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The Legacy Of Artist Syd Solomon Lives On In Sarasota

Jan 12, 2018

Across Florida, there are communities where artists seem to gravitate and Sarasota is one of those places. Now, years after his death, one of the city's most influential artist's continues to have an impact.

A new exhibit of works by Syd Solomon are currently on view at the Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown Sarasota, including several pieces that have never been shown in public.

“Syd was very charismatic,” said the exhibit’s curator, Mark Ormond. “He was like the Pied Piper. People who were interested in the arts just sort of followed him around.”

The new exhibit features 24 paintings dating from 1976 to 1990. Solomon was an early adopter of acrylic paint and was also one of the first artists to use aerosol spray to create his vibrant, multilayered paintings.  His work began to be acknowledged nationally in the early 50s and by 1959 his works entered the collections of the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Syd Solomon was known largely for colorful works inspired by the Florida landscape.
Credit Lionel Murphy

“The amazing things about his work is that every time you come to it, you can have a different experience,” Ormond said. “Depending on where you focus your attention, it can be very tranquil, immersive and contemplative, or it can be energetic and passionate. Whatever you bring to the painting kind of affirms that feeling for you.”

Syd Solomon created the Institute of Fine Art at the New College in Sarasota, and in 1966, the Ringling Museum’s first purchase of a work by a living artist was Syd Solomon’s painting, "Silent World."  The painting was titled by Jacques Cousteau who when he visited the artist’s studio, commented on how much the image reminded him of the underworld of the sea.

But the artist’s path was an unlikely one.

“In terms of being an artist and having the career he had, everything went wrong for him,” said his son, Mike Solomon.

The artist is widely regarded as an abstract expressionist, but because he served in World II, he missed the art movement's heyday of the 1940s.  

Solomon served in the Army Corps of Engineers, Initial Camouflage Battalion, eventually winning five bronze stars. He became an innovator in designing camouflage and later created sets and costumes to entertain troops on the front-line. 

In December 1944, he was called to serve as an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge.  When Solomon’s unit was pinned down in a basement in Belgium, he suffered serious frostbite and developed a chronic condition which made him unable to endure cold weather.

On doctor’s orders, Solomon and his wife Annie, came to Florida in 1946. At the time, Sarasota was a town of just 10,000 people, but it did have the Ringling Museum.   

"And the new director at the time was Chick Austin who was the most knowledgeable expert in modern art in the world,” said Mike Solomon.  

With Austin's help, Syd Solomon's work quickly began to gain prominence. He exhibited often in New York City and was soon bringing his artist friends to Sarasota, and a nationally recognized art colony was born.

"Art in Florida was changed because everyone discovered that this was a great place to live and work,” said the artist’s son. “There were no state taxes and you could get a big cheap studio. It was easy to get back to New York so it became like, wow, instead of moving to the Hamptons or Provincetown, we'll just go to Sarasota, it's warm."

Solomon died in 2004 at the age of 86 but his son says, in some ways, the artist is more appreciated than ever, in no small part to his color-saturated palette.

"It’s sort of like the impressionists,” he noted. “With artists like Manet, Gauguin and Van Gogh, their color was really regarded as wild at the time. But then eventually people came around to it, and then other art movements came out of that. It's very similar because with the first generation of Abstract Expressionism, the palette is somber and urban. Syd’s colors are way outside of that.”

“Syd Solomon” is on view at the Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art, 1288 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota through Jan. 28.

A lecture, “The Home Studios of Syd and Ann Solomon: Lifestyles of the Creative Class” with artist Mike Solomon is being held at The Center for Architecture Sarasota, Jan. 18, at 5:30 pm.