rope around her neck and another woman with octopus tentacles dangling between her legs.

When asked to define what is too risque for their gallery, the Haines's response matched Justice Potter Stewart's famed definition of obscenity: they can't define it, but they can recognize it when they see it. For now the only criteria for featured work is that it's sensually exciting.

"When you look at the art in our gallery," Daphne says, "we want you to feel aroused."

Sexually explicit material always commands an audience, but will patrons pay top dollar for art that isn't necessarily safe for display in living rooms or offices? Admittedly, the Haineses aren't sure who will be their main client base. They are learning the art business as they go, personally managing every detail of their gallery from installing track lighting to building their website.

"Our main challenge will be promoting the work and getting people to come check out the space," Larry says.

Not only are the Haineses and their studio new to Tampa's art community, many of their artist friends are unknown. Ybor, which was the couple's first location choice, has a thriving art and nightlife scene, but Capricorn is somewhat removed from these. On the outside, the only hint of the gallery's presence is the neon red light burning through the third-story window in the building adjacent to New World Brewery. Furthering its seclusion, the gallery is only scheduled to be open for special shows, events, photography or life drawing classes, or by appointment. Daphne sees this exclusiveness as a positive.

"It will help us increase people who are serious about seeing what we have," she says, "and it eliminates people walking in off the street."

The couple said the most surprising thing about their business was how many people had contacted them wondering when the space would open. The Valentine's Day reception was a low-key, invite-only event, with a handful of featured artists and friends in attendance to greet potential buyers. Even with the DJ music, the main room was calm enough for me to realize that the Senator, whom I've only seen sporting his lingerie in loud dance clubs, has a thick New Jersey accent.

This relatively sedate kickoff wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The understated display of sensuality provides a stark contrast to the artificially enhanced and pounding sexuality blaring from Tampa's notorious strip clubs. Who knows, perhaps the burn of red neon lights in a third-story Ybor window will be enough of a temptation?

Capricorn Studios, 1313 East 8th Ave., Ybor City, capricornstudiostampa.com. See more photos from the gallery opening and work by Michael Shane Bowle and Hassan Patterson at cltampa.com/sexandlove.

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