Key West is an artist’s utopia. Vibrant colors, stunning landscapes, dynamic wildlife and a culture that embraces art in all its incarnations are just a few of the infinite reasons why creators of all types flock to the island seeking inspiration. And though you can hardly walk a block down Duval Street without stumbling over an artisan peddling crafts streetside, there also are several formal galleries curated to please even the most discerning of collectors. And before you ask, they are all very well air-conditioned.
Alan S. Maltz Gallery
For Alan Maltz, “a camera is as much an artist’s tool as a painter’s palette, potter’s wheel, or a sculptor’s chisel.” At the Alan S. Maltz Gallery (1210 Duval St.; 305-294-0005), Mr. Maltz — who has been designated the “Official Wildlife and Fine Art Photographer for the State of Florida” by VISIT FLORIDA and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida — has been selling his stunning photographs for nearly 20 years. A fixture at the gallery, Mr. Maltz is passionate about the natural beauty that surrounds us, which is reflected in the subject matter he chooses to portray. “As an artist, I want to share a poetic interpretation of the beauty and mystique that surrounds us,” he says. “In presenting the familiar at the most ideal, I reveal the fanciful as everyday occurrence. At best, I think my images open a door of perception that leads the viewer to see the world with new eyes.”
De La Gallery
The peaceful De La Gallery (419 Duval St.; 305-395-2210) is an artistic oasis in the middle of bustling Duval Street. Showcasing the photography of Jorge de la Torriente and the masterful framing of Jeffrey Rodriguez, De La Gallery’s offerings are geared towards both new and seasoned collectors of one-of-a-kind, museum-quality, large format fine photography with emotional resonance. Through Mr. de la Torriente’s camera lens, coastal and seaside landscapes of Florida and the Caribbean are truly transformed into works of art. Whether your taste skews towards panoramics, aerials, seascapes or soothing black and whites, De La Gallery has something for your particular photographic palate. And because Mr. de la Torriente runs the gallery himself, collectors get a highly customized buying experience directly from the artist.
Gallery on Greene
Under the helm of the visionary Nance Frank, the Gallery on Greene (606 Greene St.; 305-304-2323) is perhaps the most highly curated, stylistically diverse gallery in Key West. A true innovator in her own right, Ms. Frank had the incredible foresight to mine Cuba’s vibrant art scene as a means to connect Key West’s deep Cuban tradition to its roots before Cuban tourism was even possible, let alone trendy, for American citizens. Perhaps the most lasting mark that Ms. Frank has imprinted on Key West’s art history is her passion for self-taught Cuban-American folk artist Mario Sanchez, a man who has been called the most important 20th century artist of his kind. The bulk of Mr. Sanchez’s pieces are bas relief wood intaglios, typically depicting vibrantly colored scenes of everyday life in Key West and rendering immortal the Cuban cultural heritage of Key West in the early 20th century. The Gallery on Greene is committed to representing the distinctive Key West artistic style, packed wall to wall with pieces from “some of the most talented artists within 100 miles, like Peter Vey, Mario Sanchez, Suzie DePoo, Jeff MacNelly and many artists from Cuba,” Ms. Frank says.
Guild Hall Gallery
Located right on Duval Street, Guild Hall (614 Duval St.; 305-296-6076) was established in 1976 as a co-op for 27 artists. It is the oldest art gallery on Duval and exists today in its original location right in the heart of downtown Key West. Guild Hall, staying true to its original dream, provides affordable spaces for local artists to display their work and expand their creative potential. And because works from artists of all types are on display, the gallery features works of many media including stained glass, watercolor painting and sculpture. Guild Hall is open every day from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and offers shoppers an authentic piece of Key West to take home.
After 30 years in Key West, Harrison Gallery (825 White St.; 305-294-0609) has become a local institution known as much for its über-creative proprietors, Helen and Ben Harrison, as for the eclectic contemporary works of art exhibited inside its walls. Both Harrisons are renaissance artists in their own right — Helen sculpts in a variety of media, while Ben writes and performs both music and literature. They run their airy, well-lit space on White Street as a gallery/studio — Helen can often be found out back, working on one of her modernist sculptures, while Ben pens his latest novel or album nearby. Both deeply prolific artists, they have nevertheless found time to curate shows for over 130 artists over the course of their long career in Key West.
A more recent addition to the Key West gallery scene, Jag Gallery (1075 Duval St., Space C23; 305-294-0609) is like a super cool younger sibling who somehow has clout and cred way beyond her years. Jag’s roster of artists includes some of the most heavy-hitting names in Key West art — John Martini, Carol Munder, Susan Sugar, AD Tinkham, Rick Worth — but the gallery itself has none of the pretention you would expect from such an elite collection. The mix is contemporary and eclectic, a reflection of the island.
Key West Pottery
If you’re looking for a hyper-authentic artistic experience that puts the consumer in direct contact with the creator, Key West Pottery (1203 Duval St.; 305-900-8303) will tick all of the boxes on your wish list.
Owned by the husband-and-wife duo of Kelly Lever and Adam Russell, Key West Pottery is a working pottery studio slash art gallery that is dedicated to showcasing the meaningful connection between man and nature.
“The special thing about Key West Pottery is that we are a working studio nestled inside the fine art gallery experience,” explains co-owner Mr. Russell. “There’s been a turn toward this kind of self-representation for artists over the last number of years — maybe as a reaction to the rapidly changing marketplace, or maybe it’s actually a step back toward something more traditional. Either way, we have had a lot of success because we can show people the magic of creating something from nothing, not just as an artifact of some hidden studio — it’s happening right here in front of you. Ultimately, it’s probably more work to do it this way, but we’ve had the good fortune of becoming well known for it and we have fallen in love with this business model at the same time. After a recent expansion, our view of the future is pretty optimistic. We’re hoping to continue expanding in not only physical size but in breadth of the materials, artists and cities we work with as well. There are lots of good things ahead for Key West Pottery and the Key West creative community in general!”
Salt Island Provisions
In the interest of full disclosure, your Jill-of-all-trades local journalist (i.e. the author of this very article about Key West’s gallery scene) is the owner of Salt Island Provisions (830 Fleming St.; 305-517-6088), a precious boutique-cum-gallery with an obsessive focus on celebrating local artists and artisans. Unlike many of the other galleries featured in this piece, Salt rotates exhibits on a monthly basis, which allows maximum exposure for as many local artists as possible over the course of a year. Exhibits also vary in medium and genre from month to month, featuring everything from abstract oil paintings to underwater photography to mixed-media sculptures.
Stone Soup Gallery & Frame Shop
Now in its 17th year, Stone Soup Gallery (802 White St.; 305-296-2080) has become a one-stop-shop for people looking to fill their lives with beautiful artwork at reasonable prices. Owner Melissa Trader is committed to showing one-of-a-kind art she is passionate about, presented in a space that is as comfortable and unpretentious as your living room. In addition to featuring artwork by local artists like Amanda Johnson, J.H. Allen, Will Fernandez and Chuck Seamen, Stone Soup also has an extensive framing, canvas stretching and fine art printing outfit. Though, like most Key West spaces, her physical gallery and workshop are small, Ms. Trader has managed to grow her business to enormous proportions — partly because she keeps the artwork as affordable as she can in the competitive Key West market.
So much of what the average visitor associates with Key West is ephemeral — frozen drinks melting in the blazing summer heat, breathtaking sunsets disappearing nightly below the horizon, Fantasy Fest body paint dissolving on a rainy day — so maybe that last one isn’t as pleasant to imagine as the first two, but at least the image is fleeting. And though the most you can hope to retain of that daiquiri at dusk is a beautiful memory (depending on how many daiquiris you’ve had, that is), any one of the art galleries mentioned above would be more than happy to ensure that you go home with more than just a hangover and a sunburn. ¦