In the heart of historic downtown, Venice’s newly opened Art Escape Gallery is a partnership between three artists, Joanne McLaren, Susan Inglese, and Sheila Sullivan, that began in part over morning conversations at the Sarasota National dog park.
“Our dogs would meet everyday, loved to play, and became best friends,” explains Joanne. “Susan and I would talk and we discovered we had a mutual passion for art. We started teaching in our Sarasota National community, and soon we met Sheila. We realized we shared a dream, and before long we started looking for a space for a gallery. We wanted to focus on showing excellent local artists, as well as our own art, and we wanted to teach. This space became available and the rest is history.”
Art Escape Gallery opened last August. The gallery’s spacious front area shows the work of over 30 local artists, and a well-appointed back room offers space for classes, special events and can be rented by the public. Art Escape Gallery features only original, local artwork, carefully chosen and curated by Joanne, Susan and Sheila.
“That we would show original art was very important to us,” explains Joanne. “We want people to know that whatever they are looking for, no matter how large or small, we are a resource. We can help you find what you need through our network of local artists, and work can be created on commission.”
As it grows, Art Escape Gallery hopes to become a regular destination for artists on the gallery route between Sarasota and Naples. Classes of all sorts are offered; beginners are always welcomed and encouraged.
“We like to say, ‘Create, Collect, Let Us Color Your World,’” Joanne says. “Our classes are are all about creativity, escaping, and having fun. Come in, grab a brush and create with us!”
206 Miami Ave. W, 941.218.0054. ArtEscapeGallery.net
Joanne McLaren originally hails from Princeton, New Jersey, and came to Venice three and a half years ago. Her artistic career began at age ten and saw took her all the way to coursework at Mason Gross School of the Arts. She also cultivated a talent for business at Ryder University, and embarked on a high-flying ‘road warrior’ career as a business process consultant for Fortune 500 companies, always with art in her heart. Eventually she settled with her husband in rural Griffin, Georgia, and began to paint full-time.
“I really loved my professional career, loved the travel,” Joanne says. “But it was also very high stress and intense, that pressure to deliver. I decided to take a year off. Once I stopped and got out of the fast-paced, never-home world, I realized how much better I felt.”
She threw herself back into her art full-time, and was soon doing festivals and painting on commission.
“Most of what people wanted painted in rural Georgia was cows and pigs and chickens, that sort of thing,” Joanne says and laughs. “So my husband and I moved here to Venice because this whole corridor from Sarasota down to Naples is an art community, lots of artists, lost of instructors. There are festivals, fairs, and galleries. It's a wonderful place for an artist to be.”
Joanne works in acrylic, pastel, and watercolor, and loves teaching.
“I fell in love with plein air,” she says. “I have always been about sky and landscapes. Now I am adding seascapes to that. I’m still getting into palm trees, but I love painting big old oak trees. Anything with a big sky, I’m there!”
Artist Sheila Sullivan made her way to Venice in 2016, with her husband, Jerry. The daughter of the display manager at the largest department store in her native Montana, Sheila inherited her father’s love of design and creation. “My father had 18 windows and a three-story building to do by himself. He won many national awards. I was so proud of him,” Sheila says. At Art Escape Gallery, Sheila’s eye for rhythm and flow in hanging artwork around the space helped lead to an award of her own, a Second Place ‘Most Creative Window’ Award 2019 for the gallery in Venice MainStreet’s Christmas Walk Window Decorating Contest.
Though she loves painting in all mediums and drawing in pen and ink, for the past 25 years, Sheila has truly loved making jewelry. Many of her pieces are shown at the gallery.
“I teach beading and wire wrapping at Art Escape Gallery,” the exuberant and affable Sheila explains. “I was a florist for years and loved doing the arrangements and working to mix textures and colors. I bring all of that to my art.”
Founding Art Escape Gallery with Joanne and Susan came about with the same sort of serendipity and good fortune that has followed Sheila through her life.
“I just want people to come and find us and appreciate everything we are trying to do,” Sheila says. “We have incredible artwork by really talented local people. And we love to teach. One of us is always here; when you come into our gallery, you have a really nice conversation. We are all so happy to be here and it shows!”
Painter Susan Inglese came to Venice via her native New York and then Calabasas, California, where she and her husband spent many years. She paints in watercolor and acrylic because she loves variety in her work. She has a diverse background in fashion merchandising and education that helps inform her own teaching. Now relocated to Florida’s Gulf Coast, Susan and her husband chose Venice as their new home after an extensive internet search.
“I know it sounds funny, but we really did all this research on the internet, all these specific criteria,” the warm and friendly Susan explains. “I wanted to move somewhere artsy and social that was near the water and away from the hustle bustle. He wanted to play golf. Venice just kept popping up and here we are. We couldn’t be happier.”
Her work veers from beaches and landscapes to abstract ‘poured’ art. She loves being a part of Art Escape Gallery and everything she and her partners are offering the community in terms of fine art and teaching.
“I feel fortunate to have met Joanne and Sheila and all the wonderful artists that we show here,” Susan says. “And I love meeting the people who come into the gallery. The response we have had so far has just been excellent, extremely positive. I’m proud that we are showing so many local artists. There is so much talent here!”
206 Miami Ave. W, 941.218.0054. ArtEscapeGallery.net