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HOW JEFF WHIPPLE AND LIZ GIBSON BECAME THE KING AND QUEEN OF THE NORTHEAST FLORIDA ARTS SCENE

Meet Jacksonville’s creative royalty

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Jeff Whipple and Liz Gibson think big. The two Northeast Florida-based artists’ careers are testaments to their large-scale visions, approaching huge ideas and rendering those concepts through their respective multimedia works. I visited them at MetaCusp, their studio-gallery space in Riverside, an extension of that inspiration put into practice. A kind of industrial Camelot, MetaCusp is a two-story warehouse space that serves as a laboratory of sorts where the pair can work in relative peace, immune from outside distraction. Pulling my car into the parking lot, I look up to see a banner hanging on the building, a reproduction of one of Whipple’s colorful paintings that features a couple locked in either fierce battle or playful combat. The front door of the space is surrounded with potted plants, the only telltale sign that this otherwise factory-sized building might have human inhabitants. In the entryway, a large birdcage is set to one side, and paintings occupy every available spot on the walls.

Whipple and Gibson meet me in the studio’s lounge area. Both are wearing shorts and T-shirts, and an oscillating fan is set to full blast to cut through the brutal summer heat. It’s early evening, and they seem a little hangdog from the long hours they’ve worked that day. They’re both instructors at the University of North Florida, and they’re working against the clock to complete gargantuan projects before the start of the fall semester.

If there is a concise definition for the term “working artists,” it is surely this pair. Over the years, they have been recognized individually for the caliber of their work and won numerous awards for their ongoing efforts as visual artists. While some artists might be featured in a dozen solo shows over the course of a lifetime, Whipple has had a staggering 82 solo exhibits since 1980. In addition to his visual art, he’s had 17 original plays produced, five of which received playwriting awards. Whipple has won six state arts council individual artist fellowships, and his website features more than 1,000 pages that document a decades-long career that rivals that of any contemporary artist, here or anywhere.

Gibson is equally driven, and has also been recognized for myriad accomplishments. Known for her fusion of performance and 2-D art, Gibson has been featured in more than two dozen performances and exhibits, as well as site-specific installations. She’s won an array of prizes — in the last year alone she won the locally based Spark Grant and Art Ventures grant — and is active in programs that introduce children to visual art.

Most recently, both received Florida Individual Artist Fellowship awards, perhaps the highest accolade offered by the state’s Division of Cultural Affairs. Handed out bi-annually, the fellowship is akin to a Pulitzer, recognizing artists who continually push the limits and expand on their abilities of personal expression.

Whipple seems grateful for the honor, but brushes it all aside, redirecting the focus to what is really important in their lives. “The fellowship and Liz’s other recent grants just helped us do what we always do: make art,” he says. “We would — and did — do it anyway.”

He then turns to lead me up the metal stairway into their shared studio space.

“Let’s talk about the art.”

[NEXT: “It’s the questions of life and why we are here, where we are going. That’s not all I do, but I think those are big questions.”]

 


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