Richard Stravitz injects life into the bronze veins of his painstakingly crafted figurines. In a similar manner, his gallery—the Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Art Gallery—contributes to the artistic livelihood of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, as the area’s largest fine art gallery, a mere mile from the famous Neptune statue.
Enveloped in a coat of teal paint, one cannot miss the two-story building on the border of a friendly neighborhood and a slew of small businesses. Its massive windows entice passersby with select artwork. The 7,000 square foot space is a work of art itself, thoughtfully displaying sculptures and glasswork, paintings and collages, even jewelry—all of which are for sale.
The gallery frequently rotates its featured artists, cycling the most prominent exhibits to maintain relevancy and impartiality. Most importantly is the diversity of their selection. Within the exhibits, every artistic niche is celebrated. One can find Monet-inspired landscapes adjacent to psychedelic still-lifes and life-sized seagulls. Truly, the diversity of the artists’ inspiration and methods can be seen splattered over canvas or carved into sculptures. Virginia and seven-cities natives find a home for their art alongside international artists from Turkey, Italy and Russia.
As stated on the website, the curator and owner, Richard Stravitz, is a Long Islander and former marine who later moved to Virginia. While he used to pursue art in his spare time, once he reached retirement, he developed his relationship with sculpting. His work is now proudly displayed in prestigious settings such as the Supreme Court Building of Virginia and the United States Naval Academy. His work has been recognized and praised by numerous groups, from the International Olympic Committee to The Virginia Beach Boardwalk Art Show.
As his chosen medium is bronze, he is most notable for his proficiency with the ancient Roman “lost wax” technique. According to the gallery’s website, the complicated process begins with a wire and clay model, which is then molded in plaster. A wax figuring is made from the plaster mold and perfected, then finally coated in a sturdy ceramic shell. The wax is melted away to allow molten bronze to be poured into place, hence the name.
Despite the rigidity of bronze, Stravitz’s pieces are wrought with movement. As it states on the website, he is “widely recognized for his distinctive ability to sculpt emotion.” He employs mathematical precision to dissect the angles, proportions and shapes of his model. Entranced and inspired by the powerful movement of athletes and the curvature of the feminine form, his work encompasses many subjects. Within his own gallery, he portrays sensuous belly dancers, contorted yoga poses, ballroom dancing, baseball batters mid-swing, wrestlers just before a tackle, Olympic runners and duetting ice dancers.
By some form of alchemy, he captures his model’s essence and their strain. His little figurines are no longer just artistry, but a carefully crafted science—a study of human anatomy. On the first floor of the gallery, the dancers are often displayed on rotating platforms to enhance their swirling illusion.
On the second floor, the pocket-sized museum is a maze of oddly shaped rooms, sunlight and strategic lighting. Paintings by the same artist are grouped together, but not necessarily with similar work. Within five feet, you could pass by wispy sunsets, a bed of vibrant vegetables and sultry portraits composed from a mosaic of recycled junk mail. As the art ranges so drastically, from political statements to stoic looking zebras, the collections are always paired with the artist’s biography. The aspect of surprise is always present and talent is emblazoned on every wall, even in the hallways on the way to the restroom.
An artist himself, Thom Drinkard is a friendly and knowledgeable employee of the gallery. He found his footing as a medical illustrator, creating art for anatomy and medical textbooks, once he had participated in some of Virginia’s prestigious artistic programs. Drinkard was more than happy to provide a thorough private tour, with humorous insights and facts not available on the website. He coined his favorite room the liquor room—a series of hyper realistic paintings of bottles and cocktails that could easily be mistaken for photographs.
Overall, the Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Art Gallery is an unmistakable treasure. More intimate than the Chrysler Museum and more diverse than the VA MOCA, it is well worth the eighteen minute drive from campus.
By Sasha Saxon