The arts community in Ocala continues to grow—new arts-focused organizations, events and projects prove it. The First Friday Art Walk began in 2010 as an early effort to connect residents to local artists in downtown Ocala. The Art Walk gets bigger and better with each season, and we’re not about to let the talent of the Art Walk artists go unnoticed. We hung out with four of them and listened to their stories about art, community and giving back—and now we’re sharing them with you.
Something From Nothing
June 1 was a hot, sunny day not unlike most Florida ones that time of year, and Bob Kuperberg dons his safety goggles, grabs a brazing torch and arranges four metal rings and two large concrete nails together to make the face of one of his newest creations—he fondly calls her “Shovella.”
Bob first got into metal sculpture about 40 years ago when he saw the sculpture of a skier selling at an art show for $80. Instead of paying the $80, he decided to make a skier of his own. He used concrete nails to make an almost exact replica for himself, and that was just the beginning.
“It’s exciting to make something out of nothing,” Bob says.
If there’s something Bob can be credited with besides his skill at brazing and soldering, it would be innovation. An example would be the simple way he bends Shovella’s wire hair in perfect curves—but he swore us to secrecy on that one. Bob shops antique stores and flea markets to find old shovels, and he often endures funny looks from other shoppers when he raids the button stash at Michael’s, which he uses for unique eye pieces. He finds other materials like wire, concrete nails and metal washers or rings at Tractor Supply Company, Home Depot and Lowe’s. Bob can find a use for almost anything, and one of his friends jokes about hiding his tools when around Bob. They just might turn up in Bob’s workshop or even in one of his sculptures.
Shovella, though exciting and new, is only one of Bob’s many sculptures. Flower bouquets cut from roofing metal, snails made out of gears and elaborate wire wall accents fill his living room’s mantle and back wall from floor to ceiling. He’s rarely without ideas for the next project.
“I’m always looking for things,” Bob says. “People in the community have been very helpful with giving me ideas.”
It takes a steady hand to keep the brazing torch’s flame exactly where he wants it when he feeds the brazing rod between Shovella’s eyeball and socket to secure them. But Bob’s hands have proved steady over the years, and just a few years ago, he took several of his sculptures to the First Friday Art Walk. On average, he sells two pieces at each Art Walk, some weeks selling just one and others as many as five.
“The Art Walk downtown has done wonders. It’s an exciting Friday night,” Bob says. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger.”
When Bob first started making these metal sculptures, he would just give them away. The people he gave them to would always want to pay him, but that didn’t feel right to Bob. So he decided to sell his work and donate the money to Interfaith Emergency Services’ Food 4 Kids program.
“Interfaith has been very supportive; they appreciate everything,” Bob says. “I’m just happy to donate my money to them.”
From whimsical, metal butterflies traced from a card he received to tiny statement seagulls made with concrete nails, his sculptures are made with others in mind, and he’s excited to share them with the community again this season.
Feelin’ The Blues
One of Ocala’s grooviest artists, John Yakulevich, paints blues-inspired folk art. He’s been selling his paintings professionally for about four years and has been an artist of the First Friday Art Walk for about three years. Along with blues-style paintings, he paints artists of other genres, too. Tom Petty and Jimi Hendrix have been some of his most popular ones lately.
John grew up around artists as a child—his mother and grandmother painted as hobbies, and his uncle was a sign painter, pinstriping and painting vans back in the ‘70s. But, he didn’t learn as much as you’d expect about painting from them.
“I think one of my early influences were comic books,” John says.
He considers it all part of the “stew” that brought him to where he is today. And up until about five years ago, John actually considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter. That changed one day when he was working with his art students at Forest High School on analogous color paintings, and while they got busy, he did, too—but on something a little different than usual. He found himself painting Chester Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, in a folk-artsy kind of way.
“It was just too much fun,” John says. He was hooked. “I’ve always been envious of the people who have the one thing, and I just think it’s been a good fit for me.”
John points to that day as the day he found his true passion in art, and his work is now almost exclusively pop art/folk art. Ironically, the one defining factor of folk art is that it’s art without any technical or fine arts skill. That’s something John isn’t lacking—he’s taught art at Forest High School for 27 years and has his master’s in art education. But that’s what makes his work stand out.
At first, John started selling his blues paintings on a friend’s website. They were large and hard to ship, so he explored other options and finally made the switch to smaller sizes using reclaimed wood slats, pallets and plywood for canvases.
“I like the whole recycle angle. In truth, a lot of it comes from being a cheapskate. I’ve stopped on the side of the road to pick things up,” he laughingly admits.
John also switched to selling his work locally. When he heard about the First Friday Art Walk three years ago, he got involved halfway through the season. The Marion Theatre sponsors him, and you’ll find him set up in front of it with his paintings on display.
“There’s no high like someone enjoying what you’re doing,” John says.
At May’s Art Walk, he had several prints for sale thanks to his partnership with Grafito Advertising & Marketing, Inc. John started working with them because he wanted to offer a more affordable product. He credits Grafito for steering him in the right direction and producing prints of his originals.
“You can buy an original for $75, so I figured a print could sell for $30,” John says.
He does a lot of commission work, too, and his creativity comes out when he highlights aspects of the musicians. He’ll pull out a song lyric or something the artist is known for and add it to the painting. He’s looking forward to the Art Walks this season and hopes more of the public will take advantage of it.
Joanna Jones admits she’s not one who paints from emotion. She paints a vision she sees in her head, puts an imaginative spin on a photo or creates a scene from something she’s read. She won’t paint something and leave it as is. If it’s not up to par with what she pictured, she’ll continue working on it until it gets there. She’s more of a perfectionist, and her scenic landscapes and fantasy art have a precise style.
“It’s not abstract, that’s for sure,” Joanna says. “It’s like the other end of the scale from abstract.”
Three years ago, Joanna Jones’ mom, Marian Rizzo, told her about an Art Walk ad she saw in the Star-Banner. They decided to go check it out before Joanna decided to get involved. Not long after, Joanna was setting up at the Art Walk with paintings of serene landscapes, animals and imaginative fantasy scenes in tow.
Joanna grew up painting, learning how to paint with acrylics at 7 years old from local art teacher Mischa Krumm. Now with twin 8-year-old daughters, a 5-year-old son and side jobs, the only time for her to paint is at night. It’s her preference anyway, and one that often postpones her own shut-eye for several hours. Once she gets going, this night owl will sometimes stay busy until 4am.
Joanna thinks back to when her father used to paint, and credits his art for inspiring her own. She’s been painting most of her life, from those early acrylics classes to a few art classes at the College of Central Florida. At that point though, she was studying to be a vet and put her art on hold for a while. Then she noticed how much she missed it. It took some time, but eventually she got back into art.
“The more you do it, the more you want to do it,” Joanna says. “Sometimes I get stuck… and then you kind of have to wait for the inspiration to come.”
She often finds inspiration from what she sees. Just going to the Ocala Comic Con this past summer sparked several new ideas. Then, once she gets to the Art Walk, she’ll set up a few originals, several prints and lots of painted rocks—the kids love them. What Joanna loves most about the Art Walk, besides sharing her art, is meeting different people and chatting with the other artists.
“It seems like each year there’s more people that attend the Art Walk,” Joanna says.
So far, Joanna’s best sellers have been her animal paintings and sketches. The one that most people go for is a sketch of two horses facing each other nose to nose and forming a heart. She sells it in four different color schemes and calls it Horse Hearts, for obvious reasons. On the wilder side, she’s also made a dragon version—featuring one dragon and its long tail—calling it Dragon Hearts.
“I guess on average I would sell two or three prints and maybe four or five of the painted rocks,” she says. “If it’s a good night, I sell an original, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Besides the Art Walk, Joanna sells and displays her paintings in BD Beans Coffee Company, a small coffee and breakfast shop in Belleview.
A simple flick of the camera, a twist of the lens, a quick rotation. That’s what Renzo Seravalle does,cleverly using his camera to produce amazing photos. He holds up the photo of a multi-colored drop of water as an example of drip photography, a process he’s set up on his worktable. Through camera settings and a colorful backdrop, he captures the exact moment a drop of water hits the surface of more water. He floods the background with light and explains that the water takes on the color of the backdrop. It’s a beautiful manipulation of light and reflection.
Renzo stresses: “It’s all about the lighting.”
He finds another photo, one of trees that looks like an abstract painting. The trunks appear to be merely brushstrokes up from a green cloud of ferns below. He confirms that yes, it is a photo and that, more unbelievingly so, it was simple to take. The secret is in the flick of his wrist. He swiftly jolts the camera up in a controlled arc to achieve the swiped motion of the trees.
Renzo barely edits his photos, due mostly to the techniques and tools he employs. Some of the photos you’ll see at the Art Walk are nature and landscape photos. Others are the products of macro photography, and he uses that technique to capture tiny bugs in uncanny detail. But birds are his favorite.
“I have an album on Facebook. It’s called ‘Our Backyard Birds,’” Renzo says. “I love birds.”
You could say photography runs in Renzo’s genes. He grew up in the Dominican Republic, and his father and grandfather were skilled photographers. Renzo’s father gave him his first camera, which looks like a small black box and sits above the worktable in his office on one of three shelves dedicated to displaying old cameras. Growing up, he took private photography lessons, and he finally went professional about 10 years ago.
Lately, he’s been printing photos onto aluminum, giving the photos a finished, urban appeal. One in-demand photo captures the detail of a blueish-purple feather against a solid black background. Renzo dropped the feather, letting it float through the air—all the while snapping his camera—until he got what he wanted: the front-facing, slightly angled wave of a feather fluttering to its resting place.
“Sometimes I reprint the same one, like the blue feather,” he says of his preparation for the Art Walk.
Stationed in front of Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille at May’s First Friday Art Walk, Renzo’s table displayed photos of all different shapes and sizes. And this season, you’ll see more of them printed on aluminum.
Learn more › First Friday Art Walk › Ocala’s downtown square › First Friday of each month, September through May, 6-9pm › ocalafl.org/artwalk