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'Talking Leaves' tell a story

By MARY ANN MARGER, Times Art Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2000

LARGO -- Concern for the environment and a deep reverence for plants has inspired Tallahassee artist Alexa Kleinbard to create her series "Talking Leaves" over the past 15 years.

She suggests that if you spread the leaves apart and look inside, you will find something in nature whose existence is fragile.

Allys Palladino-Craig, director of the FSU Museum of Fine Art, curated the show for the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. On view are 49 works, mostly "sculpted paintings" (Kleinbard's term) with rootlike structures and hearts that are sometimes a landscape, sometimes another plant. The leaves and roots are rendered meticulously; the scenes are vague suggestions of the specific places they represent. Her colors have a brilliance rarely found in nature. Their haunting hues are reminiscent of fellow Tallahassee artist Mark Messersmith, who exhibited at the museum at its former Belleair location.

The settings range from Mount Desert Island in Maine, home of Acadia National Park, to the Caribbean. Her surfaces are Masonite and birch, both wood or wood products.

The concept sounds simplistic, even hokey, and the landscapes themselves would not be noteworthy but for the uniqueness of being set within plants, a reversal in which the tiny leaf becomes the macrocosm and the majestic scenes lose their awe. The concept of a tiny form of nature harboring something grandiose is mystical.

Kleinbard exhibited in "Made in Florida," a 1989 invitational show at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum that later toured Europe.

A sense of whimsy pervades the nine sculptures by Pensacola ceramist Peter King, gracing the courtyard north of the gallery.

Here are monumental archways and smaller works, all designed for outdoors.

King, a former carpenter, is considered a pioneer of studio architectural ceramics, which, like other areas of the studio crafts movement, came to prominence in the second half of the 20th century.

Because the studio environment facilitates a hands-on approach not possible in a factory setting, it lends legitimacy to crafts as fine art.

King has rejected the International Style's dictum in architecture that form follow function. A five-minute tape in the lobby enlightens viewers about King's process. He digs the clay himself, mixes it with clay from other places and then forms it into slabs that can be sliced and incised to form murals and window surrounds for interiors as well as for the garden.

His work is dramatic ornamentation that is structurally unnecessary. His goal is that it speak of the architecture of our time.

His most striking works are two pairs of arches, mounted back to back, each entirely different. One arch, Industrial Disease, in blue and black, appears at a distance to be circuitry, but closer inspection reveals that the "wires" feed into human fists.

Apocalypse in Blue is a squat half-size arch that, considering the title, recalls the final scene of Planet of the Apes.

Surprisingly, this is King's first one-person show. Commissions keep him busy. He exhibited at the Tampa Museum of Art in 1991, where his portal formed a dramatic entry to Florida Craftsmen's 40th anniversary display.

At a glance

  • WHAT: Alexa Kleinbard: Talking Leaves; Peter King: Architectural Passages

  • WHERE: Gulf Coast Museum of Art, Pinewood Cultural Park, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo

  • WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, through June 25

  • COST: Free

  • INFORMATION: (727) 518-6833; http://www.gulfcoastmuseum.org

  • RELATED EVENTS: 2 p.m. Sunday and June 18 -- Exhibition highlights, docent tours; free

  • ALSO ON VIEW: Selections from the permanent collection

  • NOTE: The museum remains open during construction on Walsingham Road

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