A Channelside building provides studio and gallery space to a colorful blend of artists and styles.
By SUSAN THURSTON
Published July 18, 2003
[Times photos: Stefanie Boyar]
Martha Brooks Marshall, 59, uses her studio space at Artists Unlimited as a gallery for her colorful, atmospheric abstract paintings.
Greg Latch, 43, has been painting full time for a year but has rented studio space since '95. His works draw in a wide range of media.
The studio of Lorrie Mason, 39, serves as a workshop and showroom for her handmade jewelry.
Peter Bonk, 50, of Lutz, says his images of insects, flowers and nudes fit into a style he calls "magical realism." He has painted at Artists Unlimited for nearly two years.
Artists Unlimited draws an eclectic mix of artists who specialize in a variety of media.
Some have 30 years of experience. Others are just starting out. They come to the old warehouse on 12th Street to flex their artistic muscles, learn from each other and have a lot of fun. Here are snapshots of a few of them. For a list of other artists in residence, go to www.artistsunlimited.org
Peter Bonk learned to be a risk taker years ago while running his own business buying and selling high-tech companies.
Then, in 1999, he got out and moved to Tampa to take on another challenge: painting.
"I didn't retire," he said. "I became a full-time artist."
Bonk, 50, lives in Lutz but reports to his easel at Artists Unlimited most mornings at 6. He's been an artist-in-residence for nearly two years.
"I come in early and pretend to work," he says with a boyish grin.
Bonk paints images that pop into his mind or appear in his dreams. The result: large, colorful pictures of insects, flowers and naked women, the last inspired by his wife. He calls his style magical realism.
"I really try to paint life as I see it," he says. "I have a more positive perspective than it really is. That's why it's magical."
He sells most of his paintings on e-Bay and aspires to have an exhibit in New York City, where people typically have "edgier" tastes, he says. True to his computer roots, he dabbles in giclee, the reprinting of scanned original paintings onto canvas.
Working from Artists Unlimited gives him the freedom to paint and the opportunity to show his provocative side.
When Martha Brooks Marshall needs a dose of inspiration, she hits the road, preferably with friends, preferably to the mountains.
Last fall, she and three artist friends piled into a van and headed to North Carolina for a time of "sharing, inspiration, sketching, writing and meditation."
The incessant laughter, crisp mountain air and cold Chattooga River refreshed her mind and renewed her artistic energy. She came back raring to paint colorful, atmospheric abstracts now on display at Artists Unlimited.
Marshall, 59, stumbled across the arts center about four years ago while working downtown. A northern Alabama native, she moved to the Tampa area 17 years ago.
"I just stepped in and fell in love with the place," she said. "I liked the building. I liked the people. It was funky and old."
Marshall paints part time out of her Valrico home but comes to Artists Unlimited every week to participate in exhibits, teach classes or mingle with other creative minds. On Saturdays, she meets a "play group" for lunch and to take a crash course in quilting, printmaking or other artistic activity.
A painter for more than 30 years, Marshall prefers the casual, gritty atmosphere of Artists Unlimited over a pristine gallery. So do her customers.
"They feel they are getting something fresh and new," she said. "Something that they don't see anyplace else."
Lorrie Mason began her jewelrymaking business out of a cart on Franklin Street. A few days a week she'd hawk silver earrings and bracelets to downtown office workers passing by on their lunch breaks.
These days she caters to an artsier crowd, those who attend regular gallery events at Artists Unlimited.
Mason, 39, moved her business, Miniature Masterpieces, to the Channel District space last spring. She had run out of room in her 1920s Mediterranean-style home in Tampa Heights and wanted a work studio free of phones, refrigerators and other distractions.
"Being in an artistic atmosphere is really good for me," she says.
When she's not melding metal, Mason works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the state of Florida. She writes plans for people with bipolar or other disorders. She holds a degree in psychology, not art.
But making jewelry is her passion.
Renting space at Artists Unlimited gives her opportunities she didn't have working at the cart. From her tiny but adequate workshop, she networks, sells jewelry and taps her creativity.
Like the other artists and craftsman, she attends nearly all of the gallery events. Well-positioned near the wine and beverages, she hammers, bends and threads metal pieces while customers browse and admire.
"Thank you," she says after a woman compliments her silver and jewel bracelets.