If you've never visited the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, you should, even if you're not a fishing enthusiast. Earlier this year, I took some visiting relatives, outdoorsy types, and was pleasantly surprised. I already knew the architecture was striking -- you can see it from I-95, a stone's throw from Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World -- but I never realized that the complex includes a fascinating array of exhibits and even a wetlands walk.
My second visit to the IGFA museum was for a different reason: to see "Underwater World Museum Show," an exhibition of about 50 pieces by local artist William Bock. I've written about Bock and his Art & Frame Shop before, first in July 2000, then again in October 2001. He was part of the cultural revival of downtown Hollywood -- until the rising rent for his gallery/studio space forced him out. The events of 9/11 also had a devastating effect on the art market.
After a similar experience with the lease on his next location, at the Fountains Shoppes of Distinction in Plantation, the exasperated artist was on the verge of setting up shop in a storage unit. Then he heard of a great deal on a space in Davie Plaza, a little cluster of businesses on the southwest corner of Stirling Road and the Davie Road Extension. The new place is smaller than his Fountains digs but much less expensive, and it's close enough to home that he can ride his bike to work. More on the shop in a moment.
The Chicago-born Bock, an accomplished scuba diver, is a natural for IGFA. He has been certified by the National Association of Underwater Instructors and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors since he was 16. One of his specialties is marine life, which is perfect for the 120-foot-long wall in the corridor leading into the museum. On my earlier visit this year, that wall was host to the mixed-media "funky Florida fish" of an artist who goes by the name of Captain Honk (a.k.a. Thomas Bintz of Hollywood).
The wall is an unusual display space in that it's linear. Rather than wander among the pieces, you have to walk back and forth in a relatively narrow area to take them in. But it's also great to be able to see a large expanse of open space -- the ceiling is very high -- devoted to so much art. And thanks to the huge windows opposite the wall, there's plenty of light.
The works on display were created over the past 15 years of Bock's life, and they range from the tiny (4 inches by 6 inches) to the gigantic (91 inches by 70 inches). Most are in acrylic or giclee. A pair of acrylic panels early in the show -- Bermuda Cove and Northeastern Harbor, both from 1999 -- are lovely waterfront scenes with boats, but the majority of the paintings are set underwater.
Sometimes, Bock simply offers up two or more marine creatures floating in an undifferentiated environment. The detail with which he renders the fish and other animals is impressive, but the seeming lack of interest in the water around them makes them come across as flat and ordinary. He's much better off when he anchors his imagery, as in the large Coral Reef (2001), which features a large stretch of reef populated by a variety of marine life. The painting is an explosion of color and texture, enhanced by Bock's strategic use of gold, silver, and copper leaf to portions of the canvas, a technique he has been tinkering with for the past few years. A similar, more recent work, Magic Undersea Garden (2003), is a round canvas that's marred by the presence of a mermaid who seems to have been added as an afterthought.
Bock hits his stride when he turns to sea turtles, as in Kemp's Ashore (2003), a medium-sized acrylic with metallic-leaf accents that captures the strange beauty of these reptiles. Leatherback & Green (2002) is a lovely study in contrasts and similarities, with the larger leatherback turtle rendered in impressionistic daubs of pigment and touches of silver leaf and the much smaller green turtle painted more realistically. I counted 15 pieces that focus on various species of sea turtles, and many of the other works in the show include them in their mix of marine fauna.
Ironically, the strongest piece in the show has nothing to do with marine life other than the curving beach in the background: Cheetah Climbing (2001), a beautifully detailed, signed and numbered, limited-edition giclee on watercolor paper.
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After seeing Bock's IGFA show, I visited the artist at The Art & Frame Shop, his new gallery-studio in Davie. He was in good spirits after a rough year. He continues to paint, and he continues to champion such extraordinary Japanese artists as Susumo Endo, who makes lithographs based on digitally manipulated photos, and Yoshikatsu Tamekane, who creates woodblock and calligraphic prints on handmade paper using water-based inks.
He enthusiastically hauls out a batch of recent works by the latter, which I examine with equal enthusiasm. Tamekane, who is currently in America at the University of Pennsylvania, has altered his visual vocabulary to great effect. A piece called In the Stream is a minimalist abstract that overlays blue and purple stripes on a background of gold bordered on both sides by white. For A Song of Stars, Tamekane saturates the paper with black ink flecked with gold and positions four small stars in yellow, blue, red, and green.
Bock has even added another Japanese artist, Katsunori Hamanishi, to his stable. His work isn't out of place among the Endos and Tamekanes, although he incorporates a bit more realism into his style. The striking Division, for instance, is divided into four main areas: a block of gold at the top, a bright red grid with black droplets on the left, an irregular vertical band of white in the middle, and, in the lower-right corner, a realistic close-up view of what looks like wheat, in blacks and grays.
In addition to painting, Bock continues to offer a variety of art-related services: custom framing, restoration, appraisals, and consulting. According to a flier for the shop, "Our extensive framing & repair services include glass replacement, frame rejoining, conservation cleaning, deacidification, hinging, relining, restretching, and patching or repainting of holes & tears." Whew! I can't help admiring the tenacity and resourcefulness of someone who clings to art -- that of others as well as his own -- at a time when, for many, art seems to be seen more and more as a luxury instead of a necessity.