Graffiti-inspired drawings come to Art Center Sarasota

The images in artist Christopher Skura’s upcoming exhibition of drawings on paper at Art Center Sarasota appear, in his own words, “a bit brutish and cartoonish.”

But don’t let looks fool you. That’s only the surface of a body of work that harnesses the sensibility of the former Sarasotan now living in New York City. A lifelong artist, Skura is deep thinking, hard-working and highly skilled. 

Rest assured, there’s a lot more “there” there than what first meets the eye.

The images in the show, aptly named “Social Studies,” were drawn from the collective subconscious, Skura says. They are “psychological portraits (of) what we have become in our society, especially over the last six or seven years,” he says. 

They are executed with a style Skura began developing during the pandemic.

“I started sketching quickly every day using ink and acrylic markers (as a more) improvised and less controlled way of working. Letting go and not focusing on too many details lets me achieve an expression that’s free from the expectations of art theory, the art audience or the art marketplace,” Skura says.

The works of Ringling College of Art & Design grad Christopher Skura, who now lives in New York City, has been influenced by street art.

Image courtesy of Julie Knight

He further explains that he developed this spirit-driven approach to creating art after studying psychology and philosophy at New York University, where he earned an associate’s degree.

The work in the Art Center Sarasota show, which opens Jan. 25, was also shaped by the pandemic-driven proliferation of street art in his Lower Manhattan neighborhood, where he lives with his wife of 33 years, the artist Julie Knight, and their dog, Shinto. 

“I’m not interested in doing graffiti, but the speed and urgency in which it was executed was the key. It is the speed and tempo of living in New York,” says Skura.

And that’s about all the clarification you are going to get from the artist about the meaning of these Gordian knot-filled artworks. Except maybe this: “The titles are important and sometimes the key to get inside (the work).”

However, if you are thinking about playing a “match the title to the meaning” game, you need to know more about the man. While he’s a low-key kind of guy, Christopher Skura has relentlessly pursued his craft and vision for most of his life.

He began taking art lessons at the (now gone) Florida Gulf Coast Art Center in Belleair, FL, at an early age. By 13, he was studying painting with the late fine artist and teacher Frank Federico.

Skura’s work was first shown in a museum when The Dali in St. Petersburg held an exhibition of high school artists chosen by Pinellas County.

Skura moved to Sarasota to attend Ringling School (now College) of Art & Design, graduating with a BFA in painting and a professional certificate in sculpture.

“Sarasota was a fun place to be an artist in the ’80s,” Skura reminisces. “It was sort of shabby and comfortable and full of creative people.”

But what he calls his “real education” as a professional artist started in 1986 when he became a staff member at The Ringling Museum of Art. “I got to meet and work with a lot of nationally recognized artists and see how they conducted their careers,” he says.

A 1987 summer job with John Chamberlain at the artist’s 18,000-square-foot Sarasota studio — a former warehouse on the corner of 10th Street and Cocoanut Avenue that has since been demolished— left a lasting impression on Skuras. 

“It was the first time I got to closely watch an artist of that caliber actually working. He’s still one of my favorite artists,” says Skura, who noted the drawing in the “Social Studies” exhibition called “Remnant City” is a nod to his time with Chamberlain, who left Sarasota in 1996 and died in 2011.

Skura left Sarasota himself in 1995 to take a staff position at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and has lived in Manhattan ever since. However, in 2011, he and Knight built an artistic compound nestled in the Catskill Mountains outside of Woodstock, NY, that they call Jakpot Studio.

“I left Sarasota because I wanted to be a working artist in New York. I was also very interested in art conservation,” he explained.

Mission accomplished: After a 20-year career as a museum professional, and then as a studio assistant to a master paintings conservator, Skura is now senior conservator at Alvarez Conservation in New York City.

You could say that a career in high-end art conservation has essentially apprenticed Skura to some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. “I think the work I do as a conservator does creep into my own work. I repair a lot of pieces by Picasso, Haring, Warhol, Leger and Dubuffet. So staring at this all day is an influence in my artmaking,” he says.

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