Freshly returned from a Vermont residency, artist Neil Bender is getting right back to business. His work is the subject of Gaiety Girls an upcoming solo exhibit at Quaid Gallery. Bender took a moment to speak with us in his studio about his practice, the thought behind it, his upcoming show, pink and more. Check out the video below.
Two years ago I wrote the first blog post for ART AT BAY and today I write the 159th. A lot has happened in the past two years with the blog generally and me personally. The blog is still here, and I’m now joined by three other writers. We’re slated to release the first print issue of ART AT BAY next month. My wife gave birth to our first child, a daughter. I became a contributor for Hi-Fructose Magazine and exhibited once as an artist.
I’ve spoken with many awesome artists, gallerists, writers, and art lovers over the past year. Reflecting on it all, I find myself more optimistic than I was when I wrote this post last year. Tampa Bay seems poised to not only take its place as a significant art community, but more importantly it seems ready to accept itself. I’m continually seeing more collaboration span the Bay. I see people in our little art scenes lend a hand, some money, some time, some hard work, some resources for the sake of art and what it does locally. I’ve seen it done for me. It’s nice to witness our favorite artists mature and new artists gearing up to get involved. Some awesome things are going to happen in our little art world on the Bay. I hope you continue to stick with me and ART AT BAY as we provide a forum to talk about it and give it some attention.
Thank you. Please believe me as sincere when I say, you guys are awesome, seriously awesome.
This post is second in Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 series – check out the introduction and pick for Best Museum Exhibit here.
I initially felt some reluctance releasing this installment because I felt a tad guilty for not having attended some exhibits (thus, I couldn’t appropriately include them). After some consideration though, I’ve mustered some gumption: Likely I’ve attended more local art exhibits than anyone (save perhaps for Luis from Art Taco). Anyhow, if you disagree with my pick, let me know in the comments section below – I’ll tell you why it didn’t make my cut.
Best Gallery Exhibit
Neil Bender: Purple Nurple – Tempus Projects
The exhibit was dominated by relatively large-scale paintings visually tied together by medium (oil on canvas) and a subtly similar palette. The centerpiece of the show – the 88 x 120 in. My Daughter’s Overturned Bedroom – hung alone on the gallery’s west wall.
Bender’s composition and style reflect an awareness of the contemporary dialogue on art and painting’s place in it. With the field of relevant painting (presumably) shrinking, good work is all the more exciting. His choice of medium wasn’t a trivial one – the use of oil was ideal for the subject matter. The somewhat painterly fleshy masses of the pieces recalled Rubenesque figures through a contemporary lens, a sort of baroque R. Crumb.
However, I’m not saying that his work was in any way frivolous. Rather, Bender was able to convey the moral muddiness of some pretty heavy issues – objectification, sexual politics, gender roles. His paintings resist being heavy-handed politically, instead according an appropriate complexity to the concepts they touch on.
Bender also managed to resist being heavy-handed with the shock and awe. When dealing with issues such as sexuality, artists can get as adolescent as the rest of us. It’s easier to take a lazy pointlessly raunchy route. The nudity in Bender’s paintings is relatively understated and effective. The pieces encourage a slow look in contrast with the facile shock and instant impression (then consequent forgetting) of immature work.
Really, Bender’s work in Purple Nurple had a conceptual depth that is not seen often enough in the Bay area. Further, it was executed with a balanced hand both aesthetically and in process.
Parallel Movements: Justin Nelson and Daniel Mrgan – C. Emerson Fine Arts
This past October CEFA presented a dual exhibit of work from two popular Bay area artists: Justin Nelson and Daniel Mrgan. Both had exhibited a few times locally throughout the year. However, this exhibit featured new work from both artists. More importantly, it signaled a subtle but positive shift in each artist’s style.
Nelson and Mrgan both use an approach to their work that is easily liked. While popular art can run the risk of becoming populist art, this exhibit caught the work of both artists maturing. In their own ways, the new work from Nelson as well as Mrgan abstracted itself further from earlier pieces. The art investigated similar concepts and processes, but definitely deeper and more effectively in Parallel Movements.
Sure, you had a good time at Art After Dark last week. Though, now you may be asking “Danny, is there another art party worth going to soon?” I’m glad you asked. I’m also sorry I started off this week like an infomercial. Anyhow, here’s another art party for you with one serious improvement: it supports an important cause.
CL Space – Tempus for The Spring Sat 4/28
VIP admission – $30 in advance or $35 at the door, 6pm-10pm
General admission – $10, student (with ID) – $5, 7pm-10pm
The cause behind the party should be mentioned first – The Spring of Tampa Bay. The Spring is Hillsborough’s only certified domestic violence prevention and emergency shelter agency. Tempus for The Spring is specifically supporting the creation of a new art therapy program for the agency. It’s only fitting that such a program is helped to be brought about with an art party. This is where you can do your bit to prevent domestic violence and support the arts this Saturday.
That being said, I won’t lie – the Bay area isn’t short on art parties. I can easily think of some regulars on both sides of the bay. Thus, if you have some sort of literal art party addiction you’re set. Like most things, though, the art parties actually worth your presence are few. These events can easily get heavy on the party side and light on the art, as in “Art Lite”. Tempus for The Spring seems to be a different sort of affair.
Firstly, two of the Bay area’s best painters will be showing and selling work: Theo Wujcik and Neil Bender. Additionally, up and coming artists such as Justin Nelson and Ryann Slauson will be joining the gang on the wall (not to mention Tempus Projects’ Tracy Midulla Reller and Bluebird Books Bus’ Mitzi Gordon among many other great artists). If you ever had hopes of owning art, Saturday would be a prime opportunity to make good on it. Work is being sold via silent auction which could possibly help you land a sweet price, especially if you take advantage of a sneak peek that comes with a VIP admission. More importantly, though, with cash you lay down for the auction you not only acquire awesome artwork but you also help out an awesome agency in a very real way. You could be an art collector and a philanthropist with one maneuver of the wallet: classy! Classy, but not snooty. With a $3 per drink cash bar (free drinks with a VIP admission) and DJ, fun is to be had, even by philistine non-art liking types.
Regardless of your interest, causes and art rarely fit so well together. Not often do venues like Tempus Projects exhibit in venues like the CL Space. And Seldom can you contribute to an important cause by collecting art.
The runt month of February has come and gone. I learned the hard way that things you do on Leap Day do count. Anyhow, with the advent of March our art microcosm becomes much more interesting. To kick the month off we have two closing receptions on one side of the bay and an opening on the other.
USF Centre Gallery – The Attic by Shanna Martin and Ben Berrett closing reception Fri 3/02 7pm-9pm
Tempus Projects – Neil Bender: Purple Nurple closing reception Fri 3/02 8pm-10pm
THE ATTIC is an installation/performance piece by artists Shanna Martin and Ben Berrett. ‘Attic’ is one of those tired metaphors for the subconscious that more often than not dooms artwork to cliché-hood (think the cover of Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic). If you’ve seen the performance in person or on YouTube, though, the stock symbol becomes disturbingly real. The performance produces an honest sense of chaos as two monsters trudge around the space – a real life Id left to its own devices. Cliché or not, THE ATTIC is likely to be the most interesting art you’ll see this weekend.
Tempus Projects is closing Neil Bender’s solo exhibit with a reception this Friday as well. I wrote a review of the show that you can find here. If you didn’t get a chance to make it to the opening, a trip Seminole Heights is worth it. Bender’s paintings are surprisingly relevant – they engage in a way familiar to other mediums. Check out the review if you want to know more about the exhibit.
Studio@620 – Florida Focus Exhibition: A Celebration of Contemporary Florida Art Sat 3/03 7pm
The Florida Focus Exhibition is a group exhibit of 32(!) artists from around the state. The force and focus behind the show is its curator, Ken Rollins. Rollins’ name may sound familiar: he was the executive director for a few Florida art museums including the interim executive director of the TMoA during its make over. The exhibit celebrates his 70th birthday with the work of many artists he’s worked with throughout his career.
The roster is a long list of well-known and respected Florida artists. That isn’t to say that it’ll be particularly exciting, though. If you’re the type of art nerd that’s stoked about Mindy Solomon’s Explicit Content show, you may find yourself choking down a yawn at this one. My recommendation is to take a friend and sharpen your critic skills. You’ll find some art that you admire and art that you less than admire – articulate the particulars of what you think. Regardless, the education on Florida artists makes the exhibit worth seeing. The full list of artists is too long to name here but check out the full roster of artists here.
Also this weekend:
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts – Curtis Hixon Park Sat 3/03 9am-6pm, Sun 3/04 9am-5pm
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this event. However, I should send you off with the warning that the Festival comes with a reputation for being extremely tame. I’ve heard the general style described as “hotel art” – so inoffensive that it’s offensive. Now go enjoy the sunshine!
Nipples, thighs, orifices of sorts – visually, Neil Bender‘s current exhibit of paintings at Tempus Projects is not unlike scrambled pay-per-view. Like most good jokes, though, behind the suggestive content and playful exhibit title, Purple Nurple is much more sober.
It can’t be denied: Bender’s work is overtly sexual. While content-wise the sweaty tangle of body parts in most of the paintings of Purple Nurple may resemble an orgy, the paintings resemble a collage compositionally. In fact, one of Bender’s pieces featured in the show is actually a proper cut-and-paste collage. In this way Bender isn’t creating his sexual imagery as much as he’s mediating sexual imagery we’re already familiar with. Perhaps that’s why his work can be so squirm-worthy at times.
There is another reason I found the work in Purple Nurple so affecting. Creative Loafing‘s Megan Voeller mentioned in a past review of Bender’s work that “Rather than re-inscribing the objectification of participants (most often women) found in mainstream porn, … [Bender] is playful and exploratory in a way that reflects the current, lively discourse on gender and sexuality”. Power relations in porn are generally pretty obvious. They’re much more murky with Bender’s faceless bodies, leaving it ambiguous as to who exactly is being objectified. In a weird way it feels like the collar-pulling viewer fills that role.
The paintings of Purple Nurple are also playful with the assumptions we make in “reading” the paintings (and by extension the images we consume in general). The centerpiece of the show, a large 88 x 120 in. painting, also makes use of this hyper-sexual imagery. A quilt-like pattern recalls a bed mattress or fish net stockings. Fleshy masses twist with outfit accessories, nipples with belt buckles. It’s easy to guess what may be going on in this scene, but difficult to reconcile it with the painting’s title, My Daughter’s Overturned Bedroom. Bender plays the opposite game in paintings with titles such as Pony You Up and Raw. Where we presume perversity is upon closer inspection banality. Don’t blame Neil, you were the one thinking it.
Neil Bender’s work provokes with an immediacy that painting doesn’t often allow. In a medium that has an increasingly difficult struggle to find relevancy, the work in Purple Nurple is indecently appropriate.
Word is there will be a closing reception on March 2nd – keep an eye on Tempus Projects’ Facebook page.
Tarpon Springs has the sponge docks. Clearwater has the beach. Oldsmar has…I don’t know…a movie theatre. But Dunedin – beer, Scottish-ness, and art?! There’s a reason why everyone calls Dunedin “the Paris of North Central Pinellas County”. I call it that for a reason, at least. This weekend we’re heading to Dunedin’s art-heart: the Dunedin Fine Art Center.
Quite a bit is going on Friday night, though I’m focusing on the DFAC’s Contain It! event. I’ll just mention that the $5 admission gets you a free Yuengling. Personally, I’ll be saving my sobriety for the Dunedin Brewery just a short ride away.
Though “crowd-pleasing” and “good art” rarely share the same article, the DFAC’s Contain It! shows are a regular exception. The exception begins with a good idea: the mobile storage company PODS donates units that are in turn transformed into installations by local artists. Big crowd pleasing art events tend to keep the art on the walls like boys at a middle school dance. That being said, what really makes Contain It! a good show is immersing visitors in an art form that many wouldn’t encounter outside of a museum.
The DFAC also knows how to pick ’em – the artists involved not only shine a spotlight on the local scene but also bring quality work. For example, check out this preview photo of Chris Musina’s installation. You’ll also find installations by Kelly Boehmer, Deon Blackwell, Jordi Williams, Mitzi Gordon, Alain Salesse, and Victoria Block.
The DFAC’s offering of engaging work from local talent definitely warrants a trip to the Paris of North Central Pinellas. The event is a promising one; you’ll be glad you parted with the fiver.
- Tempus Projects – Neil Bender: Purple Nurple 2/11 7pm-10pm
- Florida Museum of Photographic Arts – Bud Lee’s America 2/11 is the exhibit’s last day
- Downtown St. Petersburg – Second Saturday Gallery Walk – 2/11 5:30pm-8:30pm