We recently had the opportunity to interview Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA Artist Jonathan Schork. Their diorama The Vermin Bar & Grill, is sure to leave viewers bugging out!
Born and raised in NY’s Catskill Mountains, Jonathan Schork came to Tampa Bay via a long excursion in a solar house in the Florida Keys. Co-founder of The Schork-Munsell Studios in 1998 with their late wife, Mary Cooke Hoeft, Schork has experience not only with their work in studios, both private and public, but also as a gallery owner/operator and a producer of public expositions. Though their stray cat passed away in February of 2020, Schork continues to share their quirky house with their mum and a stray girl. “Vermin” is their first project for Fairgrounds St. Pete.
Read on to learn more about what the experience of being part of our inaugural exhibit is like for them!
What do you want the public to take away from experiencing the FLORIDARAMA diorama you have created for Fairgrounds St. Pete?
JONATHAN SCHORK: My aspiration with this piece, The Vermin Bar & Grill, is really just to amuse people; I regard it as the Florida pest insect equivalent of the “Dogs Playing Poker” series of images from decades ago.
What about being a part of Fairgrounds St. Pete’s inaugural exhibition is most exciting to you?
JS: Oh, just the pleasure of being invited to participate. It’s always nice to be asked to the party.
What or what inspired your Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA?
JS: I’ve lived in Florida a few decades now; long enough to have first-hand experience with all of our vile insect neighbors. (As well as the magnificent ones!) Having a deep appreciation for the architecture and biology of insects (even the vile ones) since I was a little boy, and a rather pessimistic view of “Florida Man” (and “Woman”), with all their troubles and vices, it occurred to me it might be quite amusing to blend the pest insects with the human vices for a sort of cheeky send-up of Florida—and that seemed to fit somewhere within the parameters of Fairgrounds St. Pete’s theme.
Who or what is the most significant influence in your art practice?
JS: My biggest influences in my artistic ventures are all from the classics. A lifelong classicist (and, I’m afraid, an unabashed elitist), I put great currency in the men and women who used their minds and arts not just to express themselves, but to explore the world around them and try to discover essential truths. Leonardo DaVinci was the apotheosis of the “Renaissance Man”, a compelling antithesis of “Florida Man”.
Besides Fairgrounds St. Pete, do you have an upcoming project you’d like to share?
JS: There are several exciting projects on my horizon! I have a monumental sculpture commission in New York: The Alice Garden ii: Catskill Bouquet, a 3-D mural of giant flowers mounted on the side of a building. I have a collection of neo-neo-classical poetry, The Chambered Nautilus, as well as a collection of short videos featuring several of the poems, coming out in December. I’m collaborating with a French bio-lab on a multi-generational mouse study to explore the long-term effects of zero-G on mammalian morphology and genetics for the International Space Station. And I continue to apply myself to the eclectic renovation of my formerly condemned house and studios. There’s more, of course, but those are my most prominent professional undertakings at present.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
JS: I gave my younger self advice decades ago, and it hasn’t changed: be honest, live simply, try to say “yes” when opportunity knocks, take care of the people who take care of you and remember that there’s usually someone worse-off than yourself, so “no self-pity… ever”.
What is your favorite FL destination or landmark?
JS: I’ve been around the state a little; probably not enough to make any grand pronouncements of superlatives. But, as much as I loved my house in the Keys, the reef, the Dry Tortugas, my time in Miami Beach, my former studio in Gulfport, the natural springs, The Sunken Gardens and the Selby Botanical Gardens, the place that always excites my memories (and to which I’ve been many times with many different people) is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens outside of Miami. That place is such a perfect marriage of my love of architecture, antiques and gardens that it actually featured prominently as a location in a film I failed to produce in 2008. What a bit of paradise that place always seems to me! (By the way, you can still find mosquitos, biting midges, and palmetto bugs there…)