Local Artist's Coping Mechanism Becomes Art Ovation Exhibition

Arts & Culture

Art Ovation Hotel, 1255 North Palm Avenue, Sarasota, 941-316-0808. Picture courtesy of Lisa DiFranza.

In late March, Lisa Di Franza sensed bad news was coming. As Cultural Curator for Art Ovation Hotel, one of many area hotels hit hard by Covid-19 closures, she heard the murmurs about canceled reservations. “I was on my way home when I got the call,” she says, “but I knew the hotel was taking a hit and I wasn’t a direct guest services employee.” The hotel laid her off as it went into survival mode. “That was my main source of income,” says DiFranza.

But Di Franza, the consummate optimist, wasted no time and started sketching the next day to cope. Then the day after that. By late August, she had amassed 150 sketches in 150 days. “It was just a way of grappling with and processing the craziness of the early days of Covid,” she says. Somewhere along the way, her personal need to get her anxieties on paper became something more, and to commemorate the 150 sketches, she launched a website and codified her daily practice: Sketch-a-Day.

Featuring scenes from around the Manatee River-front where she lives, her series of gouache paintings mark the passage of her time in a bubble that included only her partner. Landscapes of riverfront idyll like in “View from Palmetto Riverside” (pictured above) make frequent appearances with a sort of childlike, crude impressionism capturing the mood of the moment. Other times, she felt compelled to make a statement specific to the pandemic, with masked people seemingly aloof from each other in space and time. “I would just have this sort of abstract response to things going on around me,” she says.

When seen all together, her Sketch-a-Day collection speaks to the natural flow of emotions likely felt by many during the pandemic—the ups and downs, the good days and bad. But the cheer is ever-present in the bright colors and in her commitment to daily practice.

By the time she got to 200 pieces, DiFranza got another call, this time from the senior curator of the hotel. “He said, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ I said, ‘great, let’s hear it.’” The senior curator wanted her to return to the hotel, but not as a curator. This time, DiFranza returns as an artist. A selection of her Sketch-a-Day pieces will comprise an exhibition in the hotel titled “Time Lapse 2020,” in honor of the elasticity of time in its alternating rush and drag during the pandemic.

“I’ve never had the time to do something like this,” she says, “so it’s been an interesting twist to emerge from this crisis—and I fully intend to keep painting and sketching.”

The exhibition opens next Thursday, October 29, and runs through January 18.

Art Ovation Hotel, 1255 North Palm Avenue, Sarasota, 941-316-0808. Picture courtesy of Lisa DiFranza.

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