BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
The current exhibition at Mindy Solomon Gallery, "The Paintings of Erin Parish," is a departure for its owner. Solomon has always admitted to a bent for what she calls narrative art, works that tend toward the figurative or might suggest a backstory.
These paintings seem to be all spirits melting into thin air (paraphrasing Shakespeare). They're filled with translucent orbs resembling bubbles, shimmering with color and looking as if they could burst at any moment. Some are given more substance as cast resin, creating a dimensional effect on the wood or canvas, and the luminosity is enhanced by glistening coats of epoxy.
The artist gives them descriptive titles that belie their impression of pure form. In A Sudden Gust of Wind, for example, the circles float in dense formation, accented by small ones painted metallic silver. The subtitle, After Hokusai, references the sea spray depicted in The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, the famous woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai created in the 19th century.
Lemon is just that: a deep dive into yellow saturation, but most of the paintings have more nuanced colors. Subtle grays, yellows and greens back up the predominant flesh tones in Kiss, a gentler title for a work that visually seems to picture two large orbs colliding.
That this exhibition represents a thematic departure for Solomon is made more significant by the fact that she is departing St. Petersburg, moving her gallery to Miami after this show closes on Sept. 14.
She opened the gallery in 2009 in downtown, just off Beach Drive, as the area began building a critical mass of condominiums, restaurants and retail. It is a serene, light-filled space that has always shown art to its best effect.
And the art she usually chose was ambitious and challenging. Her specialty is contemporary ceramics, with a particular interest in Korean ceramics, and the heroic scale of the sculptures she sometimes brought in was as breathtaking as the cerebral vessels she also displayed. As time went on, she broadened the gallery's scope with paintings, video, nonceramic sculpture and photography.
Miami makes sense for her. She has clients here with whom she'll continue to work, but her business is increasingly national and international, just as most of the artists she represents are. Miami's a larger market frequented more and more by art-hungry collectors from South America.
"I feel like I need to expand my critical mass and get into a city that has a broader art-loving public," she says. "I have clients here that have spent well into the six figures, and I'm grateful to them. But generally, I think St. Petersburg needs more time."
She sold the space to Philippe Berriot, who owns Cassis American Brasserie next door. He has no specific, long-range plans for the space, he says, but it won't become part of the restaurant. He's thinking perhaps a gallery and performing arts space in the short term.
The gallery business is tough in any market, and galleries come and go everywhere. Our region has seen its share of arrivals and departures, occasions for optimistic welcome or collective disappointment. Ybor revitalization pioneer Brad Cooper shuttered his gallery in 2013 (for a more lucrative market in Greece), Carrie Mackin closed Covivant, her seminal Seminole Heights space, in 2006 (for work in New York), and Lori Johns of St. Petersburg's C. Emerson Fine Arts recently decided that her bricks-and-mortar operation was unnecessary since she has found success at national art fairs and online.
There are for-profit galleries that do just fine here, but owners often need a supplemental income from a side business such as framing. And we can't necessarily count in the same category artists who operate successful galleries. Glass artist Duncan McClellan's fabulous and successful rehabbed warehouse is essentially his art studio and a demonstration space to showcase the craft of blowing glass vessels. (It's also a great party venue.)
We are a vibrant arts community. We have nine museums in the region and hundreds of arts-related organizations and businesses. (That's visual arts — I'm not including the performing arts or science and history museums.) A lot of very fine art is created here, too.
But we aren't a top-tier art market, and that's a big deal to those selling art for a living. The art world can be cruel and snobbish, and for some collectors, New York provenance is a necessary validation. Neither the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts nor Mainsail Arts Festival come close to matching the caliber and cachet of Art Basel Miami Beach. And Girls actor and writer Lena Dunham, in her Tampa rant, alluded (unwittingly, I'm sure) to a truth about our region. It's a great place to live, and generations of creative people have flocked here. Robert Rauschenberg lived on Longboat Key for decades, for example. He did not, however, sell much of his work here. He could afford an expensive beachfront compound because he sold his great art elsewhere, in epicenters like New York.
So, yes, I'll miss Mindy Solomon and the vitality of her vision. I'm proud of her, too. She's one of ours, going for the big time.