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Sculptor aims to dazzle with Tarpon Springs exhibit

Visitors to the exhibit opening Saturday at Tarpon Springs Cultural Center may be a bit bewildered by what they see:

A strange farm implement in a calico print dress.

A cast bronze circle with red Velcro hair rollers wrapped in green hair twisters arching around the top.

The trunk of a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle with dozens of photos pasted on it.

What is all this?

It's the work of Vahak D. Sarkis, a 75-year-old native of Egypt, former college professor of chemistry and, for the past 20 years, a full-time professional sculptor.

The show opens with a reception from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, highlighted by the artist's gallery talk at 1 p.m.

"It's very important for people who don't understand my work to hear that," he says.

The 55 pieces in the show span the past 15 years and show his evolution from classic representational artist to his more recent sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical work made from "found" objects.

Indeed, with a little explanation, Sarkis' theories and work make perfect sense.

He breaks down his creations into three distinct categories: "accidental," planned and theatrical.

His "accidental" art seems to grow out of itself.

"Most artists start out with a theme," he said as he unpacked and arranged his exhibit at the Cultural Center this week. "But I have no theme when I leave the house in the morning." He rummages through thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets, trash piles and the like.

"When I see the item, it is the 'aha' moment, an accidental discovery." While someone else might see a farm implement used for weeding, he sees Little Girl from the Bayou, a stick with a small wheel on one end with brads that look like eyes, nose and mouth, and spikes that look like a halo of dark hair. A dress made by his wife, Betty, turns it into a child.

Where someone else might see some discarded castle door handles, Sarkis sees them assembled to look like a graceful bird.

His "imaginatively planned" creations create a story around some mythological, historical, religious or current event, he says.

Henry VIII & His Queen du Jour, for example, is made from the claw feet of an old bathtub, turned upside down and "dressed" in velvet and damask, sitting in an old Victorian birdcage.

His third type of creation is an elaborately staged grouping of objects arranged for dramatic effect.

He once spied some old gate hinges and put them in a stagelike setting that suggests two monks praying in a monastery. A long piece of wire was bent and shaped into a line of Greek men dancing. A harness to restrain a bull is fitted over a mannequin torso and becomes a chastity belt.

A favorite creation is the trunk from a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle adorned with photos and symbols of the most important moments of his life: the first dollar he earned, his passport, his first home, his children, his wedding, and, of course, his first car in America, a 1960 VW.

Another level of meaning is "beetle," a reference to the scarab beetle that is an ancient Egyptian symbol for the sun god Khepri, a tribute to the land of his birth.

After his retirement from university teaching 25 years ago, Sarkis earned a degree in fine art and sculpture at the University of South Florida. He started out with traditional bronze castings and, over the years, expanded his horizons.

"I want to show how wide the range of work that I have," he says of the current exhibit. "I want to show how I have evolved from the classical to now. While you're finding your niche, you explore everything. But I may not stay there forever."

Sarkis is frank in his assessment of some artists.

"I don't have too much respect for artists who have a genre — an art form — and stick with it for life," he says. "That's too much similarity. I want to change on a daily basis."

Most important, "I want to dazzle you."

if you go

Dazzling display

What: "Found Objects in Theatrical Settings," work by sculptor Vahak D. Sarkis.

Where: Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, 101 S Pinellas Ave. (Alt. 19).

When: Saturday through Sept. 30. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Cost: Free.

Sculptor aims to dazzle with Tarpon Springs exhibit 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 3:26pm]
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