It would be a challenge to walk a single block in Saint Petersburg, Florida without stumbling into some form of art. The vibrant city has been steadily making its way into the national consciousness of art makers and lovers alike. Once known as God's Waiting Room, it is now not only known for its top-rated beaches but well on its way to becoming a premier art destination.
While there are plenty of note-worthy high-end galleries, some of the best art around town can also be found at unconventional spaces, such as The Bends, a self-proclaimed dive bar located at 919 1st Avenue North. The Bends (and many other St. Pete bars and eateries) is well known for its commitment to the local arts community, hosting monthly shows in addition to live performances.
At this very moment, the walls at The Bends are bursting with color (particularly red), religious symbolism and a very quirky ode to gluttony and other vices. If I were you, I would find the time to make my way over to Devils and Bar Food, which opened on January 8th and runs through February 3rd, 2016. It features works by Jake Troyli, a skilled young artist with a knack for fun and fresh visual commentary.
John Gascot: You mention in your bio that you're the son of a "natural born artist". Are you referring to your father or mother? What type of art did they create?
Jake Troyli: The natural born artist is my mom. She creates these beautiful charcoal figure drawings. She's not trained or anything, she's just naturally super gifted. Like she would randomly attend classes at the Morean arts center and the instructors would be blown away. It's pretty dope.
JG: You also say that you have been drawing since birth. For mom's sake I'm going to assume that's an exaggeration, but what's the first thing you remember drawing?
JT: It's funny because I really have been drawing and doodling since I can remember, but there is a specific instance that immediately comes to mind. In sixth grade I started drawing these little sex scenes and selling them to my classmates. I got caught, the teacher looked at them in front of the class and made a scene, and he called home and told my mom. It was super traumatic. But honestly in hindsight Its one of my greatest achievements. I was selling hand drawn porn in middle school! Who can say that? The best part was my mom wasn't even mad, because the teacher told her the drawings were "pretty good." I think that was the day I became an artist.
JG: You've been a St. Pete resident since 9. How has growing up here influenced your work?
JT: Man, I've had a lot of incredible influence here. My mom used to take me to the arts center when she would do live modeling, so I was exposed very early on. I learned quickly to see the human body as something beautiful, and look at things through a pretty creative lens. Other than that, Bob Devin Jones at the Studio@620 has been an incredible creative mentor to me, he's actually the man who gave me my first solo show. And my high school art teacher, Sal Gulino, was extraordinarily supportive to me in those formative high school years, and still pushes me and keeps a close eye on my artistic growth. It was important for me to look up to male artists, so I couldn't be more thankful. Saint Pete is a great place for a young artist, because we have so many talented and motivated creators right here at our fingertips.
JG: There's no denying there is a very tongue-in-cheek vibe to the work in your current show Devils and Bar Food. How did the concept come about?
JT: I really love satire and using my work to address things I think are important(or funny). In this case I was making fun of how our society becomes obsessed with things and ideas so much so that they almost become objects of worship. Especially food. So I used pretty widely recognized religious icons and symbols and paired them with some of my personal favorite things to eat. But at the same time I just love food, and painting it was so much fun. Have you ever painted bacon before? You should try it. It's a good time.
JG: Why so many devils?
JT: I use the devils as symbols in my work. they represent vices, hidden secrets, etc. We are so caught up with trying to portray this glamorous ideal of who we are and what our lives are like, when in reality we all have our demons. And those demons all happen to have incredible bone structure (or at least they do in my paintings). I also love painting with red, and I think its funny to paint little devil nipples.
JG: There are a lot of boobs in your self portrait. I mean...a LOT. I love painting boobs as much as the next artist, but what's up with that?
JT: That piece makes me laugh. It's all about irony. When we have it all, we get tired of it. So I figured the only real way to express this unwanted excess was with an ocean of boobs, and combine that with the incredibly underwhelmed face I painted on my underwear-clad self. I also really liked turning myself into a caricature. And again, I love to paint nipples.
JG: My personal favorite piece from your series is Worshiping the Porcelain God. Is it based on actual events?
JT: Yes! I love that piece, too. Its actually a great story. I was out with my girlfriend celebrating her birthday with some friends, and she got hammered drunk. I called an Uber and we went back to my apartment, where she passed out in some bushes before I carried her inside. As soon as we got in she took her shirt off, threw herself in the bathroom and slumped over on the toilet. Being the loving, caring man that I am, I had no choice but to take a picture. Worshipping the Porcelain God is that picture, the only thing I changed was turning her into a devil.
JG: What's on your easel right now?
JT: I'm actually working on a couple things, but mainly I'm starting a new series. It's called "The American Dream," and it was inspired by my devil family portrait piece in the "Devils and Bar Food" series. I'm taking these vintage american family pictures (think better homes and gardens) and replacing the figures with devils in the same iconic clothing and scenarios. It's exploring this idea of the "perfect" life, with white picket fences and color TVs and shit, and the secrets that lie underneath the facade, so close to the surface.I'm planning on putting lots of small details in every piece, so viewers have hidden gems to look for. I'm really excited about it.
JG: One more question: What's your favorite bar food?
JT: Tacos man, for sure. Not even close. I think I've been drunk and ACTUALLY prayed to a taco before. And I'll probably do it again.
The Bends is located at 919 1st Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33705 and open Tuesdays through Sundays 5pm-3am.
Be sure to follow Jake Troyli on Instagram.