Stacy Cushman Studio Gallery, located in the courtyard of The Veranda office complex, is normally a working space, not open to the public. Here, Cushman creates paintings in watercolor or oil, much of it inspired by nature, as well as the ceramic works for which she is most well known.
But during the entire month of December, she will open the gallery up and exhibit a diverse array of pieces by young artists expressing themselves in their own unique ways. In addition to her own art, guests will see one-of-a-kind woodwork, sculpture, crochet creations and much more. There is nothing ordinary about this exhibition, as evidenced by the inclusion of a horticulturist who elevates the growing of crops to an art form.
The pieces displayed here are bound to surprise visitors, who will have seen nothing like them before.
Ceramicist and Painter
Cushman’s studio is filled with her work, both finished and underway. Because it is open by appointment only, curious passersby must content themselves with what they can see through the large windows facing the courtyard.
But inside, one finds paintings — some of them quite large — drawn from Cushman’s experiences with the ocean or visits to Guana State Park. Her use of color and line are unique to Cushman, and the viewer comes to appreciate a suggestion that what is depicted might well extend beyond the borders of the image into infinity.
The ceramics are instantly recognizable as her work.
Her lamps, with their extremely thin ceramic shades and shapes that appear to be drawn from the natural world, evoke the work of Antoni Gaudi. That’s not surprising, considering that she once attended school in Majorica and was exposed to Spain’s artistic heritage.
Cushman is also known for her decorative pieces from which protrude “flowers.”
Her bubble wall installations are perhaps her most iconic creations. These ceramic “pinch pots,” turned to the wall and arranged to transform the whole surface into a work of art testify to Cushman’s understanding of the relationships between the smallest particles, the world around us and the universe beyond. She’s inspired in this by the aesthetic implications of the Fibonacci Sequence and perhaps a hint of quantum mechanics.
“For me, I’ll have a concept,” she said. “And it’s all about multiples. It’s the whole Fibonacci Sequence. It’s like, nature produces things out of little cells, and we are all our own little bubbles. It’s like a huge picture of the underwater world and outer space and then the microcosm at the cellular level.”
It reverberates with the esoteric, to be sure, but the result for the casual observer is an appreciation for the overall effect.
The origins of these works are founded in a failed experiment in interactive art.
“My first piece that I did on the wall was called ‘Cellular Constellation,” Cushman explained. “It was Velcroed round elements. The whole idea was that people could take them off and move them around. But they eventually would fall off the wall. I wanted people to be able to control the space. And then I realized, well, it’s more interesting with my concept if I control the space for people to see.”
Her business partner, Ben Weiner of Cocobolo Ceramic Art & Design in New York City, handles the sales of these installations, many of them purchased by international customers.
Beyond paint and ceramics, Cushman occasionally ventures into other art forms. In her studio, one finds tapestries made from old, torn-up sheets and quirky things she found on the beach after Hurricane Matthew passed through in 2016.
Indeed, Cushman is not one to be confined to a single idea.
“You can take any avenue, and it’s not going to matter where you go,” she said. “Something’s going to happen. And if you have the right attitude, it’s going to be fun. Just grab something and go with it. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
Life at sea
Cushman is as unique as her art. From age 2 to 6, she lived with her family aboard a Columbia 52 sailboat based out of Fort Lauderdale, traveling up and down the coast on the race circuit. From an early age, she knew how to snorkel and appreciate the wonders of the ocean.
“There’s no school that can give you the education that I got,” she said.
Eventually, her parents sold the boat with the idea of moving to England, but that didn’t work out and they settled in California instead. But after three years, when Cushman was 10, they took up life once again aboard a boat.
Her parents bought a Swan 57 in Pietarsaari, Finland, and sailed through the Baltic Sea to England, France, Portugal and, finally, the Mediterranean, where they stayed for the next 15 years.
In her youth, Cushman attended school on Majorca, where she was exposed to a variety of cultures due to the island’s richly diverse population.
“You have French, Spanish and all the nautical people sailing through the Mediterranean,” she said.
This early introduction to transient populations may even have formed a basis for her later work.
“The whole idea with my bubbles is like, that’s what everybody is,” she said. “They’re their own little bubble. They’re floating around and somehow they all come together in these places and work out, somehow, in some sort of pattern or form.”
In fact, life in Spain influenced her in other ways as well. She cites the Alhambra as the inspiration for her ceramics.
“The whole place is iznik tiles and running water,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. And none of the patterns stop. It’s completely expansive. No iznik design has an end. You can tile the entire universe. There’s no end to it.”
Life in Majorca was like nowhere else. Cushman remembers it as a place immersed in Dadaism.
“They had people making ice cream while I was there, but they’d make like gorgonzola and shrimp ice cream!” she said.
Life on the First Coast
Cushman went on to university in London, eventually moving to Brooklyn in 1999, two years after her parents had settled in Ponte Vedra Beach. While in New York, she taught art in the public schools for an organization called ArtsConnection. She also taught in her studio gallery and worked for Greenwich House Pottery, where she developed her skills in ceramics.
She traveled here to visit her parents and, after her father had passed away in 2017, she began to stay and help her mother. By 2019, she was living here, taking over her parents’ condominium following her mother’s passing.
The condominium, within walking distance of her studio, is a gallery in its own right. Every available spot exhibits a work of art, some by Cushman, some by others and collected over the years. Even the very floor is a work of art, evoking the swirls and shapes found in great bodies of water.
When she opened her studio, the plan was to create an outlet for young people to express themselves, but it coincided with the onset of Covid-19, putting the breaks on that idea. The December exhibit, however, may mark a move in that direction as all the guest artists are in their 20s and 30s.
For those interested in works by Cushman and her guest artists, the Stacy Cushman Studio Gallery is located at 820 State Road A1A North, Suite W10, Ponte Vedra Beach. The exhibit will be open noon to 8 p.m. daily, seven days a week, Dec. 1-31.
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