Outer Space Art Gallery: A Landing Pad for the Unusual by Brenda Eggert Brader

Outer Space Art Gallery: A Landing Pad for the Unusual
By Brenda Eggert Brader

It’s edgy. It’s avant-garde. It’s innovative. It’s on the fringe. It is Outer Space, Winter Haven’s newest art gallery. With pizazz and a bit of fun and whimsy, the downtown gallery features the art of three resident artists and will be enhanced by traveling exhibits.

Consisting of a little bit of the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation, some Polk Museum of Art, and a touch of Polk State College, the arts incubator, located at 230 Avenue C SW in downtown Winter Haven, is now a reality.

“The Arts Ensemble Foundation is a non-membership based arts incubator,” says Jane Waters Thomas, new executive director of Outer Space and executive director of the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation. “We exist in parts. The first is Outer Space, a home to our newest resident arts program.”

Thomas says the new program is designed to work in partnership with other arts organizations and nonprofit agencies to build stronger arts communities. The gallery facility is the continuation of strong support in resident arts programming and will help college art students to grow in their respective art through intern programming provided by Polk State College.

“The second (part), which we are most widely known for, is community arts education and creative outreach programming,” Thomas says, and adds that the resident arts programming was key to supporting artists so that “we could grow the arts in Polk County.”

Outer Space will be specifically the landing pad of resident artists Trent Manning, Adam Justice, and Karen Retana Zuniga. As such, the location will feature modern art and emerging artists.

“The Arts Ensemble will provide fundraising, funding and marketing primarily,” Thomas says. “Outer Space will aid us in our efforts to share the importance of supporting the arts and artists of our community. We will stand able to assist in all efforts of each agency involved with Outer Space.”

This new form of art brought to the area is a meshing of partners formed through artists, local businesses, nonprofits and government. Six/Ten, Polk Museum of Art, and Polk State College are the main partners of support for the new project. Six/Ten LLC worked with the Arts Ensemble to make space available in a building for the project at 230 Avenue C SW. The Polk Museum of Art will feature local artists in exhibitions and provide opportunities for college students to learn the workings of running an art gallery and the “business of the art,” Thomas says.

“We spoke in April about an internship that I am developing for the PSC art students with the help of Arts Ensemble and the Polk Museum of Art,” says Holly Scoggins, art professor at PSC.

“I will place two student interns in the gallery space for six month intervals. Polk State has given its full support to bringing an arts incubator to our community and providing a real world experience for our students. Our art students have shown a need for practical out-of-classroom experiences in the arts and this will be a perfect fit.”

The internship program will provide two students or recent alumni with studio and gallery spaces, artist mentors and sales opportunities, Scoggins says.

“Interns will have dedicated studio space and art supplies to create a body of artwork,” she continues. “They will be coached and provided with opportunities to learn about curating and hanging artwork, public speaking, generating sales, seeking gallery representation, marketing and social media to promote their artistic works.”

A great deal of responsibility comes with the internships since students will be required to monitor the gallery, create a consistent and professional body of artwork, maintain a functioning studio space that is open to the public, curate and hang gallery exhibitions, prepare an “ exit show” of their own creations, and speak publicly about their own artwork. The students also will gain experience through outings with resident artists and collaboration with other artists in the community. That particular program will begin in January 2016.

The gallery will be funded and run by the Arts Ensemble. The internships are only open to PSC students.

And with all this excitement of a gallery on the cutting edge, is the quirky and yet modern art of Winter Haven’s native son, Trent Manning.

A self-taught artist, painting and mixed media wood sculpture are Manning’s mediums. A full-time artist, Manning had two jobs for a while, one as a graphic artist. In 2004 he had showings that were mostly outdoor festivals and decided that year to pursue art full-time.

“I started as a painter the first three years. Then at a show at the Ridge Art Center that was billed as a recycled art show using garage sale items, I turned one of my paintings into a sculpture and it snowballed with figurative inspiration and I called it ‘miscellaneous malformation.’  I now do a lot of figurative work — my favorite. I do a lot of animals with some people riding animals.

“I am a kid at heart. Some of my subjects changed. My stuff is more kid-like and probably more so since my daughter, age 6, has come along. She goes into her studio in the house and does wood art. So I feed off of her (work) a lot.”

Glancing around the Outer Space studio where Manning now works, a panoramic view shows layers of shelving stuffed with odds and ends, garage sale items, road signs, rusted and beat up items and a gasoline can. But mostly, his old finds come from ‘genuine’ flea markets where items are placed for sale on blankets on the ground, are found at architectural salvage yards and “a lot of stuff that people bring to me.”

Manning has an art appreciation following for whom he creates specific art pieces those clients want. He found an old Amalie Oil Co. can and that is destined for another work of art for the Amalie Oil Co. family office in Tampa.

Always running behind, Manning was found working in July on items needed for a showing in New Orleans at a gallery where his art is a regularly shown. For a special August showing, Manning was building immense wood sculptures.

“Building these wood sculptures is really loud so I have a headache that day, so I have been taking a break lately by painting instead,” Manning says. “I use a lot of primary colors because they are kid-like — red, blue, yellow. I don’t like purple or green.”

In his sculpture Manning says he likes the rust color of the metals he uses with the woods. His sculptures in wood are so large that he delivers them himself in lieu of the tremendous cost of shipping.

“I can load my van and take them to New Orleans, stay there and have meals and enjoy the city for the price it would cost me to ship them,” Manning says.

He likes creating the larger pieces of sculpture — many as big as six feet — that take 50-60 hours each to complete.

“I have an idea of what I am making and pick up pieces here and there and then sort of make an assemblage. I like the patina it makes in rust. I like to find the natural colors and so use those natural colors. I use a lot of wood and metal, no plastic because it becomes brittle over time. Nothing too rusty either. But everything is sealed (in the art process) so it stops the rust process.”

Manning makes figures of sculptures and forms heads carving from a wooden ball shaping and guiding the carving to form a head and then placing a pert nose and somber eyes with a soft mouth and lips with epoxy that is not fired but hardens chemically.

“My figures are all joined because they are made with wire and can be posed in any way,” Manning says.

Proof of his creativity shows in the figure sporting a staff and backpack with the small fingers bent to show expression.

“I really don’t know what I’m making tomorrow,” Manning says. “I am never at a loss for ideas. It is more a loss of time to make them.”

His busiest season is January through March in galleries.

“October, March and April I don’t really slow down,” Manning says. “Summer I regroup. I’ve been here two months (in the Outer Space gallery) and they just moved me over here when they secured the space.”

October and November Manning has shows planned for which he must have artwork ready. But he says he is always behind. The shows he participates in are usually in sync with the season, such as in Utah during the snow skiing season, and in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

“I will be going out to Sundance in January with 30-40 pieces that I have to have done for that show,” Manning says.

Adam Justice, curator of art at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, is the second resident artist for the new Winter Haven gallery. Primarily a painter, Justice has been experimenting with the vibrancy of color and the contrast between spray paint and poured acrylic.

“I prefer to paint on a wooden panel,” Justice says. “Before moving to Outer Space, I primarily painted in my backyard as weather permitted. I have never had a proper studio for working until now.”

“I love color, but have only recently begun experimenting with vibrant color,” Justice says. “I have always been a formalist; I prefer exploring the visual qualities and interactions between color, shape and form. Texture is less important to my work.”

Justice has always loved being creative.

“My earliest memories are of my father enrolling in a Bob Ross instructional class. I always went along with him to class and loved being in his studio at home as he practiced painting. The smell of oil paint still has a nostalgic effect on me. Later I entered college as an aspiring painter when I unintentionally fell in love with art history. I was able to work toward my art history degree while also enrolling in various studio courses.

Justice holds an art history degree from Radford University, Va., a master’s degree in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004, almost 10 years of adjunct teaching in art history at three different colleges, was the chief curator at William King Art Museum in Abingdon, Va., and has been at Polk Museum since 2010.

Justice’s art is currently on display along with Manning and Karen Retana Zuniga, third artist-in-residence.

Zuniga, a native of Costa Rica, began her artistic journey at the age of 16 and explored the techniques of drawing and color in the mediums of oils, pastels and watercolors and began experimenting with a variety of art forms developing her own style inspired by nature. Also a photographer, she has been capturing images, which she later transforms into paintings full of color and harmony.

A resident of Florida since 2003, Zuniga opened her gallery in 2005 — the International Gallery of Arts (Arts Ensemble International) was an oasis for artists. This is a foundation with the purpose of educating and healing through art. Today, her arts foundation – Arts Ensemble Education Foundation – can be found in medical facilities, community art outreach programs and in regional revitalization efforts where beauty and creativity change lives, according to her website biography.

But for the Outer Space Gallery, Manning says he and the other two artists want the gallery to be different, edgy, funky and pop. He and Justice want to think out of the box, thinking of a new approach to the art.

“We want to attract artists who have not had a place to show their art because it is a bit different,” Manning says. “These are the people who don’t normally get asked to show their art. This will be different.”

The grand opening of Outer Space was held July 30. Open Aug. 1, the gallery consists of a studio for resident artists, a contemporary art gallery and the educational arts incubator. Rotating gallery exhibits will highlight emerging artists, and regional and national contemporary artists.

The name, Outer Space, was the brain child of Manning and Justice because it is their space as resident artists.  It is absolutely perfect, Thomas notes.

“So much of what we do at Arts Ensemble is unknown or seems foreign to our traditional arts communities and the name is perfect for this second generation arts incubator,” Thomas says.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and special visits by appointment at 230 Avenue C SW. For more info call 863-293-2700.