LARGO — It’s a Creative Pinellas tradition: the Emerging Artist Exhibition. It showcases the new bodies of work created by 10 artists who were awarded grants from Creative Pinellas. It’s on display now through June 26 at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas.
The Emerging Artist Grant program provides up-and-coming artists funding, mentorship and an exhibition to display or perform their work. Ten artists were awarded the grants last year to present their works now.
The Tampa Bay Times caught up with two of this year’s artists to talk about the grant process, the mentorship that comes with the grant and their resulting bodies of work.
Clearwater-based Heather Rippert shifted from watercolors of landscapes to a deeply personal series of acrylic paintings she titled “Ode to Us.” She came into the application process for the grant from a place of grief, as her best friend and father died within months of each other.
“It’s been a really amazing process to be able to go through and do these paintings and work on pieces,” she said. “I didn’t really know what they would be. But I knew that I wanted to say something. And so it kind of evolved through the months of the grant period and working through the ideas with my mentor, Candace Knapp. Eventually they just all honed down to ‘Oh, what I need to do is just do work about me, my dad and Kellie.’”
Three of the paintings are self-portraits, two are related to her dad and two are related to her best friend, Kellie. Rippert said the process of painting helped her process the grief.
As part of the grant process, artists are asked to blog regularly.
“Writing the blog has been an amazing process because you really have the opportunity to think about how it is you want to present yourself and what it is you want to share,” she said. “I’m kind of like an open book. So I like to share a lot of personal things. I think it provides value for other people to be able to have access to an open heart.”
As for the opportunities the grant opens, Rippert said, ”I feel like my kind of inner artist grew up a lot in this process. I see more possibilities than I was able to see before and lots of new things are opening up. It’s really exciting.”
Ketsy Ruiz, who works under the moniker Sketzii, makes paintings based on Latinx culture. As a “military brat,” she found ways to connect to the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S. She grew up visiting her family in Puerto Rico, so many of the works are about the island, including one that refers to Hurricane Maria, when she couldn’t get in touch with her family for four days.
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Ruiz’s mentor was Chad Mize, which she said was “a match made in heaven.” Mize noticed how much she uses social media to connect with her audience, especially the polls she conducts to gauge interest in subject matter for her artworks and connect with the Latinx community. Mize encouraged her to include an example of the polls in the show, to demonstrate the ways she interacts with her audience. She put a screenshot of one on a screen hanging in the show and the painting it inspired hangs nearby.
For Ruiz, the experience has given her the exposure she needed, especially through Creative Pinellas’ programs she participates in and the sense of community they offer. She’s also bringing people she knows from work and other groups she’s involved with, many of whom had never been there before.
“This is exactly where I need to be,” she said. “I actually feel like through the grant process, I found my purpose, like what I really want to do and what I’m supposed to be doing in my life.”
If you go
The “2022 Emerging Artist Exhibition” is on view through June 26. Free. Noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. 727-582-2172. creativepinellas.org.