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Crocheted coral reef, graffiti art on exhibit

WALT BELCHER Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:02 PM

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A colorful massive reproduction of a coral reef made from crocheted fabric and bold paintings and illustrations inspired by graffiti art are featured attractions at two art exhibits opening in downtown St. Petersburg this week.

Opening Friday and filling more than 1,200 square feet of the Florida Craftsmen Gallery on Central Avenue, is the St. Petersburg Satellite Coral Reef, an exhibit that is part "save the planet" message, part science, part craftsmanship and all amazingly spectacular to behold.

Florida Craftsman Executive Director Diane Shelly says that the mere mention of the word "crochet" might cause some eyes to glaze over, but "when people see the pieces which have been created, eyes open wide, hands immediately reach out to touch and we often hear, 'That's incredible!'

"We have over 100 jellyfish that look amazing, and an octopus with tentacles that are seven feet long," she says. In addition, there is a huge marine mural painted on one wall, and a real coral reef will be on display in a tank on loan from the St. Petersburg Pier.

Meanwhile, down the street at the Morean Arts Center, the "Leave a Message: Urban Art in Florida" exhibit opens Saturday night. It features the bold and thought-provoking works of 20 artists whose paintings and illustrations blend the styles of street and studio, graphic design and graffiti, art and social commentary.

"It's not what you might think when you hear the term 'graffiti,' which has a negative connotation," says Amanda Cooper, Morean Curator of Exhibits. "Some of these artists have worked on the streets, but others work in studios. This is about the style of graffiti as an art form." She says the pieces range in size from 14 feet to 11-by-14 inches.

Among the artists featured is Leon "Tes One" Bedore of St. Petersburg, who combines traditional and non-traditional techniques to create art that contrasts nature with technology, grime with grace, finding beauty in the mundane.

The artist known as Terribly Odd (Michael Reyes) works with simplicity and pop culture images. He turns distressed wood into a canvas for his odd characters.

Another, Dolla, based in Orlando, is a self-taught artist who has created legal and illegal works on the streets. Tampa tattoo artist Jeff Srsic also is a contemporary painter who draws his inspiration from Renaissance masters such as Rubens and Van Eck.

The crocheted coral reefs also have been hailed as art. The project was launched in 2007 by sister scientists Margaret and Christine Wertheim, co-directors of the Institute for Figuring in California. Since that time, hundreds of volunteers have contributed to what has been called "the environmental equivalent to the AIDS quilt."

Their 3,000-square-foot replica of Australia's Great Barrier Reef has traveled the world calling attention to the threats of global warming and pollution. And they have inspired others to make similar ruffled "satellite reefs."

For its exhibit, the Florida Craftsmen Gallery called on artists and citizens from around the state to help create the St. Petersburg Satellite Reef. Crochet classes have been held throughout the Tampa Bay area. More than 250 contributors from around the world also sent in thousands of pieces forming a massive reef.

Expect to see fish, shells, lobsters, crabs, rays, eels, and an enormous octopus all made from crocheted fabric.

A coral reef expert, Walt Jaap, provided technical help to make sure the crocheted reef is realistic.

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