GULFSHORE LIFE: Voices And Icons

GARRET WOODWARD
GARRET WOODWARD
published on September 21, 2021

The Musician: Ben Allen

In the past, country singer Ben Allen, the frontman of the Ben Allen Group and one of the brightest stars in the local music scene, had applied to go on NBC’s singing competition show The Voice several times, but nothing had come of it. About two years ago, while scrolling through his phone, he came across the number of the show’s casting director, whom he had interacted with during a previous audition. Allen wasn’t sure the casting director would even remember him, but Allen figured he had nothing to lose and made the call.

Three days later, Allen found himself in North Carolina auditioning for the show. He made the cut and was soon on a plane to Los Angeles to begin filming. The sights and sounds of Hollywood are a far cry from the starting line for Allen, who grew up in rural East Tennessee. As a kid, he participated in choir, but didn’t start taking music seriously until his early 30s. In 2009, he relocated to Florida, where he worked for the Collier County Water Distribution Department. He started playing at bars and open mic nights around town. “Something clicked inside of me—I wanted to be a performer,” he says.

Although Allen didn’t end up with The Voice crown, he was a semifinalist amid fierce competition. He also benefited from coaching by Blake Shelton, one of the show’s judges and a hero of Allen’s—both personally and professionally. “His personality is so magnetic. He comes across as very honest and real, which means something to me,” Allen says. “Country is about music that speaks to people—there’s a lot of truth in the songs.”

Whether it be gigs around the corner on a neighborhood stage or private affairs for fans, Allen offers a unique brand of modern country music: He possesses that classic vibrato similar to Ronnie Dunn and Craig Morgan, as well as a country twang akin to Randy Houser and Hank Williams Jr.

Since his time on NBC, Allen has been constantly told to pack his bags and guitar, and head for the bright lights of Nashville. But Allen has already done the “Nashville thing,” living and working just north of Music City for a period before moving to Florida. Being in his 40s while his music career is taking off also allows him some wisdom in his perspective and the opportunity to open Ben Allen’s Backyard Grill & Pub in North Naples.

“You know, I grew up in a small-town, blue-collar mentality. And down here? It’s still a small town, but it’s more that there is no collar color,” he says. “You throw the collar away because you’re having a good time, you’re enjoying a lifestyle—and I want to help with that through my music.” —Garret K. Woodward

The Gallerist: Chad Jensen

When Chad Jensen moved to Naples in 2004, the then 26-year-old creative, who had recently transplanted from Detroit, felt wholly out of place. Long-haired and casually dressed among suit-and-tie-clad crowds, he was usually the youngest attendee at any given art gathering. His inclination toward contemporary art also stood in stark contrast to the dominant devotion to the Old Masters among local collectors.

Over the past two decades, though, Jensen has seen a shift toward a broader and more current appreciation for art. These days, it’s customary to see different generations of art enthusiasts in one room. Public art initiatives are also taking center stage, and there’s a strong push to foster elevated cultural experiences throughout the region.

At his Naples-based gallery, METHOD & CONCEPT, located inside The Collective, Chad Jensen showcases work from emerging and midcareer artists. (Photos by Brian Tietz)

Jensen has had a lot to do with spurring this shift. After working with the Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild for about nine years, he made a case for launching a satellite project, METHOD & CONCEPT—a contemporary art gallery that doubles as a design studio. Jensen thought the region might be ready to add to its artistic repertoire and embrace newer, expressive forms of contemporary art, which are oftentimes progressive and slightly unorthodox.

He was right. In its ascendance to becoming one of the most respected galleries in Southwest Florida, METHOD & CONCEPT recently relocated to a larger, loftier space in The Collective. Within the gallery, Jensen focuses on emerging and midcareer artists to shine a light on what’s next in the art world. Outside the gallery, his interior design projects are often defined by niche, collectible objects, artisan detailing and convention-defying designs.

Jensen’s view isn’t insular, either. Since arriving in Naples, he has committed himself to advancing the creative culture. In addition to hosting gallery events aimed at making high art approachable, curating shows with Naples Botanical Garden, showing work at Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum and serving as two-term president of the United Arts Council of Collier County in 2016 and 2017 (the youngest person to do so), Jensen also helped establish the Naples Design District.

For many, the formation of the district in 2018 presented a tipping point. The hub, with more than 30 arts and design businesses, has given a place and a face to the local creative scene. “Dare I say it’s given the city a little grit?” he says. “It feels authentic and appropriate. There are so many of us in the district that don’t depend on seasonality, and we want people to feel that design is a year-round lifestyle.” —Nila Do Simon

The Visual Artists: H&R Studio

For 10 years, sculptor Brett F. Harvey and silverpoint artist Lauren Amalia Redding lived the New York-artist lifestyle with long work hours and cramped living quarters. They graduated at the height of the recession, and Redding took odd jobs, once working as a “not very scary” security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harvey worked as a lead installer for Jeff Koons. Redding later joined him there, working on surface refinement projects for the famed artist. They were hitting their stride—the couple had an apartment with studio space, Harvey’s work was getting ink in reputable publications, and Redding was showing at exhibits across the U.S. But she felt unsettled. “We hit a plateau in terms of what we could physically and logistically do,” Redding explains.

Sculptor Brett F. Harvey and silverpoint artist Lauren Amalia Redding formed H&R Studio in Naples in 2018. (Photo by Brian Tietz)

With Redding driving the push, they searched for a growing community. Naples, where she’d grown up until she was 8 years old, checked all the boxes and allowed them to find a large, affordable space where they could both work. “We felt we could actually create and experiment more in a booming area like Southwest Florida,” Redding says.

In late 2018, after relocating to Naples from Queens, New York, they formed H&R Studio in a 1,800-square-foot space on Radio Road. Their works draw on ancient techniques and classic tools to reflect on the contemporary world. Harvey is the sculptor, and his workshop, which has room for two welders and a drill press, provides ample space to create small-and large-scale pieces. Redding’s primary discipline is drawing. She works with a pre-Renaissance technique called silverpoint, using a stylus with a fine tip of silver wire to make scratch-like marks on a prepared surface of rabbit skin glue and zinc oxide (a delicate mixture that she painstakingly gessoes onto a panel). On a web page or in print, you could mistake the renderings for pencil drawings. But in person, the silver hue—which evolves and tarnishes with time—is unmistakable.

While figurative art is timeless—the couple define it as artwork that depicts the human form in response to the world around it and isn’t beholden to a specific style, school or time—it hasn’t been as prevalent in the last half-century as abstract art has taken center stage. However, the couple notes a resurgence for figurative art and they look to grow its presence in Southwest Florida through exhibits and workshops that cover painting, sculpture and silverpoint drawing. “Even if the art market determines other genres to be in or out of vogue, figurative art is universal,” Redding says. “It’s always appreciated by any person from any culture, educational background or era, just by our innate ability to look at and ponder the image of a fellow human.” —Terry Ward  

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Sarah Baker

Art & Design Coordinator

Sarah Baker is inspired by artist studio practices and as the Art and Design Coordinator at METHOD & CONCEPT she is dedicated to supporting the creative process. A graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, Fine Art program, Sarah is active in the SWFL art & design culture and is an artist in her own right.Integrating her skillset at a maker with expertise and knowledge of fibers and textiles, Sarah collaborates with METHOD & CONCEPT teams to provide an informed experience for art collectors and interior design clients.

Yose Alonso

Associate Interior Designer

Yoselin Alonso is an Interior Designer who focuses on functional design and believes in constructing exclusive spaces that evoke emotion. Incorporating the unique diversity of each client, her design details are profound, ensuring one-of-a-kind personalized spaces. A graduate of University of Florida’s College of Design, Alonso harnesses conceptual and practical skills that bring spaces to life from planning and construction through to the finest of details. Having grown up around construction and design, Alonso is eager to make her mark in the design world as a part of the METHOD & CONCEPT team.

Amy Jensen

Gallery Manager

At METHOD & CONCEPT, Amy is a champion for artists and coordinates season exhibitions and special events as well as outreach and community projects working closely with artists, collectors and community partners. Drawing from an arts education and two decades of experience working in the arts and for non-profit institutions, Amy actively advocates for arts & culture and enhanced quality of life through her work as Gallery Manager for METHOD & CONCEPT and in the local community.

Chad Jensen

Creative Director & Managing Partner

Chad Jensen is an artist, furniture maker, designer, and the Founding Director of METHOD & CONCEPT. He is a true advocate for the arts, his work and the gallery’s programming both demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between contemporary craft, fine art, and design.

In 2013, Jensen established METHOD & CONCEPT under the umbrella of Thomas Riley Companies, merging his advocacy for the arts with his innate talent for making and designing. Today, the gallery represents over 20 independent fine artists worldwide, while the design team showcases an impressive portfolio ranging from bespoke furniture pieces to legacy estates on the Gulf of Mexico and secluded private island homes.

Jensen’s professional career now spans more than 25 years in art, furniture, interiors, and architecture. He is an internationally exhibited artist and designer, participating in exhibitions from The Baker Museum-Naples to ICFF-New York and Shanghai Art Fair-China. His work has been published in Interior Design Magazine, Art Basel Guide-Miami, and Casa da Abitare-China, he was also recently named a Top 100 Business Leader by Naples Illustrated Magazine, and one of Gulfshore Life Magazine’s Men & Women of the Year for his unwavering advocacy for arts and culture.

Recognized as an active leader for Arts & Culture in Southwest Florida, Jensen is a Founding Director of the Naples Design District, where he continues to serve on the Executive Board, helping to lead the charge on public art and community initiatives. He is a Past President & Current Advisory Board Member of United Arts Collier (UAC) / Current Art Gallery Advisory Board Member - Florida Gulf Coast University / Current Advisory Board Member - Naples Illustrated Magazine / Frequent Guest Speaker & Juror - Florida Gulf Coast University / Past Advisory Board Member for Accreditation of Digital Media Design - Florida Gulf Coast University.