Andy Fotopoulos has a special fondness for slithering creatures. A longtime collector of nonvenomous snakes, he admires the natural beauty in the scaly texture of their skin, a fascination that has led the Spring Hill artist to create an evocative series of works using the dermis layer that snakes routinely shed.
Fotopoulos, who teaches art at Powell Middle School, has not come up with a specific name for the nontraditional medium and says he's not aware of anyone else who creates the kind of art he does.
The randomness of the creative process ensures he won't know how a piece will look when he begins work on it.
"I know there's always a surprise or two waiting for me before I'm finished," said Fotopoulos, 43, whose art is featured in the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery's fall exhibit. "To me, the most interesting part of working with this medium is knowing that it's always evolving."
Most of Fotopoulos' creations begin with a painted base — he's partial to fluorescent colors — that often incorporates random selected images, such as drawings, stickers, even a crossword puzzle cut from a newspaper. Next, the artist applies the sheddings with a brushed-on acrylic. Later, an overlay coat is applied, followed by a coat of clear varnish. The result is a creation that is part painting and part sculpture, with an abstract quality that is both ethereal and earthly, Fotopoulos said
"To me, the skins have come to symbolize memory," he said. "I'm working with what I consider a permanent record of the animal's life, with random markings and scars that are part of its journey and history."
Although he has about 18 corn, king and milk snakes in his own collection, the dermis layers Fotopoulos prefers to use come from venomous varieties, which he says offer interesting patterns.
He has created about 30 pieces for his "snake shed" art collection. In addition, the exhibit includes several of his more traditional portraits.
A graduate of New York University, Fotopoulos painted extensively with both oils and acrylics. However, the challenge of working with a nontraditional medium opened his eyes to artistic possibilities he never knew existed.
"It's actually a pretty fun process to experiment with," he said. "You have textures that you can manipulate to get a lot of different effects."
Something that Fotopoulos didn't count on has been the public's desire to run their fingers across the paintings so they can see what the skin feels like. In fact, it happens so often that he's considering putting a special hardened acrylic spray coating over the paintings to protect them from the effects of too much handling.
"I think it's a natural reaction for people to want to touch them," he said. "I think it's great to be able to create something that brings that kind of reaction from people."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.