As the local art scene took a hit during the pandemic, the Luna Fine Art Gallery kept plugging in. Tucked inside the Pensacola Beach Hilton Hotel, the gallery was a trusted venue for local artists over the past year during the closures, Hurricane Sally and the Bay Bridge out of service.
“I asked the artists if they were still willing to work,” said Lisa Puzon, who co-directs Luna with Shaughnessy Johnson. “It helped our artists. Frankly, during COVID there was nowhere to go. A lot of them went to their studios and made some artwork and I said, ‘Let’s share it. You never know who’s going to pass by and it’s also good for you to know it’s up there.
The gallery’s most recent exhibition is that of local painter Suzanne Robbert, which opens on Friday, September 24.
Puzon is also the Artistic Director of Dixon School of Arts and Sciences, a private Title 1 K-8 school serving at-risk youth living in Escambia County. Dixon has a partnership with Innisfree Hotels, owner of the Pensacola Beach Hilton. As part of the company’s “corporate social responsibility program”, she extended her link with art by opening the Luna Gallery in 2017. Her exhibition space is the gateway between the hotel lobby and the conference center, offering unhindered visibility but also allowing social distancing. Last June, the gallery resumed its vernissages by naming an exhibition by local artist Rafi Perez.
Robbert’s exhibition is called “Musings of the Meandering Mind”, an early exhibition of his new paintings.
“I like to walk outside in my head to appreciate the small and often beautiful moments in life,” explained Robbert. “These“ meanders ”that I try to capture in oil for the show. These images will include places to eat, friendships, and the place closest to my heart, the Gulf. Many who view my work sometimes reveal that they are transported to a distinct sensory memory of their own. “
Robbert paints with a keen eye that matches his photorealistic style. His painting titled “Ghost Feast” is a snapshot of his revered haven.
“There is a beautiful phenomenon where bird feathers break through and line the shore of the beach,” she observed. “It could be magical, or it could be ghost crabs trying to carry the food-laden feather to their original hole. At that point, I chose to make it magical.
Puzon and Johnson discovered Robbert’s work at the Artel Gallery.
“We have admired him for a long time,” Puzon said. “We wanted to present her, but with the type of work she does, it takes time.”
Robbert caught their attention once again by winning the Best of Show award for Luna’s annual Jury Show commemorating International Women’s Day last spring.
“The biggest thing we’ve done is an event in March celebrating women,” Puzon said. “The first exhibition was called“ Luminaires ”. This year the theme was “hero”. These were heroes that they (the artists) felt, helped empower women. “
Considering Robbert’s paintings, Puzon was particularly drawn to “Smell Feast,” a sparse composition of an empty plate and a knife.
“That one caught my eye,” Puzon said. “There was something very elegant about it. “
Robbert painted all summer to meet the exhibition deadline, a set of 25 to 30 works. The bread and butter in his work are representations of food with their striking realism. The one with a slice of toast and half-eaten coffee is amplified by the reflective surface of an accompanying spoon. The viewer can feel the volume of the cup by the shadow echoing at its base and can taste the pieces of strawberry jam coating the toast.
“I’ve always been one of those kids of the color inside the lines, which might be why I paint the details,” she said.
Robbert attributes his artistic genesis to a pre-adolescent epiphany.
“I started when my mother recognized a talent that I couldn’t see,” she recalls. “Around the age of 10, while she was sitting on the sand on the beach, she asked me to draw the seagull standing in front of us. I drew it and immediately criticized it (like most artists). I guess that’s when it became my life’s mission to satisfy that relentless critical child in my head. It steered me towards a bachelor’s degree in studio art in 1997, working as a portrait painter and painting collections that I think viewers can appreciate.
Robbert graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile. She moved to Pensacola to work for her mother’s environmental control company while honing her skills with portrait commissions. In 2003, she saw one of the Artel Gallery artist calls and submitted a sentimental painting of her father, a Vietnamese veterinarian.
Besides Robbert, Luna has featured other seasoned local artists like Maria Hoche, Sally Miller, Diane Brim and many more. At the same time, Luna remains true to her roots. Inspired by Dixon, he launched “Brilliant Star” last November, a side gallery for youth art adjacent to Luna’s main space.
“The aim is to teach young people the craft of art,” Puzon said. “We have contracts with them. They offer titles, prices and descriptions of their work.
The current show of Brilliant Star is by Natalee Stuart, which runs through November 4.
“It’s very popular,” Puzon said. “We sold a lot of their work. There is a lot of support for these young artists.
“Reflections of a Winding Mind”
Exhibition by local artist, Suzanne Robbert
Opening, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sept. 24
Luna Gallery, Pensacola Beach Hilton Hotel, 12 Via De Luna Drive
The show runs from September 24 to December 24. 2