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Free and true to themselves: Art and insights from older artists in Ocala exhibit

Cindy Vener of The Villages is one of 35 artists participating in "Art of Aging: The Secret of Life" at Brick City Center for the Arts in Ocala. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News
Cindy Vener of The Villages is one of 35 artists participating in "Art of Aging: The Secret of Life" at Brick City Center for the Arts in Ocala. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News

What happens as artists age? Some find new freedom and become more true to themselves.

The work of older artists is on display this  month in an exhibit at Brick City Center for the Arts in Ocala. It opens with a reception beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5.

The Marion Cultural Alliance’s "Art of Aging: The Secret of Life" runs through August 27th. The exhibit includes 35 artists and works ranging from quilts and sculpture to paintings and photography.

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Preparations were underway for "Art of Aging: The Secret of Life" at Brick City Center for the Arts. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News[/caption]

Earlier this week, the gallery had been stripped bare, and new paintings -- a few already hanging and others lined up against the far wall -- are going up for the Art of Aging exhibit.

As you look around at the paintings," Marion Cultural Alliance Executive Director Jaye Baillie said, "you can see lots of different interpretations, everything from the crackling on the skin of this beautiful lady here to symbolize that getting old is still beautiful  to the beautiful abstract landscapes. You know, that to me is the secret of life, to be able to gaze into that painting and have your imagination fly."

It's the fifth year that MCA has teamed up with Marion Senior Services on this exhibit featuring art from local artists 55 and older. 

"We have a lot of folks that are embracing aging in multiple different ways, and art is one of them," Marion Senior Services Executive Director Jennifer Martinez said. "We encourage folks to stay engaged on every level, physically, spiritually, emotionally, religiously and every aspect. And this exhibit celebrates that."

Artist perspectives

But how has making art changed for these older artists?

One large painting faces us -- pale trees standing against blue land and sky and a gray mist. It's "Out of the Fog" by 71-year-old Ronda Richley. 

"It was  a place in my life where I was coming out of a fog of not knowing what I was going to create," Richley said.

She has made all sorts of visual art for more than 45 years, in Los Angeles, Orlando and now Ocala.

"Now my art is a little bit different because I'm not so much interested in making a living with my art anymore as just exploring all different avenues that art can offer me,"Richley said.

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Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News[/caption]

She says the hard part as you age is staying fresh when you've done it all. She's worked with glass-tile mosaics, ceramics, painting of various sorts, print-making, and now she has a loom to her studio.

"They do say that a true artist -- artists don't mature until about the age of 80," Richley said. "So I've got a little ways to go yet. When I can combine all the media that I enjoy doing and figure out how I'm going to do that and make a statement with each of them equally, then I'll know I've matured."

Sixty-six-year-old artist Cindy Vener is a good friend of Richley's. As you enter Vener's home in The Villages, you'll see a painting of trees by Richley hanging near the front door.

Vener's work is in the exhibit, too.

"My style has changed," Vener said. "I used to be much more of a realist and now I am much more of an impressionist or an abstract painter. So I do landscapes that are more what I call abstract landscapes."

Retirement gave Vener more time for her art. She says it's a business, but not work.

"As long as I enjoy it and I'm happy doing it," she said. "I think it does free you up to just kind of think about the art itself."

Vener also teaches art. The secret is  "just to be free with it" and try new things, she said.  "It's an evolving process. And I think you have to just sort of give yourself the liberty to play around with it and not worry about what other people think. And I think you as you get older in many ways that's how you end up being as a person in general. It's you care less about what people think."

A secret of art, yes, and a secret of life as we grow older.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.