Linda Friedman Ramirez is a lawyer with "no formal art training" and "very limited gallery experience." Yet here she stands, currently a nonpracticing lawyer, in Feathered Serpent, the art gallery she opened in 2012. • She still isn't quite sure why, "only that I wanted to work in a new field and I have always loved art. Law and art are similar in that you have to keep learning," she says.
From the beginning, she decided the gallery's focus would be on Latin American art. She has had an affinity for the cultures of Central and South America since college, when she was an intern for the Pan-American Development Foundation and later became an employee, which gave her travel opportunities. She learned Spanish during that time and later, when she was practicing law in Oregon and had many Spanish-speaking clients. She moved to St. Petersburg in 2002 to be near her aging parents and had a federal court-level practice in criminal defense for about 10 years before she opened the gallery. Along with researching artists, she has established relationships with diplomatic offices who help promote the art and culture of their countries.
Juan Carlos Ibarra Schambaher, for example, is honorary consul of Peru. He, too, is a lawyer, with offices in Lima and Tampa, but he is also a representative of his country, organizing gatherings and festivals and partnering with arts venues such the Feathered Serpent. He's especially interested in Peruvian artists "inspired by their indigenous heritage," he says. It was at one such event, a group art show, that Ramirez's curator, Mauricio Vasquez, saw the paintings of Urbano Astuyauri Soto and suggested an exhibition of his work at the gallery.
He's a genuine interpreter of that "indigenous heritage" with a remarkable background. Soto, 54, was born in a small village, population about 200, high in the Andes. His father was a farmer, while his mother cared for his older brother, sister and him. All the villagers descended from the Incas, a pre-Columbian civilization almost obliterated by the Spanish in the 16th century. In an interview at the gallery, he says "a great man" was invited by his parents to their home when Soto was 4 or 5, a person similar to a shaman, for a reading predicting Soto's future. He was, he was told, destined "for good things, a good life."
He left his village when he was 12 to live with his brother, then in his 20s, who had moved to Lima, the capital, and worked as a printer. Soto had always loved to draw and had taught himself to paint, but he had no art training until he entered Peru's National School of Fine Arts when he was 18. During its eight-year program, he was steeped in the history and traditions of Western art. He says he most admired El Greco, van Gogh and Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo for their technical abilities. For his thesis, he says, "I had to do something different. I started painting my memories and experiences. What I didn't see at school."
His style has evolved into multilayered and textured oil paintings evocative of his childhood, his village and his Incan heritage. The colors follow the seasons with brilliant fall foliage, snowy overlays for winter and the bright blues of summer. Recurring images include little houses, paper boats floating on a river, birds, gardens and the simple handmade toys with which he played. They emerge like waking dreams, whimsical and tender.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.