2016-02-04 / Front Page

Spring Bull's Annual Romp With the Masters

By Betsy Sherman Walker

“Fakes & Forgeries,” the wise and witty midwinter exhibition that has become a trademark event for Spring Bull Gallery on Bellevue Avenue, will celebrate its 25th year beginning with its opening reception on Saturday, Feb. 6. A draw in any season, this artists’ cooperative has been an indelible fixture in the local art scene since it was founded in 1990. It is hard to imagine Newport without it.

“The enterprise began in a building my mother and I owned, at the corner of Spring and Bull streets,” said Rick Grosvenor, whose father Richard, the consummate Newport artist and educator known for his seascapes, landscapes, harbor views, and views painted as if seen through the spinning propellers of a small plane, saw an opportunity not to be missed. “The space was empty,” he added, “and Dad, who hates the look of empty walls, wanted to hang some of his art there.”

Last year, Mark Fernandez submitted this replica of the famous Winslow Homer "The Fog Warning" in the Spring Bull Fakes & Forgeries exhibition. For this year's show, numerous works will be up during February. Last year, Mark Fernandez submitted this replica of the famous Winslow Homer "The Fog Warning" in the Spring Bull Fakes & Forgeries exhibition. For this year's show, numerous works will be up during February. There is nothing more seductive, for a devoted artist, than a blank wall. Perhaps even more so than a blank canvas.

The elder Grosvenor invited other artists from the community to join him. “Dad also wanted to use it as a studio,” his son said, and from there “it developed into a gallery that survived until we finally attracted a paying tenant. And then it moved to Bellevue, where it still sits.” There were six at the start, and in addition to Grosvenor, represented a trove of talent: Ted Tihansky, John Orr, Anita McAndrews, Tim Moore, and Jean Baker; a seventh, Carla Bosch, joined soon after.

Over the years, little has changed. Spring Bull still represents the cooperative mission of the group – essentially, to showcase and share. But also, in the case of the fabulous “Fakes,” the gallery has done a stellar job of maintaining the kinetics of the art scene in a town that champions the arts and is always looking for ways to embrace it more.

Whimsical adaptation of "American Gothic" by Bettie J. Sarantos. Whimsical adaptation of "American Gothic" by Bettie J. Sarantos. “Fakes” got its start, according to notes from the Spring Bull archives, “as a result of a roundtable discussion about unusual and creative [ways] to allow local artists to become more involved.” The guidelines are straightforward. The only requirement in the call for entries is that the submitted work be “a maximum size of 150 inches in circumference, including the frame” (this is not the Louvre nor the MFA). Artists are invited to submit a work either forged or done in good faith and brimming with satire and humor – or both. The first year there were 42 submissions. The list has grown in recent years to as many as 120, and every year the catalog raisonné reads like the slide list from an Art History 101 final exam: There are Rembrandts, Van Goghs, Cezannes, Sargents, Picassos, Hoppers, and Homers. There is a guest judge (this year Newport Art Museum curator Nancy Grinnell has the honors) whose job it is to determine “Best in Show,” and throughout the month gallery visitors are invited to vote for the People’s Choice award.

And they all respond to the siren call of the blank wall. One of the earlier shows included Richard Grosvenor’s meticulous version of Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” That same year, one artist took Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (depicting an isolated couple in the garish light of an all-night diner) and created “Morninghawks,” a pre-dawn breakfast in Gary’s Handy Lunch (on Thames Street). Another artist tweaked Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” into “Potato Chip Eaters.”

Today there are 18 artists listed on the gallery’s website. If one browses through the names and back stories, the bios are as diverse as their styles. Most were schooled, and found careers in, the arts. The rest – a group that includes émigrés from the Navy, the Army, NASA, health care, the insurance industry, and the loan departments of major banks–took the Paul Gauguin route: business before pleasure.

Among the latter is Mark Fernandez. A dual business and art major in college, Fernandez made jewelry and ceramics in Colorado (his “confused hippie” stage) before transitioning into the left-brain business arena. For nearly 30 years he worked as a loan officer. Fernandez never stopped painting, but he also never stopped working. When his youngest daughter was done with college, an epiphany came. “I was watching Judge Judy,” he said, “when I thought, ‘I have to do something else.’” Fernandez’s deft touch ranges from light-infused seascapes, landscapes, and marine studies to more abstract, lush color blocked compositions. He has proved in the past that he has a mean gift of mimicry: his re-do last year of Winslow Homer’s “The Fog Warning,” a dramatic plein-air tableau of a fisherman in a sou’wester watching a nor’easter from his undulating dory, is startlingly faithful. He is quick to point out, however, that “it is missing the glow and patina of 100 years.”

Fernandez’s inspiration for this year’s show remains a secret, but he did reveal that the Old Master he is attempting to master is the late-18th and early-19th century Spanish giant, Francisco Goya. This year, he added, he was ready for a little satire.

A quarter century later, the walls are still calling, and the artists still can’t resist.


Fakes & Forgeries Opening Reception WHEN: Friday, Feb. 6, 5-7 p.m.. WHERE: Spring Bull Gallery, 55 Bellevue Ave. MORE INFO: The show continues through Feb. 29, open daily from noon – 5 p.m.

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