Northeast Florida continues to boast estimable college-level arts educations. Arguably, there has never been a time in this community when our colleges featured this many contemporary, productive artists who just so happen to teach. Consequently, their experience and willingness to share what they know is propelling a fair number of their students to assuredly do the same. The Flagler College Department of Art & Design’s annual Student Portfolio Exhibition, featuring work by Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) candidates, highlights the current interplay between the school’s faculty and student artists.
Directed by Professor Patrick Moser, the BFA portfolio artists are Bonn Antonetti, Rachel Blankenship, Connor Bouchard, Lauren Gonzalez and Joseph Provenza. Under the guidance of Assistant Professor Jason Schwab, the BA portfolio artists are Jenn Gulgren, Conrad Kane, Hannah Laakso, Lauren Powell, Jake Carlson and Marina Rossi.
Collectively, these students utilize diverse media such as drawing, installation, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, sound, textile work and video. While the students’ savviness using this disparate media is impressive, most telling is a combination of the faculty’s guidance and students’ approaches that creates a decidedly contemporary slant to the show.
Case in point: Bonn Antonetti. For the BFA exhibit, they are working in film and multimedia, even a performance piece. Their submitted pieces, all untitled, invoke a cryptic quality. A film still of an opened refrigerator freezer, tinted in neon-vibed light and emblazoned with the lowercase question, “do you feel something yet?” offers the kind of text-and-image otherworldliness of Ed Ruscha. A second piece featuring the text “a good son,” has a blue cloth hanging over the image; one corner offers a glimpse into a magenta background flecked with diffused, yellowish light. This piece in particular stands out among Antonetti’s pieces, ostensibly touching on Italian Renaissance artists, with their precise rendering of folds, pleats and swathes of fabric, along with a hardcore conceptualist stab with its blunt anti-exhibit energy, in the covering of the hidden image.
Fellow BFA artist Joseph Provenza’s Manifest Destiny (house paint, spray paint, sumi ink on wood panel, 12-inches-by-14-inches) is an apparent graphic-image satire at both design and chest-thumping propaganda, a fat turkey giving birth to a Pabst Blue Ribbon logo, cradled by a barbwire-and-laurel crown. BA artist Jenn Gulgren offers a truly impressive piece with Scale (oil on canvas, 102-inches-by-102-inches, 2017). A 6-foot-by-8-foot grid of 48 paintings, Scale is a large-scale study of digital body weight scales, or possibly one scale, captured in varying degrees of light and shadow. An obvious “read” would be Scale commenting on our fixation with our own weight, image, body dysmorphia, etc. But it could just as easily seen as Gulgren’s take on the American obsession with measurement in general, whether it be weight, money, time or lifespan. While Gulgren’s representational skills fall a little flat (which, to be, fair might be her deliberate downplaying of “precise” still-life painting), with Scale she creates a fairly impactful piece that isn’t clawing onto any gimmick of being “large-scale” art.
The current faculty of Flagler College’s Department of Art & Design includes Leslie Robison, Sara Pedigo, Donald Martin and Patrick Moser, among others, representing a fairly wide array of disciplines and worldviews on visual arts. In turn, the BFA and BA students only benefit from the collective faculty’s experiences in working within the world as visual artists. To some degree, tuition pays for not only instruction but also the teacher’s anecdotal experiences of being an artist. As most art instructors are quick to point out—sometimes defensively so—that they are artists first, instructors second, there is some quality of being a survivor in having made it to this point in a creative, prolific life.
A recent event at Downtown’s The Space Gallery featured talks by four artists who also teach. All used representational, figurative work as the terra firma of their paintings; all four are, or were, art instructors. Kevin Arthur, Jason John, Jeff Whipple and Christina Grace Mastrangelo have divergent styles. Arthur has retired from teaching at UNF; John and Whipple still teach there. Jacksonville native Mastrangelo teaches in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Italy. Regardless of age or current location, all four artists, at some point in discussing their respective work, stressed the importance of discipline and diligence.
When talking about his undergraduate years in the mid-to-late-’70s at Northern Illinois University, Whipple explained that he created hundreds upon hundreds of paintings and illustrations. When one particular course demanded eight completed works by semester’s end, Whipple had completed 45 solely for that class. John described his earliest days studying at an atelier, honing his skills as a representational artist, who then directed this skills into his visually charged and dream-like paintings. When recounting their student days, the respective artists seemed to allow that, regardless of the spontaneity of vision, the working should be ever present; and to a person, they stressed maintaining this same ethic, decades after graduating from college.
Diligence, or perseverance, is more reliable than serendipity. The highly prolific 20th-century occultist-writer Israel Regardie, for all his mystical inquiries, was cogent in describing this universal principle of perseverance:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Burn the blueprint. In the end, it’s creating the work that matters. That is one of yet many truths and disciplines a young artist can learn from a teacher. Any opening reception is a brief victory lap and ongoing concerns about a piece being “red dotted” can surely distract an artist as to why they make art in the first place.
Will every young artist featured in this year’s Flagler College fall exhibition go on to enjoy the life of a myth-shrouded, visual art celebrity? No. Hoping that the art gods blast you with the blinding thunderbolt of fame and history is a self-inflicted, time-wasting curse. Does every young artist in this exhibition have the probability, or at least capability, to become a credible—even innovative—artist? Absolutely.
Flagler College’s art students are gifted with a high-caliber faculty and the almost-enviable time in life to focus solely on the arts, to now create healthy work habits—in doing the work—and dig their heels in to the creative path, while also living in one of the funkiest, singular towns on the East Coast.
Correction: This article previously misidentified Lauren Gonzalez's first name.