Ocala artist finds opportunity, parallels in Middle East
Seth Benzel describes his artwork, “Cala Cortina,” a 48 x 36 inch mixed media on wood, offered for sale for $4,000 at the Reilly Arts Center in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, July 29, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Then, last September, Benzel accepted the position of assistant horse trainer for Jebel Ali Stable in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Just a few weeks into the new job, the owner called him into his office. Sheik Ahmed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum recognized his artistic talent and offered Benzel his dream opportunity: Assistant horse trainer/art curator.
“It just so happens that those same people are involved with the arts, and now, literally for the same employer, I’m working with horses and art,” Benzel said. “I couldn’t map out a more perfect job to have. Throughout my life, I’ve always had to make concessions in one or the other. I’ve had to say I’m in horses now, and my art’s going to suffer. Or I’m in art, and I’m going to lose touch with the horse game. Now, somebody understands and appreciates me for both of the things I do. It gives me goosebumps.”
When he was offered the trainer position, Benzel had spent 2 1/2 years working full time as an artist, opening 8th Ave. Gallery in Ocala in 2019.His duties as art curator for A.R.M. Holding include advising Al Maktoum on acquisitions for his art collection. He also formed an art residency with the Jumeriah Creekside Hotel, which owns one of the largest collections of artwork in Dubai.
“The local talent in Dubai is fantastic, but I just feel like if they open up to international artists, overnight it will become more of an international scene,” he explained, adding that it’s very similar to what he’s trying to do in Ocala.
Through 8th Ave. Gallery and his Artsy website, Benzel represents seven other international artists.
Currently, 25 of Benzel’s art pieces are on exhibit at Ocala’s Reilly Arts Center for the next year. The diverse collection includes “Cala Cortina” from his Spain series and several pieces from his Dubai series, as well as “Unspoken,” a COVID-inspired piece he created last year.
“What I think is interesting is I’m connecting Dubai and Ocala. They both have these two things: They’re really at a high level in horses, and I think both are coming up and growing in art as well. I don’t think it matters, necessarily, whether it’s a small city or international city attention to art and the expression and growth of art are important to both. And we can enjoy this process. We can enjoy the sharing of ideas. Even in the time since I opened the gallery in 2019, I’ve seen such an explosion here in Ocala of the arts in different ways, so many talented people. I think it’s really exciting. What I am trying to do is take the philosophies of the gallery here and bring them to Dubai.”