A Fresh Look at Sarasota Abstract Artist Syd Solomon
November 10, 2023 - Monica Roman Gagnier for YourObserver.com
Richard and Pamela Mones adore their collection of abstract paintings by the late Sarasota artist Syd Solomon, and they want you to enjoy them too. No, they aren't inviting you over to their house; they've lent three dozen of their paintings to Ringling College of Art and Design for an exhibition.
“Fluid Impressions: The Paintings of Syd Solomon” is a labor of love led by Ringling College Director and Chief Curator Tim Jaeger. His curatorial students engineered all aspects of the free exhibition in the Lois and David Stulberg Gallery.
As part of "The Role of the Curator" course taught by Jaeger, 17 students decided everything from where to hang the pictures in the Stulberg Gllery to what the marketing campaign would look like to which refreshments will be served at the opening reception on Friday, Nov. 10. Those are just a few of the myriad details they sorted out.
"We really got down to the nuts and bolts of what it means to hold a gallery show," said Jaeger during a recent interview in his Ringling College office, where a pop art model of Andy Warhol stands in the corner.
Mones said he was approached to exhibit his Solomon paintings at Ringling College by Jaeger, whom he has gotten to know by attending arts events in town. Both fans of Solomon's art, Mones and Jaeger also speak fondly of the artist, who died in 2004, and his wife Annie's galvanizing role during more than 50 years in the Sarasota arts community.
The last major Solomon show in Sarasota was at The Ringling Museum in 2019. "The Mystery of Syd Solomon" brought together art and historical materials from the artist’s estate, private collections and the museum's permanent collection.
According to Mones, a retired radiologist, there is little or no overlap between the latest show and the Ringling museum retrospective.
Richard and Pamela Mones have lent Syd Solomon's "Weaving Wind and Water" to the Ringling College of Art & Design for the exhibition, "Fluid Impressions," which runs through March 25, 2024.
He would know. Mones attended the Ringling show "at least twice a week" while it was up, he said. While the museum show covered Solomon's work from the 1950s through the 1990s, the Stulberg Gallery exhibition showcases what Jaeger's students consider to be "the absolute best" from the 1970s and 1980s pieces in Mones' collection.
The Ringling College show contains nothing but large, colorful works. Mones said Jaeger and his students decided there was no room for small pieces in the exhibition.
The show's name, "Fluid Impressions," is a nod to Solomon's description of his work, which he called "abstract impressionism." Solomon's paintings melded concepts of impressionism, such as using natural light, with the processes and bold forms of Abstract Expressionism.
Like his novelist friend Kurt Vonnegut and many other members of the "Greatest Generation," Solomon was profoundly influenced by the physical and psychological horror he endured during World War II. Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1917, Solomon took art classes in high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he also played on the football team.
During World War II, he served as what was known as a "camoufleur," helping to prepare for the Normandy Invasion, in which he participated. Evidence of that camouflage training seeps into Solomon's paintings in Florida, where he incorporated colorful elements of nature and relied on masking before spraying paint onto the canvas.
Syd Solomon's "Island Memory" is on display at Ringling College of Art & Design's Stulberg Gallery. It is on loan from Richard and Pamela Mones.
Solomon got a serious case of frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge. Aversion to cold helped draw him and Annie, whom he had married before his military tour overseas, to Sarasota after the war.
Even extreme heat bothered Solomon. During the mid-1950s he and Annie began spending their summers in East Hampton, New York, to escape Sarasota's steamy season. There, Syd and Annie mingled with artists such as James Brooks, Larry Rivers and Conrad Marca-Relli, whom Syd ended up recruiting to come live and work in Sarasota.
"Thanks to Solomon’s recognition of Sarasota’s potential for a thriving arts community, he helped to develop the arts locally, attracting outside critics, curators, and writers to the area, thus becoming an influential person in many people’s lives," according to an article written by Ola Wlusek, The Ringling Museum's curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, to accompany "The Mystery of Syd Solomon" show.
According to those who knew them, Syd Solomon was the "life of the party" and Annie was the "hostess with the mostest." They opened their homes to fellow artists and people from all walks of life, whether in East Hampton or Sarasota.
Jaeger has his own Solomon party story. After graduating from Ringling College, he began working at a newspaper shop that sold coffee as he started out as an artist in Sarasota. In the process, he got to know Annie Solomon, who died at age 102 in 2020.
"When I had my first show at Towles Court, Annie stopped by the last day and asked me if I wanted to come over for a drink that night," Jaeger recalls. "When I got to Annie's, she had thrown a big party for me with lots of people, food, drink. I couldn't believe it! It was so kind of her."
Mones says it's his understanding that Solomon's joie de vivre was a reaction to all the death he had seen in World War II. "He embraced life to its fullest," says Mones.
One could say the same about Mones' approach to collecting the works of Solomon and learning everything about the artist's life. Mones retired to Sarasota in 2014 after a medical career in Maryland.
His first Solomon acquisition was in 2016, when he bought two small works at the Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art Gallery on Palm Avenue. Over the years, Mones also formed a relationship with the Berry Campbell gallery in New York, which represents the Solomon family's collection.
"I started to look around for galleries and auctions of Solomon's paintings, private people who were offering his work for sale," Mones recalled in a phone interview. "Gradually I was able to put together a collection. At the time, prices were not as high as they are today."
Although he is quiet and unassuming, Mones isn't a man who does anything halfway. He attended all the classes except one in the Ringling College curation course that led to the Solomon exhibit, which includes a multimedia component. "He was one of my best students," Jaeger says.
Richard Mones (center) and Ringling College Chief Curator Tim Jaeger (left) are surrounded by Ringling College of Art and Design students who produced “Fluid Impressions,” an exhibition of three dozen Syd Solomon paintings that Mones and his wife, Pamela, lent to the college.
Another participant in the planning of the Ringling College show was Mike Solomon, Syd's son, who manages the family's art collection. "He's a working artist himself," Mones says. "He came yesterday and made comments about the show, all of which was really helpful. We don't want to do anything that would offend the family."
Speaking of Solomon's relationship with "Slaughterhouse-Five" author Vonnegut, who reportedly based his novel "Bluebeard" on the artist, Mones said he has read the touching letters Vonnegut wrote Annie after Syd died. "They were beautiful letters. There was a real friendship between Vonnegut and the Solomons," Mones said.
In 1986, when Indianapolis native Vonnegut traveled to speak at New College of Florida, he famously declared in an interview with Clubhouse magazine, "The only two people I have ever met who can talk about art honestly and clearly are Syd and Saul Steinberg (longtime New Yorker cartoonist). Everybody else is bluffing.”