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11 Artists From Fort Lauderdale And Boca Open Up About Their Work, Idols And Inspiration

South Florida is a haven for artists and art lovers. From colorful, abstract paintings, to geometric-inspired scanned imagery, to industrial sculptures, these 11 local artists have dedicated their lives to creating beautiful, inspired artwork.

Brenda Hope Zappitell

As a young lawyer, Brenda Hope Zappitell knew there was something missing in her life. On a whim, she signed up for classes at The Art School at The Boca Raton Museum of Art. “I was immediately hooked,” says the 51-year-old Delray Beach resident. Today, Zappitell’s work is on display at the same museum where she was once a student. She’s also featured in a handful of other galleries throughout South Florida and California. Her abstract work features bright colors painted in wide, flowing strokes.


What inspires you?

There are so many things that inspire me. A few include the sky, nature, travel, my family, and even sometimes a conversation.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Color. Expressionism. Gestural.

What artists do you admire?

Picasso, Michelangelo, Joan Mitchell and Chuck Close. There are many.

How do you know when a piece is done?

When I start a painting and throughout the process, there is always a conversation between chaos and order. I think I decide the painting is done when there is some sense of balance with that chaos and order. More specifically, when there is energy and calmness at the same time.

What do you want to express through your art?

I am a very intuitive painter, and I generally don’t think about what I am expressing through my art. I just do the work and often times see things later that reveal what I may be thinking about. However,

I suppose I would like to affect others in a positive way when they view the work.

Carla Golembe

Carla Golembe can’t remember a time she wasn’t making art. The 64-year-old Delray Beach resident says she was the “art room kid” at school and camps. “I have a memory of when I was 4 or 5 and I’d go to visit my grandparents ... I’d make little illustrated ‘magazines’ and then sell them to my grandparents’ neighbors for 5 cents,” Golembe says. Her work goes for more now. Her acrylic and oil paintings sell at the Cornell Museum at Delray Beach; the Cove Gallery in Wellfleet, Massachusetts; Gallery Galleon in Vieques, Puerto Rico; and Kolbo Fine Judaica in Brookline, Massachusetts. She’s also illustrated 15 picture books and written six. Aside from creating art 40 hours a week, Golembe also teaches it at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Delray Beach Center for the Arts.


What inspires you?

My inspirations get filtered and transformed. My work is evocative rather than descriptive. My interest as an artist lies in expressing how something feels rather than what it looks like. I’m inspired by human relationships, nature, places I’ve traveled to, animals, colors, and the mystery of the world around me.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Figurative. Visionary. Vibrant.

What do you want to express through your art?

My desire is to express harmony between individuals, between people and animals, people and nature, within a person’s inner being. I want to express the beauty, the mystery and magic in life. Although my paintings express an optimistic attitude, they’re not naïve. Rather, they come from an understanding that pain and anxiety are part of life, but joy is a more desirable place to dwell.

What’s the biggest challenge artists face today?

Staying authentic and true to one’s vision as opposed to following the dictates of what is “fashionable” in art. And earning a living as an artist is always a challenge.

Emily Grieco

Emily Grieco grew up in New York City, down the block from the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she’d play hide-and-seek with her friends. She says it was foreshadowing, since the Boynton Beach resident is now an abstract/expressionism artist. From the first time Grieco held a brush, she knew painting was her “most natural expression.” Grieco’s acrylic pieces are displayed at the Boca Museum Artist Guild Gallery and at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale.


What inspires you?

Vibrant colors, creative people, good music and the good life.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Colorful. Energetic. Loose.

How do you decide when a piece is done?

When I step back [and look] at my work, and get a feeling of contentment and pride—look what I created.

What’s the biggest challenge artists face today?

Money, and getting discovered by the outside art world. When we get an opportunity to show our artwork in new and more lucrative galleries around the country, we have to ship our art to that destination. To crate and ship canvases and sculptures costs thousands of dollars. In many venues, you pay a good sum to the gallery for wall space. It’s like owning a racehorse; we don’t have that kind of money. There’s truth in the term “starving artist.”

Lori Pratico

Lori Pratico’s art supplies used to fit in a shoebox. While the 47-year-old Hollywood resident can remember mimicking the Sunday paper’s comic illustrations when she was 5 years old, it wasn’t until about eight years ago that she taught herself to paint. Pratico still enjoys the art of replication. “There was something very satisfying about being able to create something that looked like something else and people could recognize,” she says. This is why Pratico does mostly portraits and murals. She’s a member of the South Florida Artist Association, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and more. But what’s most impressive is her own non-profit—the Girl Noticed project. For the project, she’s traveling to all 50 states and creating charcoal portrait murals of chosen women from each area. Her goal is to bring awareness to the important roles women play in society.


What inspires you?

People inspire me. They are complex and have so many layers—layers I have the opportunity to explore and peel back through my portraits.

How do you decide when a piece is done?

Because I paint portraits, one might think, “Well, when it looks like the person, it is done.” But for me, it’s when it feels like the person—when I‘ve captured an energy or emotion.

Tell us one crazy story about how a piece was created.

When I first started my series called INK (women with tattoos), I didn’t actually know any women who had tattoos. So I see this girl in Barnes & Noble, and randomly gave her my business card and asked her to let me paint her. I literally chased her down in the store. Not a real surprise that I never heard from her. But, two months later, after setting up a photo shoot with a different girl, [it] turns out they are friends. Who shows up at the photo shoot? Yes, my Barnes & Noble girl. I [took] three portraits of her.

Steve Blackwood

Sculptor Steve Blackwood has a gift for visualizing the 3-D look of objects before he builds them. His pieces have been called a cross between “Betty Crocker and Frankenstein.” “I like to make people ask, ‘How did he do that?’” Blackwood says. The 51-year-old Boca Raton artist has been constructing with wood and painting since he was 5 years old. Since then, his work has been on display at the Art Institute of Chicago and various other museums throughout the country. Currently, his work is represented by Cacace Fine Art in Artists Alley in Delray Beach.


Describe your artistic style in three words.

Big, heavy, fragile, dangerous. Pick any three. ... Some have labeled my work steam punk, but it’s more than an aesthetic style. Scale is important and my work is getting much larger lately.

What do you want to express through your art?

My work tells stories. The idea is that the objects have had a unique history of their own. By joining inconsonant elements together to create new objects, I give them a new life that reminds us of where we have come from.

Tell us one crazy story about how a piece was created.

One piece in the Cornell, “Inertial Velocity Machine,” sprang from an ultimatum my wife gave me. She asked that I acquire no more “stuff” until I used parts that I already had on hand in the studio.

Jeff Whyman

You’ve probably seen Jeff Whyman’s work driving on Palmetto Park Road in Boca or at the entrance of the Phillip Frost Museum in Miami. His oversized steel figurines are shaped into playful poses—arabesques, leaps and pivots. But the classically trained artist doesn’t limit himself to just the fanciful sculptures. Whyman’s ceramic, paint and steel work have all been recognized worldwide. The Lake Worth resident credits his inspiration with steel to the famous arch in his hometown of St. Louis. Today, the 62-year-old is sharing his experience with the local arts community, encouraging new artists to educate themselves about the art world and art history. His philosophy centers on positivity and the joy of life. “I don’t like to spend time emphasizing on the sadness and negativity of life,” Whyman says. “As an artist, to put one’s heart and soul into expressing that is a very painful journey. I like to wake up each day happy. Let’s get you out of the moods. Let’s get you believing again.”


What’s your first memory of doing something creative?

When I was 5. I was growing up in St. Louis. I used to constantly make things. [My parents] kept feeding me materials to work with. By the time I was 7, I would go downtown to the waterfront on the Mississippi River where they were building the arch. I got to watch that being built. I became very fascinated with large-scale sculptures.

What’s your favorite medium?

I like the plastic pliability of creating form and shape. Steel was the same way. Painting for me was a whole new beautiful, wonderful experience. It was so fast and immediate—creating color, light and subject matter. ... The sculptures are all about playful innocence, love, joy and the happiness of life.

Tell us one crazy story about how a piece was created.

For the ceramics, I created my own technique of using sea glass, ashes and minerals. I throw it and push it onto the clay when it’s still wet, then I take it through a four or five day firing process. It’s a surprise. It’s me collaborating with the forces of God—fire, water, earth and air. I like the unpredictability. I like to not know what’s going to happen with the firing. Each one is unique and individual.

Tamara Seymour

Nearing retirement after 30 years working in sales, Tamara Seymour was looking for a local art class she could slip away to for a few hours every week. She found what she was looking for at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale. There, she fell in love with watercolors. “They have juicy, transparent colors that allow for delicate and ethereal results when applied to paper,” Seymour says. Her new passion drove her to join the Southern Watercolor Society, Broward Art Guild and the Florida Watercolor Society to name a few. She also served as the president of the Gold Coast Watercolor Society, and president of the National League of American Pen Women until this year.


Describe your artistic style in three words.

Contemporary. Whimsical. Impressionism.

How does South Florida embrace the arts?

We are very lucky to have an active arts community in South Florida. We have many local cultural centers that provide seasonal events for all levels of experience. Young and old can find a place to express themselves and continue to learn their craft.

What do you want to express through your art?

The light-heartedness of the world around us.

What’s the biggest challenge artists face today?

Having quality places to exhibit and sell our work. Today, we compete with mass produced images from around the world and original artwork is not always appreciated.

Valentina Bilbao

Born in Venezuela, Valentina Bilbao says she started painting before she learned how to write. Her bright, ink-splattered paintings transform the sounds of music into visual colors. “As a result, you can see and touch the music,” Bilbao says. The 38-year-old artist lives in Weston, where her acrylic paintings are available for purchase at L’angolo Furniture & Art. Her message is all about positivity and a love for life. “In my country, I used to work with special kids and kids that don’t have families because as much as I am an artist, I’m also a child psychologist. I used to show and teach them to grow a love for art,” Bilbao says.


What’s your first memory of doing something creative?

In my early childhood I remember how I spent many hours drawing, painting and creating different things with diverse materials like clay, foil paper and wood. I used to paint the backs of furniture in my house, along with everything in my bedroom. When I was in middle school, I opened an art place to teach kids to learn how to paint.

What inspires you?

Music. I feel like it’s a way to help me transform what I have inside into artwork. I need music and paint for a living. I believe they always go together, and sometimes I am able to paint the music itself. I connect with every sound, each instrument, the voices of the singers and the harmony. ... My painting of “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel is one of the songs that helped me make my artwork.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Contemporary. Energetic. Dynamic.

What artists do you admire?

I love the texture and movements in Vincent Van Gogh paintings, and the energy in Jackson Pollock.

What do you want to express through your art?

The power of love. The happiness of love and respect. The magic that is in everything all around the world, and the importance of art.

Joseph Gormley

Joseph Gormley’s wife, Erin Ruth, bought him a paint set for Christmas in 2006. At the time, the Scotland-born elementary school custodian didn’t have plans to raise nearly $200,000 for charities using his talent with a paintbrush. But less than a decade later, the 40-year-old Tamarac resident has done so; and he doesn’t plan to stop till he’s reached $1 million. Gormley has teamed up with organizations like the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and The Jeff Conine Clubhouse to auction off his illustrations of famous sports teams and celebrities. This year, he got 20 minutes with Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton to paint a portrait, which was auctioned off live on Fox Sports for $25,000 to benefit the Marlins Education Foundation.


What inspires you?

The thing that inspires me the most is my family. My family here in Florida and back home in Scotland support all my dreams and goals, which gives me the freedom to be creative and full of passion for a wonderful life, as well as art.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Clean. Sharp. Colorful.

What artists do you admire?

Kids. My nieces are 5 and 3 [years old], and I love watching them paint. They paint for fun and are so creative. A child’s art is honest and beautiful. They don’t paint for fame or fortune.

What’s the biggest challenge artists face today?

Computers, as they make art too perfect. Artwork should be like life, as life isn’t always perfect. Mistakes on artwork make it truly human. Less computers and more hand-painted artwork, please.

Larry Singer

The camera has been a focal point for Larry Singer since he joined the Air Force in 1969. There, he learned the basics of photography from his roommate before becoming a photojournalist. Now, living in Oakland Park, the 68-year-old artist has delved into a new technique for photographing objects—using a scanner. “The scanner is really nothing more than a digital 8.5-by-11-inch digital camera with an extremely narrow depth of sharpness,” he says. Singer calls it a fun, creative challenge. “I want to create images that are hard to forget, and that will live forever,” he says.


What is your first memory of doing something creative?

[I remember] carving a bear catching a fish in his mouth in art class in high school in Ohio. Even though it sure wouldn’t win any awards, I was proud of it.

What is your favorite medium?

My favorite medium is painting with light. I loved photography before digital photography came into being. But once I discovered the magic of digital, photography stopped being a fun challenge and started being something I now had a far greater degree of control over. I am amazed at how hard it was to shoot film and not really have an idea if you had any images at all until the film was developed. Now, I can see what I’m shooting and make any exposure corrections instantly.

What artists do you admire?

The artist I admire the most is Andy Warhol. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, which is 60 miles from Andy’s hometown of Pittsburgh. We both breathed in the smoke from the mills. One of the main reasons I respect him is because he was, in the beginning, a talented nobody coming from nowhere, and still managed to make it in New York, where important people, especially art gallery owners, just love to say “no” to unknown artists.

Leonardo Montoya

The bold, sculpted faces that Leonardo Montoya paints are eye-catching, to say the least. The colorful faces of Audrey Hepburn and Frida Kahlo pop against the solid-colored backgrounds of the canvases. The 43-year-old Oakland Park-based artist says women of power, Greek mythology and comic book characters inspire him. “If I’m able to connect with people through my images and colors and make them feel something, then I feel I have created a great piece of art,” he says. Montoya, who works locally with ArtServe, has showcased his work in Tampa and Miami.


What’s your first memory of doing something creative?

I used to watch the Saturday morning cartoons and did sketches of the characters at the same time. It drove everybody crazy around me.

What inspires you?

The human figure is what inspires me the most. With the years, it has remained my passion in art, from the superheroes in the cartoons to the classical sculptures from Greek mythology. Women of power, their beauty and character will always have a strong meaning of inspiration to me. Also, celebrities and fashion as a banal sense of life that diverge attention from all of what may be wrong in the real life.

Describe your artistic style in three words.

Pop-art. Realism. Art deco.

How do you know when a piece is done?

It’s hard to decide when a piece is actually done. Lately, I have left some unfinished pieces as a way to show the basic structure of the painting as an effort to try not to compete with a realistic painting.

A snapshot of this season’s art events from Fort Lauderdale to Boca.

“Dames: Portraits by Norman Sunshine” Premier

An exhibition by Norman Sunshine detailing the poise of notable women like Nancy Kissinger and Agnes Gund.

Nov. 3; Boca Raton Museum of Art; $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, Free for students and children; bocamuseum.org

ARTOPIA: Bridging Communities Through the Arts

The second annual event returns for an evening extravaganza featuring the culinary arts, fashion, and visual and performing arts.

Nov. 20; NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale; glbx.org

Jewelry and Pottery Sale

This event showcases handmade jewelry and pottery made by instructors and students from the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s art school.

Nov. 20; Boca Raton Museum of Art; bocamuseum.org

“We Are One” Unity Fundraiser

Stevens Express Outreach Foundation and Mercedes-Benz of Fort Lauderdale team up for a night of cuisine, shopping and live performances.

Nov. 21-22; Gallery of Amazing Things; $35-$45; galleryamazing.com

Flagler Village Art Walk

Enjoy a night of performances, food and drinks while walking through FAT Village. Art Walk is the last Saturday of every month.

Nov. 28; FAT Village; fatvillage.com

Downtown Delray Beach Thanksgiving Weekend Art Festival

This juried art festival features handcrafted artwork, photography and jewelry for sale, among other art gifts from more than 100 exhibitors.

Nov. 28-29; Downtown Delray Beach; artfestival.com

“Unwrapped” Reception

View a curated collection of arts, gifts, jewelry, sculptures and more at the ArtServe exhibit on display from Dec. 16-30.

Dec. 17; ArtServe, Fort Lauderdale; artserve.org

28th Annual Las Olas Art Fair

This arts celebration kicks off the new year with art displays, jewelry and opportunities to meet the artists.

Jan. 9-10; Las Olas Boulevard; artfestival.com

International Ceramics & Glass Fair

The fair displays international ceramic and art glass creations, and includes panel discussions and ceramic art classes.

Jan. 22-26; Gallery of Amazing Things; galleryamazing.com

27th Annual Downtown Delray Beach Festival of the Arts

Displaying contemporary artwork and handcrafted goods, the festival showcases mixed media, fiber, painting and more.

Jan. 23-24; Downtown Delray Beach; Free; artfestival.com

Festival of the Arts BOCA

The festival brings musical performers, authors and speakers together to celebrate all forms of the arts.

March 4; Mizner Park Amphitheater and the Cultural Arts Center; festivaloftheartsboca.org

— Emily Dabau