Out of Bounds: Making A Creative Leap

By Dan Nosowitz

Few artists are content with monotony. They experiment with style, color, form, and sometimes even medium. Sometimes creating in an entirely new medium can be purely intellectual effort: what would happen if I tried this?

But for some of Paradise City’s longest tenured exhibitors, there are all kinds of other motivations. Sometimes the artists are rediscovering an old love, finally feeling the freedom to create in the way they’d always wanted to. The irritating necessities of life—needing to make money, namely—can push all of us in a direction we didn’t necessarily foresee. But at a certain point, we all have to at least try to do what makes us happy and fulfilled. 

From Furniture Design to Saving the Planet

Peter Handler has participated in a whopping 47 Paradise City shows over the years, mainly displaying his playful furniture, crafted of aluminum, wood, and upholstery. But furniture-making, though it’s been his primary career for more than three decades, was almost an accidental side road.

While living in Maine, a friend who owned a jewelry shop asked Peter to step in while on vacation. The friend taught him a few things about metalworking, and Peter spent the next decade or so teaching himself the craft, then earning his MFA at the School for American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in metals. But while exhibiting at a show in Rochester, an interior designer saw his work and asked him if he could work a little bigger. “When you’re self-employed, the answer’s always yes,” says Peter. He made an aluminum tabletop inspired by the jewelry he was making at the time, and by 1984, furniture had become his main gig. Watch him on PBS.

Peter Handler sees his high quality furniture designs as ‘sculptural forms’ and states, “I try to achieve a quality of whimsy and formality at the same time.” “Grasses” Sideboard, cherry, anodized aluminum, photo printed on aluminum. 44″w x 14″d x 28″h. Dining/Conference Table and Chairs. Wood, anodized aluminum base, eight upholstered aluminum chairs. .

But as you might expect from someone who almost fell into his craft, Peter didn’t always see himself as a furniture maker. Starting at age 10, photography was his passion. “I spent more time in junior high and high school in the darkroom than I probably did doing homework,” he says. Photography—landscapes, portraits, animals, funny scenes—was always in the background of Peter’s life. Around six years ago, an experiment with printing his photographs on aluminum cabinets led to the mixing of his first love with his career. “It has definitely increased my seriousness in terms of my identity as a photographer,” he says.

A renewed passion for photography and an intense interest in issues dealing with climate change led Peter Handler into forging new creative endeavors. Some examples are shown here: “Arctic Ice Reliquary”, detail, and “Coral Reef Table” from his Canaries in the Coal Mine series, and “Tree in the Rainforest”, color photograph on aluminum.

Peter Handler has been very active working on issues dealing with climate change for years, including a series of artworks titled Canaries in the Coal Mine. He says, “There are a lot of important issues in the world to deal with, but if we don’t deal with climate change, the others ultimately don’t matter.” While his subject matter is chronicling and hopefully avoiding environmental disaster, he states that “my starting point for each piece is that they need to be beautiful.” Handler is the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Audubon Award for Art Inspiring Conservation.

From Silver Gardens to Pointed Satire

Carolyn Zakarija has had a place at 44 Paradise City shows since 2008. Her jewelry, primarily in silver and gold, is delicate and translucently organic. Her shapes are not explicitly natural but are inspired by the greenery of her native England. There are leaves, dragonflies, feathers, and more, all crafted in an unusual heat-free, hand-fabricated fashion. The prescribed nature of the perfect English garden can be seen in her work, which is created with asymmetrical precision. 

Carolyn Zakarija’s jewelry, primarily in silver and gold, is delicate and translucently organic. “Leaf Necklace”; “Saturn Ship Earrings”; “Floating Wing Earrings”.

Yet her latest projects are wild, inspired less by the perfect English garden than by the chaotic streets of London. She creates sculptures of found objects, ranging from old globes to rubber duckies, bits of rope and chunks of wood, with free-form text dotted in strategic places.

Carolyn Zakarija, whose jewelry often reflects her beloved English gardens, has branched out into whimsical, satiric sculpture made from found objects and often embellished with text. Pictured: “Going Solo”; “Beyond”; “Fly by the Tips of your Fingers”.

These works are a far cry from what she normally does: they are chaotic, vibrantly colorful, playful, sometimes quite funny. She uses repetition and language to create clever, often highly political sculptures. A pointed pun, the turn of a phrase, or the absurdity of life itself can be the impetus for these humorous but deeply affecting works of art. They are the creation of an artist who is giggling to herself while she works. 

From Wearable Art to Art from the Heart

Ruth Odile started exhibiting at Paradise City in 2006 and has appeared in 40 shows, selling flattering clothing created with natural fabrics. Her clothing is sometimes painted, which gives a clue as to what her original love was. “I always painted, from watercolors to pastels to acrylics,” she says. “Somehow I swung into clothing.” In the 1980s, when painted fabrics were very trendy, Ruth made some one-off wall hangings, painted onto textiles.

Ruth Odile (Davis) graduated from line drawings on linen to brushy oils on canvas.
Photos: “Big Shirt with Faces”, natural linen cowl neck, sewn, painted and heat set. “Asymmetrical Vest”. Odile in her clothing studio.

For the next 30 years, textiles became her life. “I got into clothing because it was so, so difficult to get paintings into galleries,” she says. The craft world, though, turned out to be a welcoming community, and Ruth thrived, learning everything she could about clothing design.

But about ten years ago, she decided to make a change. “I thought, ‘What am I waiting for?’ I should really do this,” she says. She began painting with oils, something she’d always wanted to do, and found it an incredibly freeing experience. “Painting on clothing has always been geared toward what will sell,” she says. “So, this time, when I went into painting again, I decided that I was not going to be influenced by what would sell, and that I was only going to paint from the heart.”

Ruth Odile’s atmospheric oil paintings reflect her love of her home, Cape Cod. “Just In That Moment Before Sunset”; “A Reflection from Above”; “The Sky Was Glowing”.

Her work now is what she thinks of as “pure” painting -” just paint on canvas” – and tends towards dreamy, hazy landscapes, often involving wetlands. Feeling let loose by the need to sell her work has given her confidence and clarity. “All I want to do is paint. Painting is just like a meditation for me. I’m just so happy to be painting,” she says.

Three artists forging radical new ground at Paradise City

Peter Handler, Carolyn Zakarija and Ruth Odile will all be displaying their work at the upcoming March Paradise City Arts Festival which takes place March 20-22 at the Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts. More than 170 other talented artists and craft makers working in every media – from traditional oil and watercolor painting to photography, fiber arts, metal and stone sculpture, glass, wood, leather, and jewelry – will also be at this special show. So don’t miss this opportunity to immerse yourself in an inspiring world of imagination and extraordinary artistic talent. For more information on the March festival including hours, location, admission, and exhibitors, and to buy tickets online, click here.

This blog post introduces Dan Nosowitz, Paradise City’s new feature writer. Nosowitz has penned articles on a wide range of topics for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Atlas Obscura, The Awl, Bon Appetit, Popular Science, Vox and much more.