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Former UT professor gives back through art

By Demi Manglona

A portrait of Jesus hangs above the altar in a local church, surveying each person as they walk past it. The eyes in the painting are strong yet somber; attention-catching and veering. The “Christ Altarpiece” has been a part of Christ the King Church since Jocelyn Boigenzahn, director of Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, can remember. She recalls scanning the altar every week as a child, looking for something to focus on other than prayers. There was something about the large-scale painting that satisfied her fixations. To her the portrait shows neither light or dark, but rather the gray place in-between, signifying that she hasn’t yet found the light.

The artful rendition of Jesus is personal to Boigenzahn, and what was once a childhood memory is now part of Scarfone/Hartley Gallery’s new exhibition, “Modernism Reimagined: Joe Testa-Secca in Full Color.” Until Feb. 22 students will be able to observe the artwork of UT alumni and former professor, Joe Testa-Secca, for free in the Scarfone/Hartley Gallery.

Gallery curator and associate professor of Art and Design Francesca Bacci arranged the modernist exhibition to narrate how the Tampa-based artist gave back to his community. Testa-Secca graduated from UT in 1950 with a business degree, according to Boigenzahn, and went onto teach art at UT for 30 years.

Boigenzahn believes there is a certain strength behind the artwork if there is a personal connection between viewer and artist. For her and other Tampa residents, the connection lies within the familiarity of his works throughout a community. For art professors like Jack King, professor of Art and Design, the connection is a relationship built upon teaching and learning. King had Testa-Secca as an art professor for two years, and he became his mentor throughout his art studies and career.

“Having a personal connection to any artists often affords additional insights as to motivation, idea, and as a young artist, his technique and process,” King said. “[He taught] that artmaking is a deliberate act — one that takes time, perseverance and dedication; but more importantly is always the development of an idea that is not exhausted in one or two attempts.”

As gallery director and curator, Boigenzahn and Bacci had the opportunity to select Testa-Secca artworks from over 15 homes, but they were limited to choose pieces from nine lenders to touch on 60 years of artmaking. The artist had either gifted or sold a large chunk of his paintings to collectors and public establishments, including some buyers overseas. Many of them, like “Christ Altarpiece,” are displayed around significant landmarks and buildings throughout Tampa.

“It is important to show a community that doesn’t realize how prominent he is in our neighborhood,” Boigenzahn said. “For purposes of representing Tampa — representing both his greatest donors, greatest supporters and also his impact on Tampa — we narrowed it down to Tampa collectors.”

Upon walking into the gallery, it is apparent that Testa-Secca is prolific; no two sections of the exhibit look similar because of his wide range of techniques and styles. Since his technical palate varies, the gallery is not curated to be a chronological representation of his works, but rather a retrospective glimpse of his various artistic themes.

“We are on the preface of what we can do with art,” Boigenzahn said. “We must retrospect in order to move forward, and in order to lift ourselves from where we are.”

One wall portrays larger architectural pieces like “Christ Altarpiece,” and is accompanied by historical photos and an album of Testa-Secca’s sketches. The wall adjacent presents abstract and fragmented art. Another section focuses on flat pop art and Hollywood, and across the room lies a three-dimensional puzzle piece deconstructed from the original canvas.

There is a section in the gallery dedicated to a more experimental and raw phase in Testa-Secca’s art career. His figure drawings and paintings focus on the distorted fragmentations and abstract elements within his modernist technique. For senior Museum Studies major, Casey Martin, the most alluring part of his work is the mystery behind his experimental and erotic images.

“His art is very provocative, but in a great way,” said senior Museum Studies major, Casey Martin. “Keep an open mind. Follow the materials and let the medium do its own thing.”

Bacci suggests to look deeper underneath what may seem like a random slew of colors and lines, and the viewer will discover a consistent theme of Roman history and religious symbolism through the foundation of the cross.

“Once you know it, then you can’t stop seeing it,” Bacci said. “In the space of 20 years, he accelerated. He just digested all of these [art styles] and made it his own style.”

Demi Manglona can be contacted at demi.manglona@theminaretonline.com

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