Painting by James Fox.
During the lovely late winter days of Southwest Florida, opportunities abound for art enthusiasts. This month starts with the Bonita Springs National Art Festivals at Riverside Park, followed by the annual Coconut Point Art Festival the first weekend of February. The west side parking field of Coconut Mall is transformed into a sprawling outdoor art gallery as 250 top artists from around the nation bring their works in varying mediums, including paintings, sculptures, photography, jewelry and more.
This festival, organized by Howard Alan Events, includes a free art giveaway featuring the whimsical work of watercolor artist Anne Marie Solomon. Running Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the Bonita Springs National Art Festival not only kicks off the month but returns on the weekend of March 14-15. This annual showcase of talent features more than 200 nationally and internationally acclaimed artists from 32 states, Canada and Europe. All proceeds from the festival support programming for the Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs. As we celebrate the arts this month, Estero Lifestyle Magazine highlights the diverse works of several accomplished artists living, working and creating artistic masterpieces right in our community.
French oils and graphite pencil
The life and work of James Fox are all about diversity. His resume includes a rock band, military service, national advertising campaigns, screenplay writing, a historical cityscape, philanthropic work, interior design and many artistic honors for his work in oils and graphite. “I really have difficulty doing just one kind of thing,” says the Estero resident who helped finance college by playing drums in a band with Glenn Frey (of Eagles fame) and Bob Seger, before launching a 30-year career in advertising, which included the “L’eggo My Eggo” campaign for Kellogg’s and the “Nestea Plunge” for Nestle.
“I won most every major award in advertising, and then I decided a number of years ago to leave that business and paint,” explains the driven and talented artist. “This is more rewarding to me.” Of course, Fox appreciates the accolades he receives from art societies and industry publications, but the real reward is in the process of creating, he says. It’s not uncommon for Fox to obsessively work through the night when he is entranced by the creative muse.
“I never know what I’m going to find when I wake up,” says his wife, Linda. “I have to make him get up and move.” The couple’s Meadows of Estero condo is more a “studio home” than the location of a home studio. While there is no distinguishing element to give away the artist’s abode from the exterior, inside, every room is a gallery of Fox’s diverse works. The staircase entry is lined with mementos from his advertising days, along with oil paintings, pencil drawings and a “10 Story Western” magazine cover. At the landing, guests are greeted by a series of stunning, white-faced women in ornate masks from the Venetian Carnival. In stark contrast to these bold beauties, Pete the pelican watches peacefully from the end of the corridor. “My body of work is really an eclectic collection,” Fox notes.
“We joke that in order to know it’s a James Fox original, you have to read the signature.” Indeed, Fox’s artistic interests range from wildlife to portraiture to erotica and everything in between. Over the bed hangs a newer work featuring a trio of hip-hop dancers in graphite pencil on clay board. On the opposite wall, there are images of orangutans. Fox has documented his encounters with apes at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla., donating his work to support the sanctuary. On yet another wall, a striking zebra painting zooms the viewer in for a close-up encounter. “The Sentinel” is an Award of Excellence winner from the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society.
Perhaps the piece Fox is most proud of hangs not in his home, but in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit. A commissioned work, Fox was tasked with creating a panoramic, graphite pencil rendering of the city, circa 1907, encased in three window panels spanning 15 feet. Drawing all the details – down to the pigeons, horse- drawn carriages and hat-donning pedestrians – took Fox six months to complete with just one day off Christmas. “I enjoy being eclectic,” says Fox, whose body of work has this uniting factor: “It has to be technically accomplished, and it has to have some emotional content to it. And to me, the third element is the story it tells. “I don’t do art as a statement,” adds Fox. “I do art as a pleasant thing for the viewer.”
Robert Heier’s bold and abstract artwork jumps out at viewers, beckoning a closer look. His distinctive work begins with a photograph of European or Latin American architecture, which Heier runs through a digital process he has designed, transforming the image into something modern and edgy and quite unrecognizable as the original photograph. He calls it “fauxtography.” “The elements I’ve put together were not intuitive,” says Heier, a neighbor of James Fox in the Meadows of Estero.
“I’ve had divine guidance. Something has to be pulling you in that direction, to be guiding you.” This year, Heier was honored for this work to be featured in a four-page spread in the International Masters of Photography, distributed to galleries throughout the world. His work is also represented by the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in New York City. The artist recently began creating images specifically designed for printing on metal and canvas, rather than the traditional gallery paper. These works tend to be softer and more mystical, juxtaposing images of clouds and architecture. Chat with the artist and see his new work at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.
Fine Art Photography
A native of Ireland who also lived in France and Italy, Patricia Downey has lately been captivated by the beauty of America’s parks. Her stunning landscapes have been photographed from the Carolinas through the Florida Keys, throughout the Southwest USA, at the Yosemite Valley and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Last year, she traveled to New Mexico on her photographic wanderings. “Every time I go to someplace new, it’s my favorite one!” Downey says.
“America has the most diverse landscape and topography I’ve ever seen.” She formerly shared an artists’ studio in Naples but now is building a studio at her home along the Estero River. Downey has also launched Mystic Weddings this year, spring- boarding from her success in fine art portraiture. “I love getting people’s expressions when they’re not aware of the camera,” she says of her documentary-style photography. Downey’s photographic journey started with trying to capture the birds of Florida in flight. Her current fascination is long exposures of water to create a misty flow.
As the daughter of an artist and a nature enthusiast, it was only natural for Christine Reichow to paint birds and botanicals. With influence from both parents and talents developed on her own over the years, Reichow has become a noteworthy watercolor artist, exhibiting throughout Southwest Florida and participating in the Coconut Point, Bonita Springs, Naples and Fort Myers art festivals. “My father taught me at a really young age to love nature,” she says. “He propagated roses, and I was the little child following him around. If I can encourage people to appreciate nature through my work, my job is accomplished.”
Art has always been a part of Reichow’s world, but she didn’t delve fully into watercolor until later in life. “I settled on watercolor because it challenged me so much,” she explains. “It’s a very difficult medium.” Reichow’s inspiration continues to come from Florida’s wildlife, particularly the waterfowl. “My desire is for the viewer to experience the serenity of the landscape, the splendor of a bird, the richness of a flower,” she muses. “The process of painting puts me in an altered state of consciousness that is meditative but exciting, mysterious as well as satisfying and always pleasurable beyond imagination.”
JAY ANDREW LENSINK
Fine Silver Jewelry
On Facebook: J. Andrew Designs
Jay Andrew Lensink was a Chicago sculptor for 10 years before turning his talents to jewelry. Following a van accident, which wiped out his entire collection while en route to a show in Fort Lauderdale, Lensink re-evaluated his artistic direction and began sculpting on a smaller scale with distinctive jewelry designs. He now spends his winters at his home-studio in Bella Terra, creating eye-catching jewelry pieces and exhibiting at many local art fairs, including the Coconut Point Art Festival this month.
“I use precious and semi-precious stones and silver to create my own designs from scratch,” Lensink explains. “The pendants are designed to reflect the cut of the stone. A lot of people are attracted to the stones as they reflect the light.”