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Practicing what they teach

Retiring faculty from USF's visual arts program show their work in a beautiful but quirky exhibit that spans decades and styles.

Published June 1, 2003

[Images courtesy USF Contemporary Art Museum]
Robert Gelinas, Alice’s Valentine, 1978, acrylic on canvas.
Jeffrey Kronsnoble, Postcard 6C, 1996, oil on silk.

TAMPA - The good news is that, in most cases, they're not really going away.

The faculty members retiring from the visual arts program at the University of South Florida are not retiring from art, just from teaching, which will probably give them more time to focus on their visions rather than nurturing those of their students. And the exhibition at USF's Contemporary Art Museum demonstrates that they still have a lot to show us.

Deputy director Alexa Favata said that the professors - Diane Elmeer, Charles Fager, Robert Gelinas, Jeffrey Kronsnoble, Mernet Larsen, Bruce Marsh and Theo Wujcik - submitted the work they wanted displayed, and with a few eliminations because of space, everything went up on the walls. Alan Eaker, another retiree, chose not to participate because he had not created art for a long time and didn't want to revisit old work, Favata said.

It's a quirky show. Some, such as Kronsnoble and Marsh, chose work that spans decades. Wujcik shows only recent paintings, Gelinas a series from the mid 1970s and early 1980s. But never mind that inconsistency. If we're disappointed about not getting more of a range from them all, we still get an emphatic message about what's important to them.

In Larsen's, Marsh's and Kronsnoble's selections especially, we see how they range over their primary medium, painting, developing and refining leitmotifs. Larsen, veering between abstraction and figuration, shows herself in her 10 works to be most of all a formalist. Grids visible in the representational Park, a richly textured mixed media work from 1975, have, by 2003, morphed into "box people," spare, angular and bizarre, in settings that have the visual clues of ordinariness - a couple walking through a diner or peering down at a baby - interpreted as a series of more grids.

Marsh's landscapes sometimes go beyond the genre, as in Skyway Mix, which divides the view into three parts, one bracketing, the other dividing the central sweep of sea and sky. It and Bay w/Snapshots present us with landscapes the way we process them, looking here, then there, up close or into the distance, forming in our minds the composite. It's a neat trick. So are his homages to neoclassical French artist Ingres, taking Madame de Moitessier out of her refined salon into a gritty port scene and covering the languid nudity of Large Odalisque with an op art screen.

From Kronsnoble we get the most variety, oil paintings on silk layered with old master references that look like collages, a landscape from his America series, a mixed media diorama and portraits. We also get a glimpse of his process with collage for Box IX G, in which he assembled old fishing flies, a photographed beach scene and a small reproduction of a painting of a young woman by the sea - something from a Millet painting, maybe? - then nearby, the two-dimensional painting he created from this three-dimensional assemblage.

Gelinas' seductive interiors glow with a mysterious baroque light, the minutely particular details of a book title or salt and pepper shakers moving in and out of focus. The "self" of his Self Portrait - Litt House N.Y. II is a barely visible form lying on a bed, face down reading a newspaper in a dark corner while his belongings are illuminated to tell his story. It's a little contrived but no less beautiful because of that.

And beautiful is a good word to describe the overall tone of this exhibition. So is accessible. None of the works - and with the exception of sculptor Fager, the artists are primarily painters - broke new ground. But the artists honor the act of painting, that gift for transforming globs of pigment and oil or water into mass and form with its own vocabulary. As artists, they used that gift well for their purposes, and as teachers, they passed it along.

[Last modified May 29, 2003, 10:05:15]

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