Before it vanishes

Artist Taylor Ikin uses watercolors to capture
Florida's natural beauty before it is overrun.
Steve Baal
St. Petersburg Times
September 2, 2005

   Tarpon Springs - A walk through the "Fragile Florida: Watercolor Paintings by Taylor Ikin" exhibition at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs is like stepping through a time warp.
   In Ikin's world, there are no towering condos, no cars, no strip malls, just the naked truth of a rapidly disappearing Florida as it once was: natural, pure and serenely beautiful.
   "It can't hold up against the dollars of development," said the self-taught artist, whose works reside in collections around the world, including the Vatican.  "At least not without protection."
   Though Ikin migrated to Tampa in 1961 and later spent time in the West Indies, where she began painting in her 30s, her voice retains the Southern lilt of her native Virginia.  But her words fly fast and sharp when she speaks of the need for preservation and conservation of the natural habitat.
   "People have to open their eyes and see what's around them, and what's going on around them," said Ikin, whose exhibit at the Leepa-Rattner ends Sunday evening.
   "Taylor's unique," said Leepa-Rattner Museum director Lynn Whitelaw.  "She brings a message and a medium together."
   The medium is watercolors heavily applied to YUPO, a slick, synthetic paper usually preferred by photographers.  But Ikin pioneered the process of watercolor on YUPO, finding the glassy surface that allows paints to slide into each other a perfect opportunity to blend shades and shapes.
   "With YUPO, you don't lead, you follow," said Ikin.  "You adjust as you go, as the paint flows.  It really ignites my creativity."
   So did a rare opportunity to explore the bay area's shrinking natural heritage.  "Fragile Florida" began as the "Hillsborough Collection", which itself began as a single painting commissioned by the county's water department to raise public awareness about conservation.  The result was River Rapids, depicting mangroves along the Alafia River stretching toward the sun.
   To capture the scene, Ikin was allowed to prowl protected properties inaccessible to the general public.  She canoed through muddy backwaters and hiked overgrown traces throughout the county, accompanied by guides provided by the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, which commissioned a second painting.
   That led to a proposal that Ikin produce a body of work revolving around Hillsborough County.  The paintings include scenes from sites such as Buckhorn Creek, Cockroach Bay and Dundee's Creek, which runs right behind Ikin's Tampa home.
   The artist, who often subtly works depictions of roseate spoonbills, alligators and wild boars (but never people) into her paintings, said she loves to listen to "nature's night action" as critters go about their business.
   For "Fragile Florida," scenes have been added from elsewhere around the state, including Pinellas County.  That's one reason why Whitelaw called it "irresistible" for Leepa-Rattner to host "Fragile Florida" during its national tour.
   "It portrays the environment which is natural to this area," said Whitelaw.
   Waters Up, for instance, features Pinellas' Brooker Creek and is one of Ikin's most complex works.
   "It took me a long time to capture the light just right to lead (the viewer) through the density," she said.
   And that's what Ikin wants.  "Nature gave us a wonderful palette", she said.  "We just need to take the time to see it."

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