Above and below with Jonathan Fort

The Ocala-born artist’s paintings can be seen at NOMA this summer.

Jonathan Fort, Artist, at Nude Night 2015 in Tampa,standing with sold painting. [Supplied]

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Posted July 8, 2022 | By Julie Garisto

In Jonathan Fort’s painting “Free Divers,” currently on display in NOMA Gallery’s “Summer in the Sun II,” pastel dapples swirl around a solitary boat with a mooring line and divers below. A white shimmer of light imitates the heavenly glow divers see from underwater.

There’s a quiet, subtly magical feeling to the work and his idyllic “Lone Boat,” also in NOMA’s summer exhibition.

When asked if the works are intended to provide a peaceful counterpoint to the sensory overload of today, Fort answers, “Yes, 100 percent.”

“I like to paint the kind of paintings where even if you’re having a bad day, they’re still good to you,” the 43-year-old artist explained.

Born and raised in Ocala, Fort has painted and created art professionally in all media for more than 20 years. For as long as he can remember, drawings and sculptures filled his household growing up.

“I grew up in a house where there were sculptures and my mom’s drawings could be found around the house, not cluttered or anything like that, but we definitely had lots of sculptures and statues around our household,” Fort reminisced. “Then there’s me and my two brothers playing sports. We would break ’em, and we’d have to fix ’em. My mom made us glue ’em back together. So, I think that being so comfortable around art and growing up around art since I was little, it’s just become second nature to me.”

After high school, Fort attended the Florida School of the Arts and studied the curriculum of 2D and 3D art. He developed a predilection for contemporary art and oils, which stain his couches and floors in his home on the outskirts of downtown Ocala.

Besides oils, he uses everything from acrylic paint to spray paint to food products when creating his pieces. He strives to exceed expectations with unconventional interpretations of his subjects and will pick up tools other than a paintbrush to apply the elements. Drumsticks and other odds and ends have played supporting roles.

“I will paint or draw on just about anything I can,” Fort writes in his artist statement. “Whether canvas, paper, plywood, doors, walls, plastic, room dividers, etc., if it can be painted, I am happy to take on the task.”

Fort said that he enjoys painting both on a large scale and what he calls “the smalls,” affordable miniature works. He’s painted murals and photo backdrops for Silver Springs State Park, too.

Besides the Sunshine State’s theme parks, races and other tourist attractions, the real Florida, Fort insisted, can be found doing outdoor aquatic sports.

“I go into the springs and creeks because I like to hunt for sharks’ teeth,” he said.

There’s more than aquatic tranquility to Fort’s works. Every bit as eclectic as his homestate, Fort doesn’t box himself in genre-wise.

Fort makes it easy to buy his works. He doesn’t price his pieces too high and doesn’t rely on his art alone for income. To pay the bills, he works at AMI Graphics, helping out with signage for sports franchises and other products, and manages Yamato Japanese Steakhouse in the evenings.

The busy artist sold his first piece when he was 15. “That photograph is hanging in the Marion County Builders Association, right there next to the public library,” Fort said.

“If you go through downtown Ocala, you might see my artwork in Sushi Bistro and in Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, The White Elephant shop and Infinite Ale Works,” he added.

In his painting “Swedish Torment,” Fort depicts a female floating in a milky bath with musicians around her. A photo of a friend lying on a bed inspired the piece. He decided to add some elements to the piece.

“You couldn’t really see much of her body in the photograph, and I said, ‘Well … what if I put you in a bathtub that’s overflowing with a symphony playing around you?’ And she was like, oh, that’s cool. I love it.”

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