As an artist, I was jury-selected to bring my rainbow-colored wire mermaid to Come OUT St. Pete.  This was the show’s second attempt at a reception — the first had been cancelled due to hurricane Irma.  Despite its new date, the rains still manifested into one of Florida’s famous torrential downpours.  Walking in from the gloom, my eyes were greeted by a room filled with rainbows — the theme for the night.

My failed attempt to wait until the rain slowed down meant that I arrived during the last caveat of the reception.  After touring the show, I sat down at one of the tables.  That was when a couple asked if they could join me.  I was glad for the company.  I told them that I was one of the artists and pointed out the piece.  To my delight, they were both quite receptive to the wire piece I had on display. We chatted about the upcoming mayoral election.  As the conversation died down a bit, I looked around the show again.

“You know,” I said, “what really draws my eye is that globe work.  I saw it as soon as I walked in — it’s fantastic.”

“Oh, that’s mine!” answered one of the gentlemen with whom I had been chatting.  I was surprised and quite pleased.   This was also the marker that formally introduced me to Ed Stevens. Intrigued by the work, I asked how he made it.

“Okay, like most stories it’s not a short one, ” he answered. “This started from a prior project, where I found this interesting box in the trash. It looked like it wanted to be something so I left it on my worktable. Around that time, the Obama administration announced the military would no longer oust gay service members and I realized the box reminded me of an abbreviated gay flag.   In my mind’s eye, I saw army guys marching on it.  The slogan played through my mind, but changed to ASK, TELL! (pictured at right). I made a series of works — one out of a box in which I lined marching figures.  As time went on, I developed the globe concept, too.”

He paused for a moment, lost in thought, before adding, “I started thinking — were we really selling out by participating in an organization that could be related not only to peace, but to the horrors of war?  So the piece took on a more sinister meaning for me as well. What started as a celebration has become more complex to me, as if it is also a warning: with acceptance comes the temptation to buy into the status quo.”

 The thought lingered in the air for a moment — it is amazing to see the joy and angst that work through a creative’s mind.  The discussion shifted to other things.

Though not new to the Tampa Bay area — he’s lived here 13 years, he said — it took a move to South Florida to draw him back to his artistic side.  There, he found himself as an active member of small artist enclaves.  He fell in love with the contemporary art community that surrounded him.  (In fact, he added, he had shown the piece I admired, Tomorrow the World, in the renowned Art Basel show in Miami in 2013).  Now that he was back in the Tampa area, he had set some new goals for himself.  He wanted to meet other artists in the area, to find new opportunities to exhibit, and to expand his artistic skill set.

“I’m excited with all that’s going on and it’s especially what people like Carla Bristol (Gallerie 909) and John Gascot are doing to bring diversity front and center,” he added.

As for his other works, Ed does primarily three dimensional mixed media.  He calls these “frozen moments.”  Some are drawn from memory, others from his imagination.  He also does some illustrative two-dimensional collage work (see Wonda Woman, below).

His goal is to allow people “to experience something out of their familiar zone, whether it’s a social statement to consider or a very personal moment that I am re-creating.”  However, he also gets a lot of pleasure out of the arts simply making pieces for himself.  He finds that working with new materials and images keeps him engaged with his creativity. His enthusiasm for his work was obvious.

By this time, the show was coming to a close.  The downpour, which had stopped, chose this time to resume.  Though the rain pelted down, it provided a unique opportunity for those of us in that room that night.  In a reversal of the natural order, each artist there picked up a rainbow and brought it outside.  These became beacons of hope that we carried out into the rainy haze.  It was a desire that the world would become a safe place to embrace diversity.  And, one by one, we headed out into the night holding on to our hope for humanity.

 

Ed Stevens is currently showing at the Artist’s Choice show at Pom Pom’s (28th Street and Central Avenue, St. Petersburg).  Or contact him here: edstevenspr@brighthouse.com

 

Brandy Stark is faculty at St. Petersburg College.  She utilizes wrapped wire for her “Metal Myths” series, established in 1995, and is an award-winning photographer.  A lifelong lover of world mythology, her works often manifest as ancient characters, legends, and deities.  As one who has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 1980, she has witnessed the transformation of the artist communities in the area.  One of her lifelong goals is to support the art community by bringing the public and the artists together in dialogue.