Ebb and Flow of Aripeka's Artists


A small coastal community on the border of Pasco and Hernando County has been called home by several major contemporary artists. The alluring nature of Aripeka, resides in its beauty and isolation, both especially appealing to artists seeking a place for inspiration and contemplation. At one point at least six highly successful artists lived in Aripeka but not many remain. Like the ebb and flow of the Gulf waters, Aripeka is awaiting new talent to emerge from the tide. Leslie Neumann who is an artist as well as a land conservationist still lives and works in Aripeka. She recently described how she came to call Aripeka home and what happened to her colleagues who once also referred to it as such.

Ms. Neumann received her MA in painting at NYU and was living and working in New York City (in the 1980’s) when she met James Rosenquist, a major figure of the pop art movement and a contemporary of Andy Warhol. Prior to meeting Ms. Neumann, Mr. Rosenquist was an artist in residence at USF’s Graphicstudio program. Graphicstudio put Tampa on the art-world map by inviting working artists to teach in the program, collaborate with students and staff, and produce works many of which have been acquired by leading museums and collectors including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Public Library and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Graphicstudio was responsible for “importing” to Florida major names in the art-world such as Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg.

While Mr. Rosenquist was at Graphicstudio, he met a young student artist from St. Pete named Daniel Stack who would later become his studio assistant in Aripeka. Mr. Rosenquist introduced Daniel Stack to Leslie Neumann. The pair married and eventually Ms. Neumann fell to Aripeka’s charms. At first she remained in New York City, traveling down for short visits, but eventually short visits lengthened into month long stretches. She became enamored with Aripeka’s unique beauty as it provided a drastic contrast from the familiar New York City landscape. Her artist’s nature and curiosity emerged with a desire to explore Aripeka in her work.

Leslie Neumann paints using a unique methodology. She combines both encaustic (hot wax paint) and oils to create layers of color on large canvases. She works over the surface, scraping into the paint to derive texture and depth. In her work she has two themes, a cosmic series depicting abstract celestial scenes and a wetlands series, an altered reflection of the very place she lives and works. The layering technique she uses in her paintings make each glance you take over the canvas a unique experience. You will continue to find details in her work that you didn’t see before.

A James Rosenquist painting is also a unique viewing experience and that is why he is considered a pop art phenom (although Rosenquist identifies himself as having emerged separate from the pop art movement). He fuses together usually disparate subject matter in dynamic ways that leave you hypnotized into believing that subject matter like spaghetti, a retro Ford, and a woman’s profile are meant to be together and it should be no other way. He started out painting billboards in New York City, so selling his odd combinations using both his incredible painting skill and advertising prowess is only natural.

James Rosenquist started with Graphicstudio in 1971. Five years later he began construction on his home and studio in Aripeka. He lived between Aripeka and New York City until a fire destroyed his home, studio, and office space in 2009. He lost hundreds of irreplaceable prints and paintings including a 24-foot by 133-foot mural commissioned by the French government. Mr. Rosenquist decided to relocate to South Florida after the fire. He initially intended to rebuild his home and studio in Aripeka but was told he had to build both at least 20 feet above ground to get permitted which swayed him away from rebuilding.

Several years earlier a different sort of natural disaster had devastating effects. In 1993, The No Name Storm pelted the west coast of Florida. Like other residents of the area, many of the artists lost their homes and work space.

Following the storm, artist Daniel Stack found himself struggling to recover his art career and went back to school so he could make a living. He is now working as a building plans examiner in St. Petersburg and is quite successful. Mr. Stack views his new career as an extension of his art, both rooted in a fascination of how buildings are constructed. In his artwork, Mr. Stack mixes realistically painted architectural and floral elements. He paints mainly in oils deriving deep colors and smooth texture in his work. Clean- lined images pop from his canvas in a finely honed manner. Although art is not currently full time for Daniel Stack, with his talent, it may once again be.

Mr. Stack described the painting above,"Since most of my paintings are also diaries [this piece] has to do with a trip from Florida (foreground) to Italy (middle ground) and an imaginary landscape (background window) ala Leonardo DaVinci."

Arline Erdrich, an artist and land conservationist, who moved to Aripeka in the 1980’s, portrayed the devastation of the No Name Storm in a series of paintings but also the natural inclination of the human spirit to endure, survive and renew. She wrote, “But out of all this came a cleansing- a renewal. A rebuilding. Ultimately, the wild spirit in humans, as in nature, is toward survival.” This collection was on display at the Brad Cooper Gallery in Tampa in 1993.

Ms. Erdrich applied her abstract colorful painting style to canvas, paper, murals, and floorcloths. Her work is energetic and spontaneous. She utilized a unique method to obtain these qualities in which she repurposed plastic sheets laid down to protect her studio floor. Pieces of these sheets covered in paint were highly textured after walking over them repeatedly. She transferred the texture and pigment from these sheets to her canvases using a varnishing technique, afterwards peeling away the plastic pieces.

Ms. Erdrich passed away in 2011 due to heart related issues caused by radiation treatment for Hodgkin's disease in the 1970s. She is memorialized by the Springs Coast Environmental Educational Center with a plaque in her honor. She along with fellow artist and land conservationist Leslie Neumann and several other members of the Gulf Coast Conservancy led the efforts in obtaining the land to create the 11,000 acre Weeki Wachee Preserve in 1994.

Steve McCallum is another prominent artist of the Aripeka community tied to it through James Rosenquist. He was born and raised in Ohio where he attended Kent State University receiving both his undergraduate and Masters of Fine Art degrees. He moved to New York in 1980 and served as a studio assistant to James Rosenquist, Helen Frankenthaler and Al Held.

Mr. McCallum’s work is highly abstract and geometrical. He works mainly in acrylic, filling his canvas with lines of varying widths, grids, shapes, curves, and linear rifts which leads to an ever shifting sense of perception. New figures slowly emerge from the crisp boldly colored web of lines and curves, making just one glance insufficient. After living in Aripeka for several years, Mr. McCallum moved back to Ohio to care for his ailing parents.

Tony Caparello was an Aripeka Artist whose work is prominently displayed on the walls of downtown Brooksville. His most public work is the Civil War Mural in downtown Brooksville, measuring 87 feet wide and 18 feet tall.

He was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. At the age of 15 he had the opportunity to meet Norman Rockwell. Mr. Rockwell recognized the young man’s talent and paved the way for him to study under other fine artists. He started his career as a billboard painter just as Rosenquist had done and eventually became the “premier pictorial artist” in the advertising industry. In 1988, Caparello caught Rosenquist’s eye and invited him to work as a studio assistant in Aripeka as well. He spent many years with Rosenquist until he went out on his own in 1998, establishing his Spring Hill studio.

Caparello’s vivid life-like paintings were rendered only using paint, canvas, and bristle brushes. He worked both in the photo-realism as well as surrealism camps. He stated about his surrealist work, “The things that come out while I’m creating sometimes surprise even me. But that is part of the fever, the madness, of being an artist.”

Caparello passed away in 2009 due to a heart related condition. His family formed Caparello Creations in which they aim to keep the artist’s work alive through the sale of high quality Giclee reproductions.

Erdrich wrote about her exhibition on the No Name Storm, “There can be no beginnings without endings. There must be death before there is birth. There can be no creation without destruction.” So it goes with Aripeka’s Artist community. They were brought together through an exquisite artist as well as a landscape rich in beauty and isolation. The natural progression of life dispersed many, but the landscape persists which will hopefully lure new artistic vitality to the community.

Collections/Exhibitions of Ms. Erdrich’s work: Polk Museum of Art collection, A retrospective at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art as well as numerous other galleries and museums around the country as well as Europe.

Collections of Ms. Neumann’s work: Tampa Museum of Art, Polk Museum of Art, Ringling Museum of Art and the Morian Art Center
Ms. Neumann’s work has been exhibited extensively around the country.

Some of Mr. Caparello’s solo exhibitions have included the Kingdon Art Gallery, the Merrick Art Gallery, the Dubuque Museum of Art, Johnson and Wales University among many others.

Collections of Mr. McCallum’s work: San Diego Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ringling Museum of Art and several others. Private collections include Ford Motor Company, Dearborn MI and Bank of America in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Tampa.

Collections of Mr. Rosenquist’s Work: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, the Museum of Modern Art, NY, Guggenheim Museum, NY, and numerous Museums in Europe and Asia

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