Two very different exhibits opened this week at Hillsborough Community College's two Tampa campus art galleries.
Gallery 221, on the North Dale Mabry campus, features paintings and dolls by Florida folk artist Ruby C. Williams; the Ybor campus gallery presents contemporary mixed media assemblages by Florida artist Rocky Bridges.
At Gallery 221, folk artist Williams renders the world and people around her in a self-taught style that is intuitive and naïve. On large weathered boards, she uses rich, bold colors to capture the essence of produce and people and to express some of her original philosophies.
A native of Bealsville in eastern Hillsborough County, Williams sells her home-grown vegetables and paintings by the side of a road that edges her farm. That's where gallery director Kathy Gibson went to get many of the pieces for this show.
"Ruby allowed me to select some of her older pieces that were in the back of her walk-in gallery," said Gibson. The result is that of the more than 50 works in the exhibit many never have been seen by the public.
Gibson met Williams and saw her work at a show in 1994.
"I had never seen folk art before and didn't know what it was," she recalled. "It kind of attacked my senses. It was very poignant. Some of it was just raw. It was so bright. So intense. So many words — or confessions. It was a sensory overload."
Williams gives her portraits personality in the way their hair is rendered or with the addition of an item such as a purse, a hat or a cellphone. Gibson recognized the power of the similarities as well as the differences in the portraits and cleverly grouped many of them together along one wall. She jokingly calls it "Ruby's Community Choir." She's even got a church pew facing them.
One of the figures to be found in that group is "Bonnie."
"Bonnie is one of her most-painted figures," Gibson said. "She's painted Bonnie more than any other figure. Bonnie doesn't ever go out without her matching bag and shoes, even in a swimsuit."
A portrait of "Bonnie" and several dolls fashioned after the "Bonnie" character are featured in the show. "Ruby designed the dolls, and her late daughter, Winifred, did the sewing," Gibson said.
A four-minute video loop that runs during the exhibition gives a fuller picture of Ruby and her philosophies. It is part of an interview Gibson did with Ruby in 2006 for National Public Radio.
The exhibit ends Feb. 28.
Gallery 221 is next to the second-floor library in the Learning Resources Building on the HCC campus, 4001 Tampa Bay Blvd. Go to www.folkvine.org to learn more about Ruby C. Williams.
Art from society's discards
Award-winning Florida artist Rocky Bridges puts his assemblages together with a thoughtful concern for the transient nature of manufactured items in our fast-moving, modern world. In creating his sculptures, he celebrates the beauty of the used pieces he finds and pays homage to their previous functionality.
Dented metal, torn wire mesh and worn-out wood gain new purpose in Bridges' riveting mixed media works.
The Ybor Campus Art Gallery is in the Visual and Performing Arts Building at Palm Avenue and 15th Street in Ybor City.
Call director Carolyn Kossar at (813) 253-7674 for details.