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The dimensions of art, nature and culture

The Arts Center's current show of sculpture and painting tickles the imagination, touches the soul and sparks a few smiles.

By BRANDY STARK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


photo
Ludner Confident’s Prelude to a Dream is part of his show at the Arts Center.
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the Arts Center's Houge Gallery, a zebra stands quietly contemplating the lady who holds her own heart in her hand. Nearby, a miniature woman stands juggling the universe, while Icarus, the ill-fated boy of Greek mythology, tries out his experimental wings. American Indians, dancing skeletons and salamanders also are part of the sculptural audience for an unusual art show, titled "El Cinco de Mayo."

Painter Dodie O'Keefe, originally from New York and now a resident of Gulfport, joins with sculptors Felipe Packard and Ricardo de la Vega in this delightful celebration of the Mexican holiday. Fine acrylic paintings are splashed with a variety of patterns, creating a surreal mixture of ideas.

Frida y Diego portrays a motherly Frida Kahlo holding a "child" with the face of Diego Rivera, who stares back at the viewer. San Miguel de Allende depicts the clash of cultures: A woman dressed in European clothes walks with a woman in native clothes. Between them is a devilish child, holding the hand of the European woman and gazing knowingly at the viewer.

The works of Packard and de la Vega mix wonderfully with these acrylic paintings. Several statues are life-size, such as Madre Tierra (Mother Earth), whose head sprouts vines instead of hair, and the Zebra previously mentioned. Smaller works, such as El Mago (the Wizard) and Bufon Sorpredido (Surprised Jester), have a similar effect, packing a lot of detail into less space.

Originally, the sculptures were made with a cast paper technique that is similar to papier mache. In time, this technique evolved to include metal, wood and fabric, among other materials. These elements work to give the statues a lifelike quality, mixed with unique surrealism.

Both artists draw from their experiences in Mexico. Packard spent 28 years in the country, and de la Vega was born in Guadalajara. The two met in Tonala and collaborated on several works together before moving to the United States in 1985 to continue their artistic endeavors.

"In our works, we have some Mexican culture, and at the same time we have some American culture. We try to mix these two together, with a little humor too," de la Vega explains from his Gulfport studio.

Dr. Ludner Confident's show, "Colors of the Sun," centers his works on themes of forgiveness, love and compassion. Forms often flow from one to another. Riverdance shows a dancer whose body and dress form part of a river landscape. Flavors From Eden merges a variety of fruit to create a woman's body.

Confident, a local anesthesiologist, uses color to add great dimension to the works. Mother's Love blends the abstract form of a woman with a bird, a baby between them. The deep blues and soft greens create a soothing atmosphere of quiet contemplation around the image. Paternal Bond, in earthy tones, shows a male figure gazing at his unborn child through the clear walls of the mother's abdomen, creating a scene of gentleness and anticipation among all three figures.

Prelude to a Dream, Inspiration and Interlude prominently feature musical instruments, reflecting Confident's love of music. Confident, who plays five instruments including the flute, guitar and piano, said that much of his inspiration comes from his childhood experiences with music.

"Art is for the soul, like music is for the mind. It is another dimension of my life. I listen to it every day, as I paint, and without it I get depressed. It is only natural that it gets placed into my images."

PREVIEW

"Colors of the Sun: Dr. Ludner Confident'' and ""El Cinco de Mayo: Dodie O'Keefe, Felipe Packard and Ricardo de la Vega'' at the Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, both through June 29. Free admission. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun. Call (727) 822-7872.

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