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Tarpon Springs couple exhibiting art at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater

Tarpon Springs husband-and-wife artists Rocky and Kathleen Bridges at the reception for their exhibit called “Cutting Edge” in the lobby of the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Tarpon Springs husband-and-wife artists Rocky and Kathleen Bridges at the reception for their exhibit called “Cutting Edge” in the lobby of the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

TARPON SPRINGS — Kathleen and Rocky Bridges cut up stuff and turn it into art.

Kathleen, 46, has been collecting scrapbook paper for 30 years, now stacked in bins in a nook off the couple's kitchen. Snipping and cutting this paper, she creates multi-dimensional collages in colorful abstract designs.

"I start out with an idea in my head and just layer it and layer it until I get the composition I want," she said. "I think of my art as painting with paper."

In a friend's barn near their Tarpon Springs home, Rocky Bridges cuts scraps of metal and makes art on a larger scale than that of his wife. The 47-year-old artist constructs creative assemblages using bits of rusted sedans, Army vehicles, bumpers, fenders, or fragments from other industrial castoffs.

Now the public can see for themselves what the couple's scissors, knives, saws and metal-cutting shears can create. Through Aug. 6, their art is featured in an exhibit called "Cutting Edge" in the lobby of the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

Rocky Bridges' abstract arrangements of painted metal have been featured in solo exhibits at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. He has netted numerous prizes at art shows in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties; in 2009 he took the top prize at St. Petersburg's Mainsail Arts Festival.

The metal pieces that Bridges seeks out in scrap yards and along rural roads have a special meaning for him. He loves their forms, colors and textures.

"This metal reflects what we discard because it is no longer functional," he said of his favorite material. "I think in our society we discard people we no longer think are functional as well."

Eric Lang Peterson, a St. Petersburg appraiser of art and antiques, was selected to install and arrange the Mahaffey exhibit. He has been collecting Rocky Bridges' work for some 30 years and now owns more than 200 of his pieces.

"Rocky finds something along the road that others think is trash," Peterson said, "and he turns it into something beautiful."

Parents of three young daughters, the couple met as children in their native Tarpon Springs and furthered their art education at the Savannah College of Art and Design. After a year, Rocky Bridges moved on to other art schools and graduated from the prestigious Cooper Union School of Art in New York City.

One of his creations features a copper-toned backdrop with a rim of burgundy made from a piece of an old car. Through the center of the work runs a long silver rod capped with a fragment from an old Army vehicle.

Kathleen Bridges, in contrast to her husband, prefers her artistic world writ small.

"When I do larger pieces, the art doesn't translate well," she said. "You lose texture and it becomes less intimate, less defined."

The couple's works are available for purchase: $350 for each of Kathleen Bridges' paper collages matted and framed, and $2,400 apiece for Rocky Bridges' metal compositions.

Both artists create as they find time. Rocky has been teaching for nearly 20 years at the Harrison School for the Arts in Lakeland, where last year he was named Teacher of the Year. Finding time to search for scraps is a challenge. But an even greater challenge, he said, is finding material at all.

"Old scraps go to a scrap yard and get recycled immediately," he said. "It's tough to find metal scraps now."

Eric Peterson acquired most of Bridges' works of art in the days when metal was more accessible. He has found a way over the years to blend these pieces with his antiques.

"There's nothing more perfect than a Rocky Bridges' work over my Queen Anne sofa," he said. "It's the yin and yang of art."

Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at bmarkow2@tampabay.rr.com.

. IF YOU GO

Rocky and Kathleen Bridges

The Mahaffey Theater is at 400 First St. S in St. Petersburg. Its gallery is available for public viewing during ticketed events or by appointment, between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. To schedule an appointment, contact April Minor at aminor@themahaffey.com or (727) 892-5891.

Tarpon Springs couple exhibiting art at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater 07/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 5, 2012 7:41pm]
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