TARPON SPINRGS – A large-scale, socially-relevant painting by Kevin Grass is on view through Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College, 600 E. Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs.
Titled “Not #MeToo: No More Casting Couch,” the painting measures 7 feet by 14 feet and addresses sexual harassment through depictions of film producer Harvey Weinstein and two women portrayed as ballerinas. After its showing at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, the painting will be traveling to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for inclusion in ArtPrize, an open, international art competition that attracts over 500,000 visitors.
Grass, a realist artist and professor of art at St. Petersburg College, will give an artist’s talk about the painting, and the museum will show a video about the painting’s creation Wednesday, Sept. 5, 7 p.m., at Leepa-Rattner Museum. Michaela Oberlaender, Grass’s wife and an artist and art history professor at St. Petersburg College, produced the video. The event is open to the public and included with museum admission.
Grass holds a master’s degree in fine arts and has been a professor of art at St. Petersburg College since 1997. He was drawn to art at a young age and as early as high school he was creating a variety of commissioned works ranging from portraits and landscapes to campaign signs and car decorations. In a Northern Renaissance art class, where he met Oberlaender, he was captivated by the meticulous techniques of the Flemish masters and their representations of allegorical realism, which influenced his work significantly. As his career progressed, he became interested in producing highly-realistic, figurative paintings dealing with social issues such as alcoholism and cyberbullying.
After receiving an artist’s grant from Creative Pinellas, Grass created “Not #MeToo: No More Casting Couch” for the ArtPrize competition, scheduled for Sept. 19 through Oct. 7, 2018. ArtPrize awards, chosen by public vote and by art experts, total more than $500,000 each year. During the competition, Grass’s painting will be displayed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.
Grass said he also created “Not #MeToo: No More Casting Couch” because “it is important that a man chimes in on the important topic of sexual harassment to show that what was known as the ‘boys will be boys’ type of behavior is not acceptable.”
Grass is hopeful that his painting will appeal to the public so it can garner enough votes to win the $200,000 grand prize. A separate $200,000 prize is also awarded by a panel of art experts during the competition.
Competition is stiff for these awards, with 2,017 art entries this year. In ArtPrize 2017, 43,010 voters cast 384,053 votes.
“My ‘Not #MeToo’ painting is timely, since it shows two ballerinas with one of them pepper spraying Harvey Weinstein,” Grass said. “It is about the notion that performers should not be subjected to the casting couch in order to be considered for parts.”
Weinstein is a successful film producer who was recently arrested on charges of rape and criminal sexual acts in New York. More than 80 women have made similar sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein and helped spark the #MeToo social media campaign.
“I am excited that my large piece will be on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum during Art Prize 10,” Grass said. “I was told that the best way to get votes is to have a representative stand by the painting to help answer questions from the visitors during the three-week event.”
Two of Oberlaender’s former art history students at SPC are the primary models in the painting. Alexandra Annas and Madeline Axlund were taking ARH 2050 in fall 2017 when the Weinstein scandal broke. Both had recently left the Tampa Ballet, where they had been primary dancers. They talked with Oberlaender after class about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement and that sparked the idea for this work.
The body for the figure of Weinstein in the painting stems from Chris North, a regular life-drawing model in Grass’s Drawing 2 classes at St. Petersburg College. Grass then found a photograph with Weinstein’s head online that had the correct lighting conditions to work for the composition.
It is not the first time that Grass has painted a work with a feminist message. His recent “Clown” painting, which also features two St. Petersburg College students, deals with the idea of female body image and how even young girls are conditioned to think that they must look a certain way to be seen as desirable in American society.
The “Not #MeToo” painting took about 400 hours to create. Grass’s home studio only measures 10 feet by 10 feet, and initially he kept part of the painting rolled up to fit in the cramped space. After the first pass with paint over the entire canvas, he realized that he needed to be able to back up to see the work better. To help cut down on the glare, he moved the painting into his living room for several months.
Grass also constructed a handmade frame for the piece, painstakingly applying gold leaf to it.
He and Oberlaender plan to make the 20-hour drive to Grand Rapids in time for the ArtPrize preview week.
“This event will open up a whole new audience for Kevin’s work,” Oberlaender said. “He has participated in international art fairs, such as SPECTRUM Miami during Art Basel/Miami, several times. But ArtPrize received about 522,000 visitors last year and that is substantially more than exhibiting in several art fairs. I hope that this much exposure will help drive print sales and that we will be able to sell the ‘Not #MeToo’ pieces as well.”
To view “Not #MeToo: No More Casting Couch” before it heads to ArtPrize, visit the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College. Admission to the museum is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors age 62 and older, and free for LRMA members, children age 17 and younger, students and active duty military with ID.
For information, call 727-712-5762 or visit www.leeparattner.org.