Completing each other’s picture
Two artists revisit art and find inspiration through a novel collaborative show at the Brick.
Esta Mann & Rich Schleicher
“Mixed Messages,” a collaborative exhibit by Esta Mann and Richard Schleicher, shows us that art can be a fun bonding, creative experience, and a viable way of life at any time of our lives.
Both of the artists exhibiting at the Marion Cultural Alliance’s Brick City Center for the Arts are over 50, transplants from the Northeast and retired from other professions.
Schleicher, 57, a Saint Leo University grad, studied art growing up but veered in a more conventional business direction in college. He sold real estate and managed sales divisions in healthcare facilities. After moving here from the Tampa Bay area, he got involved in the arts community and now serves as a chair of the collection committee at the Appleton Museum of Art.
Mann doesn’t reveal her age but calls herself “ancient.” She was born and raised in Manhattan and attended the Parsons School of Design. Her career has been highlighted by accessories design, and she retired as creative director for Ralph Lauren.
Mann’s first post-retirement foray into fine arts involved pastel work that she exhibited in New York and New Jersey. When she moved to Ocala in 2013, she got involved with the Ocala Figurative Artists group.
“After that, I started painting,” she recalled. “Because I was retired, I had the time to do it. And then I could put all my creativity into that. For many years, I didn’t paint because I put all my creative juices into being a designer and a design director. So, when I retired, I said I have to get back into it.”
A thoroughbred she rescued in New Jersey brought her to Ocala when she retired. She wanted somewhere warm and spacious to provide for her horses and dogs. An encounter two years ago at an illustration class, presented by the Ocala Figurative Artists group, got the ball rolling for her collaboration with Schleicher.
“We met at a sketch group, and we became friends,” Mann said. “I asked him if he was interested in having a show one of these days, and he said, ‘Sure.’ So, we decided to have one in two years, that was in 2020. The timing was perfect because you know, COVID hit. We had to hunker down. So, April 1st is the opening and it (“Mixed Messages”) runs the whole month of April.”
For the 10 years, Schleicher, originally from Cheshire, Connecticut, studied landscape painting at the Cape School of Art in Rhode Island during the summers. Always curious and seeking to evolve in his work, he would ask Mann for advice from time to time.
“I would say we have more in common than not,” he said.
Schleicher started painting again around 20 years ago. “MCA used to do a fundraiser and I was on the board for artists,” Schleicher said. “I was in a fundraising show called “The Artist Within,” which would pair a layperson with an artist, and you’d create something. I worked with Margaret Watts, one of the founders of the Ocala Art Group.”
When Mann looked at Schleicher’s landscapes, she envisioned what it would be like to paint on them.
“It’s interesting because nothing that Rich does is figurative,” Mann explained. “His is all landscapes and still life. I, on the other hand, always say I love to paint and draw things with eyes. I don’t care what it is, but it has to have eyes. So, it’s a nice combination.”
Humor and a variety of moods infuse Schleicher and Mann’s collaborative works to be displayed in Mixed Messages. They also plan to present a talk that will involve young prospective artists.
“I was thinking I’d love to help middle school kids because you know that time is the most difficult, or at least it was for me,” Mann said, adding that she had the opportunity to confront her bullies later on in life and she would like to invite pre-teens to come and listen to a talk and enlist Schleicher to lead some collaborative games.
If you ask the duo, you’ll discover that the collaborative process is fun, which should inspire aspiring artists of all ages.
“It kind of was like let’s try to do something different, and we have,” Schleicher effused. “You can see that we have such different styles. It was fun to put each of our takes on each other’s work, and sometimes we did go back and forth. … We’re very fortunate to do this. We love Ocala. We’ve been very lucky here.”
“Mixed Messages” opens at the Brick City Center for the Arts on April 1. For more information about the show and MCA, visit mcaocala.org.