We recently had the opportunity to interview Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA Artist Chad Jacobs. His diorama Mermaid Star Motel Lobby, is his imagining of what the lobby of a fantastical roadside motel would look like, set in weird, wacky, wonderful Florida.
Hailing from the sunny little peninsula otherwise known as St. Pete, FL, Chad Jacobs knew from a very young age that drawing pretty pictures was something he would like to do for a living. Chad got his humble beginnings drawing Power Rangers on his homework assignments. After earning his BFA in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he now knows to draw his Power Rangers on nice expensive paper. His preferred mediums are Prismacolor Markers, watercolors, and pen & ink. While once vehemently against anything to do with technology, you may even catch him working digitally every now and then. Upon graduating from SCAD, Chad returned to St. Pete and has since worked at a number of local arts organizations including The Florida International Museum, The Dali, American Stage and the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival. He is currently working as a freelance artist and graphic designer at Fairgrounds.
Read on to learn more about what the experience of being part of our inaugural exhibit is like for him!
What do you want the public to take away from experiencing the FLORIDARAMA diorama you have created for Fairgrounds St. Pete?
CHAD JACOBS: I am an extremely detail-oriented person, so one of my primary goals during the creation of my FLORIDARAMA was to make something that people could come view multiple times and notice something different each time. Since immersion is such an integral part of the Fairgrounds St. Pete experience, I wanted to create something as captivating as any of the full-sized rooms and installations, but on a miniature scale.
What about being a part of Fairgrounds St. Pete’s inaugural exhibition is most exciting to you?
CJ: Fairgrounds St. Pete is unlike anything the St. Petersburg area has seen before, and there is a certain level of excitement that comes from contributing to something that helps broaden people’s minds regarding what art can be. Being a FLORIDARAMA artist is particularly thrilling for me as the experience has pushed me into uncharted territory artistically. By working outside the boundaries of my standard art practices, I was able to create something different that feels like an evolution of my artistic sensibilities.
What inspired your Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA?
CJ: At its core, the biggest inspiration behind my FLORIDARAMA, Mermaid Star Motel Lobby, was the Fairgrounds St. Pete narrative. I wanted to create something that both complemented the greater Fairgrounds St. Pete experience while also standing on its own as my unique take on the subject matter. I love horror movies, cryptozoology, and weird legends and lore, so I really wanted to lean into the spookier side of things while also maintaining the colorful facade of what one would typically associate with a beachfront motel.
Stylistically, my FLORIDARAMA was influenced by pop-up books and the painted wooden cutouts one would find at a boardwalk, state fair, or old-school haunted attraction. With the two-tone red and blue lighting, I wanted to evoke the vibrant lighting of something like Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) to create a heightened mood that makes everything look dream-like and slightly unnatural.
What is the most significant influence in your art practice?
CJ: The world of movies and cartoons is a major well I draw inspiration from. I’m particularly inspired by movie poster artists and designers like Drew Struzan, John Alvin, and Saul Bass to name a few. In terms of my art practice, I am constantly trying to grow and develop as an artist, so I try to learn as much as I can about as many things as I can so my drive for creating art doesn’t stagnate.
Besides Fairgrounds St. Pete, do you have an upcoming project you’d like to share?
CJ: I am a freelance artist and designer in my day-to-day life and have a few things in the works that I can’t talk about quite yet, but you can keep up with all of my current projects and updates at @chaddjacobs on Instagram! I recently had a piece on display in the show Rainbow at Mize Gallery, and you’ll be able to check out all of the wonderful things I collaborated on during my time as Fairgrounds St. Pete’s graphic designer once it opens to the public on September 2nd.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
CJ: When I was younger, I had a difficult time with painting. This was a hurdle I made a conscious effort to overcome, but eventually gave up on after one of my high school art teachers told me a painting I made was terrible in front of the entire class during a critique. I took that as confirmation that my skills as a painter weren’t worth trying to improve upon, and actively avoided doing anything that involved paint in any form.
In recent years, despite continuing to refer to myself as a terrible painter, I have forced myself to take on projects that involve painting to help develop my confidence in the medium — the biggest of which being my Floridarama. The prospect of painting all of the little pieces and characters was extremely daunting, yet I can honestly say I am happy with how it turned out. Seeing the finished product made me re-evaluate the importance of that one blunt comment from 15 years ago and realize it might finally be time to drop the “terrible painter” title I’d given myself because of it.
So, if I were to give a piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to take criticism in stride, and don’t let them deter you from trying to hone your skills. No one person has a definitive answer for what is or is not “good,” and you shouldn’t devalue what you are trying to accomplish artistically because of one negative opinion.
What is your favorite FL destination or landmark?
CJ: It’s so appropriate that I found myself involved with Fairgrounds, because my favorite places in Florida are theme parks and attractions that create an immersive, multi-sensory environment. This is such a touristy thing to say, but I really love Orlando (to visit) because it has no shortage of worlds to discover or experiences to be had!