Blues and hues: Portraits of famous singers on display

Forty portraits of famous blues figures by Ty the Portrait Guy, including, from left, Robert Johnson, B.B. King and Koko Taylor, can be seen in the exhibit, “Blues Pioneers and their Progeny,” starting tonight at the Thomas Center.

Courtesy of the city of Gainesville
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 3:20 p.m.

It's a tale with the mystique of a Robert Johnson blues song: A talented young folk artist completes 40 illustrations of famous blues figures before disappearing without a trace.


‘Blues Pioneers and their Progeny'

What: Exhibition of blues illustrations features Willie Green and the R. Mutt Blues Band in opening reception

When: Reception 6:30-9:30 p.m. today, music begins at 7:30 p.m. with Willie Green, who will be joined in a second set by the R. Mutt Blues Band; exhibition continues through Sept. 7

Where: Thomas Center, 302 NE Sixth Ave.

Cost: Free

Info: http://www.gvlculturalaffairs.org/

Starting today, however, those portraits by an artist known only as “Ty the Portrait Guy” can be see in the new exhibition “Blues Pioneers and their Progeny” at the Thomas Center.

And as illustrations inspired by classic photographs, they capture some of the music's best-known figures in archetypal poses: Robert Johnson glowering over his six string with a cigarette dangling from his mouth; a magnanimous B.B. King, resplendent in tux and bow tie; and Koko Taylor wailing into a hand-held microphone.

Each of the portraits has been paired with a brief biography of each artist, and visitors who view the exhibit with their smartphones can listen to classic recordings by each artist courtesy of Grooveshark, says Russell Etling, the cultural affairs programs coordinator with the city of Gainesville who conceived and organized for the exhibit.

“I see it as an immersive experience for the audience with art, history and music altogether,” Etling says about the exhibit, which will continue through Sept. 7 in the Thomas Center's Mezzanine Gallery.

“But the goal to me is not so much a comprehensive [history] of the blues, which is a whole other subject. It's really to inspire people to dig deeper into the history of the blues, to access the amazing catalog of recordings that exist of the last century-plus of blues work.”

To jumpstart the exhibit, tonight's opening reception will feature a 7:30 performance by Ocala bluesman Willie Green, who will be joined in a second set by the R. Mutt Blues Band, the Gainesville group that has backed Green in a number of local appearances. Green, by the way, is depicted in the exhibition by two illustrations: a painting by artist Robert Ponzio, and a digitally colorized photo by Glenn Hastings.

“The whole thing is about the immersive experience of art and music coming together,” Etling says about tonight's reception, which runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

And then there's the whole mystique behind the artist who created most of the illustrations. Etling says he was researching folk art on the Internet when he came across Ty the Portrait Guy's illustrations, which were featured in a folk-art gallery in Osceola, Ind.

The folk artist had met the couple that owns the gallery and was encouraged by the couple to start doing portraits. “And he went through this amazing period of portraits, primarily of blues musicians and musicians that were influenced by the blues,” Etling says.

“He has since disappeared. They've never been able to get back in touch with him. But they had bought his portraits from him, and that's how they came to be.”

Etling says he fell in love with them, and acquired them for the city of Gainesville, which is featuring them for the first time locally in the new exhibit.

“I hadn't seen anything like it anywhere else,” Etling says. “And so I secured the portraits for the city, for the gallery, because I felt that they would be an amazing exhibition and an education.

“They're really dynamic and colorful, and make you just want to hear their music,” Etling says.

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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