The Florida Keys are blessed with an abundance of beautiful scenery so it perhaps is no surprise that many artists make their living capturing the splendor of the ocean, its bounty of sea life and the enjoyment people can have on, in and under the water. Artists say they are captivated by the light that shimmers and reflects off the water as well as the numerous mangroves islands.
Three Keys-based maritime and marine artists are David Harrison Wright, Pasta Pantaleo and Tim Borski. The latter two live in Islamorada, the so-called Sportfishing Capital of the World, while Wright lives in Key West.
Wright’s work graces many prestigious locations, among them in the “Ships & Their Stories” exhibit at the Custom House Museum curated by the Key West Maritime Historical Society and Key West Art & Historical Society. Additionally, since he was a child, Wright has created detailed reproductions in miniature of historic vessels and other structures. Wright’s 14-foot-wide replica of historic Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas can be seen for free in the old Thompson Fish House in the Historic Key West Seaport.
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1968, the multi-talented artist pursed various passions including joining the U.S. Coast Guard operating passenger-carrying vessels from 1983 to 1996.
According to Florida Keys Council of the Arts Executive Director Liz Young, ““It was like [Wright] was born in a different time and place. He is a true character. He tells a story with such exuberance that you can’t wait to hear his next story. I love being around him.”
Tim Borski has lived for 25 years in Islamorada. He studied art for a couple years at the University of Wisconsin in Stephens Point, where he was born. But, the allure of fishing made him pack up one bitter winter and head south, and he never looked back. Soon, he was a caretaker for a homestead at the base of Channel Five Bridge on Craig Key, an historic manmade spit of land created during the Flagler railroad days. Borski’s art became a popular prize for winners of Islamorada fishing tournaments, including the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series which benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. For years, art enabled Borski to earn a living while leaving time for his other passion, backcountry fishing.
Named the International Gamefish Association Artist of the Year in 2015 and the Miami Sportfish Artist in 2017, Borski loves all things natural, especially birds, reptiles, butterflies and moths. His “critter” knowledge is as encyclopedic as his fishing prowess, which comes in handy when commissioned to paint a spoonbill, sailfish, bonefish, tarpon, snake or any other creature that swims, slithers or flies.
Pasta Pantaleo has made his home in the Keys for nearly two decades. He saw the sea as an escape from dismal urban life in New York, and in 1970, he was instrumental in convincing his family to migrate to South Florida, the perennial land of sun and fun. By the late seventies, Pantaleo had become a world-class airbrush artist who custom painted vehicles of all kinds for eccentric characters who enjoyed the Miami Vice lifestyle.
In 2001, one of his marine artworks was used as commemorative fishing tournament poster and T-shirt design for the Pompano Beach Mercury/Sea Vee Saltwater Slam. “Reel Life Art” was born as the phone began to ring with requests to learn about the new marine artist who had created it.
In Islamorada, Pasta’s gallery on the Old Highway at mile marker 81.5 has helped enliven the Morada Way Arts District which hosts monthly Third Thursday art walks, which are free and open to the public.
Many more talented artists showcase their talents at those Art Walks and in Keys galleries, so come on down to explore maritime and marine art in the Florida Keys.