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‘An artist with a capital A’: Creative Pinellas grantees exhibit opens Thursday

Bill DeYoung



Detail of Laura Spencer's poster art for Qui Nguyen's "VietGone," opening Oct. 2 at American Stage.

When you’ve been named one of the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artists, you’ve arrived.

That’s how St. Petersburg’s Laura Spencer, one of Creative Pinellas’ 10 grantees for 2019, looks at it. At Thursday’s opening reception for the exhibit of works by the eight visual artists chosen by the organization to be the “most promising” of the year, she’ll show a cross-section of the digital work she’s been focused almost exclusively on for a decade.

And that, to the artist, equals a stamp of validity.

“I started doing art at a very young age, 5 or 6 years old, I very diligently took art classes, and my first big milestone was attending Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School,” Spencer explains. She painted in acrylics and oils.

“After that, I went to Ringling College of Art & Design and majored in Illustration, and since graduating from Ringling it’s been a real tough struggle to kind of establish myself as an artist in the Pinellas County community.”

Her “digital transformation” began at Ringling. Spencer’s freelance art gigs and commissions are frequent, but they don’t keep the lights on at home. She works as an illustrator and graphic designer for a Pinellas Park design build firm, a job she loves, but the creative itch still requires scratching now and again.

“I think getting this Creative Pinellas grant has really solidified a career path for me,” she says. “It’s really a sort of mark and a milestone that hey, I really am an artist with a capital A. I’m on the path to being a true professional.”

Creative Pinellas awards $2,000 to each of its grantees. With that, according to Executive Director Barbara St. Clair, there are other perks including a recurring blog on the group’s website, participation in other, ongoing Creative Pinellas events, a 12-hour mentorship with an established local artist and a full-color, collectible exhibit program with their work gorgeously reproduced.

The exhibit is overseen by Creative Pinellas’ Danny Olda. “It’s a very highly curated, professional-quality show,” St. Clair explains. “Danny meets with each artist individually, brings them into the gallery where they look at the space and decide how much room they’ll need, and the conversation continues from there.”

Spencer and Mize.

Key to the whole enterprise for Spencer was the dedicated mentorship (paid for by Creative Pinellas) she got from artist Chad Mize, who was not only a friend (she’d exhibited in both of his galleries) but something of a hero.

“He really helped so much,” Spencer says. “He showed me how to narrow my focus and give me direction. As a young artist, there’s almost this element of a crisis of choice: You go in so many different directions, and do so many different things – which is what I’ve always wanted to do, but he really helped me specialize. Put some blinders on. Get a focus and a direction, and that’s really what this grant has helped me with.”

Spencer, who also names digital artist Chris Parks, a.k.a. Palehorse, as someone whose talent (and work ethic) she admires, says he goal is to “elevate the realm of digital art to where you can’t maybe necessarily tell it’s digital at all.” In other words, “make it look more painterly.”

There are numerous, sky’s-the-limit advantages to creating art on a computer. “It’s really kind of a means to an end,” Spencer explains. “Since our world is so digital-focused, by creating digitally I can print my work as large as a billboard or as small as a postage stamp, without losing quality and resolution. I can change colors. I can manipulate things very quickly.

“The biggest trouble with being a digital artist is, there’s really no intrinsic value in just making an 11×17 print. Collectors aren’t looking for that. They want a real, visceral art experience.”

Perhaps the most visible – and visceral – example of Spencer’s digital works is the series of posters commissioned by American Stage, one for each of the theater’s six 2019-2020 productions.

Several of those, along with other examples of her work, are on her site,

Thursday’s opening reception takes place at the organization’s headquarters and gallery on Walsingham Road in Largo.

The event, from 6 to 9 p.m. will also feature a literary reading from Lisa Rowan, and music by Siobhan Monique (both Emerging Artist grantees). Along with Laura Spencer, the visual artists are Anna Ayres (painting), Christina Bertsos (sculpture), Linda Costa Cheranichit (photography/light painting), Javier T. Dones (metal/mixed media), Jim Gigurtsis (painting/portraiture), George Retkes (sculpture) and Eric Sarbach (sculpture/installation).

There’s no admission cost, but Creative Pinellas is asking for RSVPs here.

The Emerging Artists exhibition will remain for viewing through Sept. 22.

‘We’ve seen these artists really take off from this,” exclaims St. Clair. “You can be super-talented and driven and all that, but still, the stars have to align.

“We help the stars align.”




















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