The portraits in Krystle Lemonias’ woodblock prints can draw you in with an immediacy that you wouldn’t expect from ink-blotted lines and gashes. Cloth cuttings, rich colors and other ephemera and patterns surround her figures. Yet, with all of Lemonias’ crafty embellishments, humanity emerges.
Moments of surprise and awe elicited by the Jamaican-born USF-MFA candidate’s works are what make her and other budding artists stand out from fellow students and peers. They demonstrate an attention to detail, an empathetic eye, a shrewd sense of originality, culture, their surroundings and social justice. All qualities Lemonias and the five other artists share, and for all of the above, they will be celebrated at the Morean Arts Center’s fourth annual “Fresh Squeezed” exhibition Saturday night.
“Fresh Squeezed 4: Emerging Artists in Florida”
March 14-April 23 (opening reception Sat. March 14, 5 p.m.-9 p.m)
Morean Arts Center
720 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.
With a title that’s inspired by Florida’s iconic citrus crop, Morean’s exhibition is the quintessential Florida emerging artist show and runs through April 22. The artists each have a unique voice and interesting perspective on how they see the world and, in particular, their state, said Amanda Cooper, Morean Arts Center’s curator of exhibitions.
As in previous years, “Freshly Squeezed” has two criteria for inclusion:artists must be Florida residents and cannot have had a solo museum or gallery show in the Sunshine State.
“This excludes MFA or BFA shows,” Cooper stipulated. “Otherwise we would never get anyone with a college degree.”
The Morean selected the six featured artists from more than 140 applicants. The growing prestige of the show has attracted artists throughout Florida and to a degree, nationwide, raising the bar for both competition and qualification. The result: more novel approaches to artistic expression.
A muralist, studio painter and adjunct professor, Nicholas Kalemba, uses mixed media, punctuated by humorous cartoon characters on steroids.
Kalemba’s daring assemblages of expertly A-list cats and mice smiling and performing violent acts join stark news photography. The darkly-comic combo socks the viewer with an emotional gut punch while capturing “the painful comedy and beautiful detritus of it all.”
“My paintings immerse viewers in a familiar but skewed version of reality to expose the painfully humorous decay of our social institutions,” Kalemba said in his artist statement. “They aim to be cryptic, humorous, macabre and seducing all at once.”
A fine art and documentary photographer and former White House photo editor, Jared Ragland, like others in the show, brings the perspective of the Florida transplant. He recently left Birmingham, Alabama, to live in Tarpon Springs. His first film, “Some Million Miles,” received the Reel South Short Award at the Sidewalk Film Festival. Training his artistic eye on his surroundings, Ragland stirringly captures living conditions around the world—assignments that have taken him to the Balkans, the former Soviet Bloc, East Africa and Haiti. He now teaches at Judy Genshaft honors College at USF.
St. Petersburg-based artist Chelsea Rowe distinguishes herself by playfully venturing beyond traditional forms, creating environments using stagecraft, video projection, painting and drawing. She recently returned to her hometown from Los Angeles and has quickly set upon making new pieces inspired by “this wonderfully strange, beautiful swamp,” she told the Morean. Rowe’s installation features a cast of costumed characters that emerge from a swampy, neo-primordial landscape, inspired by what she says is the current state of her home and the onslaught of hurricanes that are forcing Floridians to adapt to change.
Cindy Leung is currently pursuing her MFA in Ceramics at the University of Florida and creates ceramic sculpture that cleverly melds the traditional with the contemporary and amuse with charmingly subversive humor. Deland-based installation artist Luca Molnar (pronounced, “loo-sa”), an assistant professor of studio art at Stetson University in DeLand, uses mixed media to capture a sense of fractured space. Her works include quilts, clothing, wallpaper, tile and other household imagery, offering ruminations on the body and the invisible, obligatory labor of women.
According to Cooper, the Morean has often provided a stepping stone to major museum exhibitions. Once artists confirm artists for a show, they visit them and bring along photographer Beth Reynolds, the Morean’s director of photography, to do a headshot, which the artists can use in their publicity going forward. They also receive coaching from the Morean staff and the century-old institution’s network of professional member artists, who also lend expertise on the logistics of shipping art, critiques on the art and the business end of promoting their work.
The shepherding process is one of the parts Cooper likes most about the project. “We travel all over the state, wherever they are,” she effused.
“I get really excited about ‘Freshly Squeezed,’” Cooper added, “because we really feel like we're doing something good… not to sound patronizing because, certainly, some of them would be fine without us, but you know, we're really coming alongside them and saying, ‘Hey, let’s demystify this for you and make it not so scary or snobby or whatever.’”