I had the pleasure of seeing the latest S/ART/Q Invitational exhibit on State Street last weekend. Instead of displaying their own work, the S/ART/Q collective members each invited an artist that inspired him or her. I was very impressed with the uniformly high-level of quality of the artwork on display. After the Jonathan Greene gallery closed a few years ago, the downtown area seemed to have lost its edginess. The S/ART/Q artists have begun to fill the vacuum. They are young, well-recognized local artists who are working to create a new “Sarasota school” of art. 

Michael Panarella

I had two favorites in the exhibit, Paul Matkowky whose thick delivery of paint on each canvas, particularly in his very sensual renderings of plant life, were masterful; and Michael Panarella, who uses oil paint for portraits of women that are so messy and smeared that they appeared like watercolors that had yet to dry. Panarella’s work reminds me of Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists (http://www.egon-schiele.net/). Although the “pin up” women Michael depicts are beautiful, his work made me think about women using make-up to create an illusion. His deliberate smearing of rouge and lipstick drew attention to the seamier side of the painted face. 
I started to think about a group of high school girls I saw interviewed on a morning news program recently who formed a club called “Redefining Beautiful: One Girl at a Time,” which now has 200 members all of whom spend the day bare-faced once a week. The movement has spread to other nearby schools. I admit I thought they had given up make-up altogether, but apparently, they all look forward to the one day when it is sanctioned among their peers not to engage in the morning ritual of donning make-up. The girls who founded the club looked so happy, and their skin was radiant. They all talked about how empowered they felt to have the confidence to look how they wanted to look at school and not to feel the need to succumb to what one of them referred to as the “fashion show” of high school. I remember when I was finally allowed to wear make-up as a young person and how important that was to me at the time. As I have gotten older, make-up has become less significant with each passing year. Perhaps by the time, my daughter (due in two months) is in high school, the girls her age will decide that the freedom they feel from the societal expectation to wear make-up, is so liberating that they won’t limit “redefining beautiful” to Tuesdays.

Long after I left the gallery, I kept thinking about women using make-up to achieve a certain pre-conceived notion of beauty. This even gives new meaning to the “lipstick” debate that seemed to dominate the airwaves after Sarah Palin burst onto the scene in 2008. It’s entirely likely that Michael did not have this intention when he created his work; but it is thoughtful and provocative, exactly the kind of work we need in downtown Sarasota.
I love that S/ART/Q is displaying such high quality work on a regular basis, and I am grateful that the members have chosen to showcase other talented local artists that inspire them. It’s encouraging to have such creative young artists in our midst.

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