ANNA MARIA -- Pops of color fill the insides of The Studio at Gulf and Pine. Wildly different scenes take place within each canvas -- from a raucous party with slanted martini glasses to mixed media portraits of the late actresses Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow.
The works of whimsical art collectively make up "Fernando: A World of Fun-Tasy," an exhibit which opened this past Thursday at the art facility, 10101 Gulf Drive in the city of Anna Maria. The artist behind the exhibit is Fernando Soler, a Cuban-born artist who resides in Whitfield Estates.
"I'm thrilled," said the 67-year-old about having 54 of his pieces shown at The Studio. "I want people to see what I do, because it is different."
Soler, who owns sign shop
"Sign Language of Sarasota," began his career as a sign painter's apprentice at 17. The years of paint strokes have helped him greatly in his current work, he said.
The artist spoke passionately about his art in a recent interview. Many times, he said he begins a painting he begins with an idea, which develops. And develops. And develops.
After a painting is completed, it is usually placed in a storage room until Soler is ready to retrieve it for another look. According to the artist, the individual pieces "talk."
And they're not decorative.
"A lot of people will buy a condo and want a decorative painting for a wall. My paintings are not decoration -- they are messages," he said. "A person has to fall in love with my paintings because they're not going to fit the drapes or the couch. My paintings are like people -- they all have a personality."
Tommy Fagen, co-manager of The Studio at Gulf and Pine, stared at one of Soler's paintings on Friday afternoon.
"His artwork has really stuck out to me," said Fagen, who met Soler when the artist swung by the venue for another exhibit. "Every one of his paintings that you look at, it has so much fun. That's what he's about."
In one painting, a cock-eyed golden retriever dances with his female counterpart. Titled "I love disco," the mustard-colored dog depicted is actually one of Soler's longtime friends, caricature artist Michael Wory.
"I watched him dance at Marina Jacks one night. He's older than me, and he's up there dancing like a maniac!" Soler said with a laugh. "I thought, 'Man, I gotta do a painting of this guy.' "
Another piece titled "Heart Breakers" features four women -- a redhead, brunette, and two blondes. Each has a distinct look. The redhead, dressed in a short patterned top bearing her midriff, is posed with her left hand on her hip. A sparkly tiara sits on the head of one of the blondes. The brunette in the back stares into the distance with a serious look on her face.
After he was done, Soler said he realized he had just painted his four ex-wives.
"Artists ... we get married a lot. We live life," he said. "They are beautiful, crazy women that I've been married to, and it just came out in a painting."
Despite having four failed marriages, Soler feels great.
"Everything has good and bad -- and everything has its time," he said. "I've always enjoyed wherever I was at the time. I have fond memories of all these women."
As a whole, Soler said there's a lot of humor in the "Fun-Tasy" exhibit.
"Every painting has something funny going on, because I'm a humorous kind of guy. You know Cubans, they like to have fun," he said. "It's all about fun."
Furthermore, Soler said there isn't enough humor these days.
"There's a lot of problems in the world. I don't want that. I don't want doom and gloom," he said. "I want to cheer people up. I want them to have a good time when they see my work. ... I want them to leave happy."
Soler's "Fun-Tasy" exhibit runs through May 29. The opening reception takes place at 6 p.m. May 2 at The Studio at Gulf and Pine. For more information, visit www.thestudioatgulfandpine.com.
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.