Artistic collaborations that are truly equal are rare and usually short-lived. An exception has been that between Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett, who are partners both in art and life. They have been together more than 10 years, and Mickett says it has become hard to remember who did what in their joint work.
The most recent fruits of their creativity are at the University of Tampa, where the couple participated in the annual guest artist program in which distinguished artists create a series of screen prints in the university's Studio-f and then exhibit them in the adjacent Scarfone/Hartley Gallery.
Stackhouse has the true bona fides as an artist with an esteemed national reputation. He trained as a painter but made his name with large, site-specific sculptures evocative of the natural world and ancient shrines or spiritual places, usually made from rough wood. He also makes drawings, paintings and prints as part of his projects that explore the recurring imagery that has evolved and become part of his ongoing visual vocabulary. Mickett has her own chops, though not as a visual artist: She has been an academic, a broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker. Some past works have been disappointing, mostly technically. Mickett's greatest contributions have been in shaping a work's content, not in applying paint. Their latest work together seems more cohesive than earlier collaborations, especially the prints.
During the visiting artist program, they worked with master printer Carl Cowden III. He and his assistants labor to realize the ideas of their guests, not impose their own vision (though they, too, are artists). So the printers deserve some of the credit for the subtle layers — sometimes dozens of them — that compose the prints and make each one unique (and why they are called monoprints).
But Mickett and Stackhouse are the ones who knew what they wanted, and the relationships they establish between the four recurring motifs — a fish, snake, building and spiral — that are built up through multiple passes of the paper through the press are stunning. Sometimes the registers are crisp and clearly defined, sometimes they blur and produce a dimensional effect. The colors range from monotones to multihues. Blue predominates — here, a gorgeous deep-blue-sea blue — as it has in recent years for Stackhouse and Mickett, along with a pearlescent one (which the couple has dubbed "Earl") that has a changing, reflective quality similar to light shimmering on water.
Mickett and Stackhouse have an accompanying exhibit in the university's Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, most of it new work. The newer the better in this case. Each of the four central images in the print series has been used in four separate paintings titled Aspects of Identity. Acrylic has been thinned into the gorgeous blue background washes.
Water and what lives in and on it have been a part of Stackhouse's work for years. He and Mickett have become especially fascinated by the Gulf of Mexico and the life that washes up on the shores surrounding it. The fish (here, a tarpon) and serpent (a coiled snake) are well-known inhabitants. They also use a spiral they call the eddy, referencing tides, but in earlier work it was more an evolved form of the longstanding use of a snake in Stackhouse's two-dimensional work. The structure resembles the bare frame of a building and the sculptures Mickett and Stackhouse build. It seems to have replaced the boat image that was in Stackhouse's art for decades.
Raw Flamboyancy, the installation for this show, is a departure from their past preference for angularity in their sculptures. They made a giant spiral curving from floor to ceiling using untreated Florida cypress, supported by spokes radiating from a central base. It's open enough to allow for walking in and out, though it isn't designed as an interactive piece. It's a new idea, one that will probably grow conceptually. It's delightful as is but has great potential for different iterations, too.
I do not like one of the paintings today any better than I did in 2008. Here's what I wrote back then: "Its idea is interesting — the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding land areas superimposed with all the ocean currents in the world. The size is huge, 10 feet by 16 feet, which would be appropriate in scale for the subject matter. Yet its size mainly accentuates its technical flaws. It looks slapdash and amateurish. The marine blue of the water is too strident and overpowering for the untouched white areas of land. And the currents, which should have been painted as eloquent ribbons, are uneven, distracting slashes that look like weak imitations of a Brice Marsden painting."
It has been repainted since then and looks more finished, but it's still not working for me.
The good news is that the waters continue to flow around the earth and life moves on with them. So do Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.