Creative Spirits

By staff February 1, 2005

Filmmaker Don Guy, 62, is a modern male incarnation of Aspasia, the ancient Greek famous for her intellectual salons. Guy hosts artists and creators at his and wife Kristin's home to exchange ideas and celebrate the art of life. He's also an award-winning director of documentaries and television commercials, with work in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Guy, who says he's inspired by influences as diverse as the light of Vermeer, the cinematography of Sven Nykvist, his family and the light and nature of Sarasota, has been busy since moving here from San Francisco in 2003. He's creating a documentary for the Ringling Museum about donor Howard Tibbals and his model circus, videos for Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and also helped land the recent Coexistence exhibit.

Says Guy: "I'm a filmmaker and always have been, so it's about capturing moments, finding the heart of a person, seeing the nuances-mood, light, shadow, humor, pathos. It takes more experience to finally capture the simple beauty of a person, a place or an idea."

Young Sarasota artists have a new champion: 24-year-old Greg Mocilnikar. The California-born 2003 Ringling grad is a familiar face at hip hangouts, but he's there on serious business: promoting young artists through Switch, the organization he co-founded with Cindy Mason. "There's not a lot of support for young artists here," he says. "We want to give the younger crowd a chance."

Switch has created art events in a mix of spaces, including a condo sales office, a Rosemary District graphic arts company called Digital Three, the Brownstone Café and the Sarasota Tea & Coffee Company.

Mocilnikar's medium is oils, and he's known for his large-scale portraits, mostly inspired by his girlfriend and muse, Alison Ben David. Says Ringling instructor Jeff Schwartz: "He's a painter's painter, has a great sense of humor and is working hard to create an alternative showing scene in the Sarasota area."

In a town that prides itself on its artistic reputation, one woman is working on sharpening the focus. Since moving to Sarasota from New York in 2001, Alexandra Dasha Reich, 58, not only has plunged into the local arts scene; she's planning a new addition to it with FLIMOCA & D, or the Florida International Museum of Contemporary Art & Design.

Reich has been immersed in an avant-garde artistic life since her childhood in a Bauhaus apartment in Prague, where her artist mother hosted a stream of artists and thinkers. Reich went on to a 30-year career in textile and clothing design, and at different times taught at the Parsons School of Design and owned a Madison Avenue boutique. Her paintings are complex and multi-layered, infused with epoxy resin that gives them the clarity of Murano glass. "Sarasota needs to consolidate the art organizations, starting over with a blank canvas," says Reich. "Then, the goal should be to cultivate and promote quality over quantity."

He's worked on acclaimed projects in London and Paris, but moving to Florida five years ago to be near his opera singer wife's vocal coach did challenge 33-year-old architect Julian Norman-Webb. "Working in a subtropical environment, a flat landscape and at an American scale has forced me to think outside of my previous experiences," he says.

Norman-Webb joined Carl Abbott Architects and was project manager for the Jacaranda Public Library and several beach residences. Though fascinated by the Sarasota School of Architecture, he feels that there's room for architectural innovation here.

"The idea that one can design a city in three dimensions, like a building, is alien to many people of all disciplines; and when understood is, I think, considered contrary to free market property development," he says. "The fact that arguably no beautiful city has been built without it is rarely considered."

Nancy Hellebrand has Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships under her belt, solo shows in London, New York and Philadelphia galleries and museums; and her work is in the permanent collections of MOMA and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Pretty intimidating.

Yet, Hellebrand, 60, with her blend of the earthy and ethereal, is usually the first person friends and family call for advice or a friendly ear. It was spirituality that brought her to Sarasota, along with the desire to become part of the local Sufi community that embraces the freedom, openness and generosity that she says matches her style.

"I'm interested in the non-physical aspects of something that is physical," she says. "Being here has allowed nature to seep into my awareness to a far greater degree than living elsewhere."

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