BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
It's no surprise that there will be no big surprises at the annual Wildlife and Western Visions Art Show on Saturday and Sunday at the Raymond James Financial Center in St. Petersburg.
The natural world and an iconic way of life on the American frontier are celebrated and rendered in a realistic style, beautiful but likely never hailed as cutting edge or even innovative. That predictability is the reason it is so beloved.
Over the weekend, 19 artists, some of whom live in the western United States and rarely exhibit beyond those boundaries, will showcase their skills in painting and sculpture; there will also be pieces created by American Indian jewelers. Most of the painters and sculptors are respected veterans with loyal followers who snap up their works, often priced in the five figures, as well as more affordable prints and smaller bronzes. Four are members of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America.
Their work can be seen as metaphors for our reverence for freedom, epitomized by a gorgeous wild animal or a solitary cowboy on a vast range. Realism, of course, doesn't imply truth, and in these lush portraits and landscapes is a sometimes poignant and wistful romanticism. You see it in R. Tom Gilleon's teepees which have become prized by collectors. Gilleon, by the way, was raised in Starke by a Scottish grandfather and Cherokee grandmother, attended the University of Florida on a baseball scholarship and now lives in the backwoods of Montana.
Within similar subject matter and style, many individual nuances stand out. Compare the lush impressionist brush strokes of Tom Browning with the precision of Ernest Simmons' work, for example. Sculptor Joshua Tobey, who is new to the show, adds a lightness and personality to his bronze stags and bears.
Most of the artists come for the show and some will participate in a new event, the Quick Draw from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Artists will create paintings or drawings during that time (as opposed to the months many can spend on a single work) that will be sold at a silent auction at 1 p.m.
The show is co-sponsored by the Plainsmen Gallery in Clearwater and Raymond James Financial, whose longtime leader, Tom James, is an ardent collector of the genres. James and his wife, Mary, have an extensive collection beyond western and wildlife art, too, most of it adorning the Raymond James headquarters, and tours will be ongoing both days. Admission and parking are free.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.