All eyes were on the work of seven Ringling College illustration and fine arts students on Thursday during the opening reception for the first student-only show hosted by the madeby gallery.
The show, curated by sophomore illustration major Marcello Mesquita, features a diverse selection of works by illustration majors Alex Beck, Sishir Bommakanti, Van Jazmin, Leah McMacken and Charles Valsechi, as well as those of fine arts majors George Carr and Erin Schweers.
“It’s exciting,” Mesquita said of his first show as a curator. “I admit that I was worried at first, but with the help of my managers things have run really smoothly.”
Founded in November of 2009, madeby gallery is one of only four galleries the United States that solely represents the work of students and alumni from a specific institution—in this instance, the students and alumni from Ringling College.
During a June 2011 interview with Sarasota Patch, madeby’s assistant manager Brenda Smoak lamented the gallery’s relative obscurity, noting that “no one really knows that we’re here or what we are.”
The estimated 85-100 visitors who mingled with the artists during the show’s 2.5-hour opening reception on Thursday indicated that madeby gallery has since landed a solid foothold in Sarasota’s art scene.
“We’ve been here for two years and I think we’re really beginning to evolve to our next level now that more people are discovering madeby,” said gallery manager Nancy O’Neil.
Madeby started out as a retail space for Ringling students and alumni to display and sell their work, but the student-only show marks what appears to be the beginning of a significant transition.
“Madeby’s image in the past has been akin to a creative gift shop where there are lots of cool hand-made trinkets, jewelry and functional sculptures,” show participant Van Jazmin explained.
Now, Jazmin said, madeby is beginning to “switch gears toward the fine arts.
“While they still maintain their lovely ornamental consignment pieces, madeby now has an outlet—these gallery shows—to highlight the work of select painters and illustrators,” he said.
Each participating artist chose five pieces to display in the show and, like most of his colleagues, Jazmin selected work that showcases a wide spectrum of his abilities. The work Jazmin chose to display ranges in medium from digital to oil painting to colored pencil work, and in style from cartoons to realism.
Charles Valsechi, whose Impressionist-influenced work is primarily inspired by nature, said that his biggest challenge was choosing which five pieces to feature in the show.
“The real challenge was picking out pieces that best represent me without taking away from the variety,” Valsechi said. “The other challenge was getting dressed up for the opening —it’s unusual for me not to have any paint on my clothes,” he joked as a crowd gathered in the tight space to to admire his work.
Just a few feet away, fellow illustration major Leah McMacken showcased a large painting above a table that featured a series of her much smaller prints and an accordion-style illustrated book called The Time Traveler of Kramgasse.
On the wall perpendicular to Valsechi’s and McMacken’s work, Alex Beck featured a selection of work ranging from traditional portraiture to the surreal and cartoon-esque, and around the opposite corner from McMacken, Sishir Bommakanti’s digitally-manipulated images lined another wall.
All four artists were packed practically within arm’s reach from each other in the intimate space, and the works of Jazmin, Schweer and George Carr were arranged similarly on the other side of the gallery, but neither the artists nor the audience who showed up to appreciate the diverse collection of art seemed to mind the tight squeeze.
All of the artists participating in the show have been involved in other exhibitions—primarily group shows at the college—but most agreed that setting up in the madeby space was an unusual experience.
“It is definitely a different type of space than I’m used to,” said Carr, a senior in Ringling’s fine arts program. “I’m more used to big, vacant galleries, but this is much more salon style.”
“The wall space is very limited,” McMacken agreed. “But I’ve also never had a chance to have so many pieces in one show. It was interesting to balance that out.”
Both Mesquita and O’Neil noted that from a curatorial standpoint, the greatest challenge they faced was hanging the work up.
“Approximately 120 artists have their work up at madeby and we had to take about 85 percent of that down for the show. It was challenging,” O’Neil said.
Despite the challenges, O’Neil said that she was pleased by the success of the inaugural run and looks forward to hosting more student and alumni shows at madeby in the future.
“What I’m really hoping is that we can encourage the college to open another gallery. That way, we’ll have one space for retail and one for shows like these,” she said.
The works of Beck, Bommakanti, Carr, Jazmin, McMacken, Schweers and Valsechi will remain on display at madeby gallery at 734 Central Avenue until the end of January.