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Community, creativity and commerce mingle to restore the holiday spirit

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This weekend, community, creativity and commerce mingled to restore my holiday spirit

Last Tuesday, my housemate, writing assistant and surrogate son passed away in my arms after a short and unexpected illness. I know every pet owner thinks that his flea-ridden fur-kid is the most adorable animal in existence, but Oliver John (O.J. to his friends) was the most attractive, intelligent, affectionate cat I've ever encountered. His death left me feeling so anti-social that I even stopped entertaining the Jehovah's Witnesses who proselytize on my porch twice a week.

Immersed in my grief (which was amplified by news of the Newtown massacre), I intended to endure my last pre-Apocalypse weekend in bed. Then an envelope arrived at my house from Dawn Schreiner, a local painter I've admired for her folk-artsy portraits of pop stars and religious icons. Inside was the back of a cardboard box upon which Schreiner had executed an exquisite golden likeness of my leonine love, encircled with a halo like a medieval saint and inscribed with the Charles Dickens quote, "What greater gift than the love of a cat?"

This unsolicited gift gave me my first tear-free smile in several days, sparking an appreciation in me for the healing power of art that was heretofore largely academic. Awakening again to O.J.'s adoring eyes, now immortalized in Schreiner's brushstrokes, inspired me to re-enter the world while it's still around, in time to engage in our society's most sacred seasonal ritual: spending money.

My first stop was a hair salon: fitting, since I'd grown shaggy sitting shivah. However, there were no shears seen at Ivanhoe Village's Halo Salon & Spa last Saturday night, only Spears. Ubiquitous local artist Andrew Spear, whose graphic designs grace the Over Rice food truck and nearby Hideaway Bar and Peacock Room, brought a selection of his canvases to the Alden Road salon, attracting an impressive audience for the opening reception. Within an hour, I encountered Patrick Kahn of Snap! Orlando, poet Tod Caviness, music promoter Jessica Pawli, artist Rick Jones, Mennello Museum PR manager Lindy Shepherd and DJ Nigel John among the many arts influencers in the crowd.

That last person posed for my favorite of Spear's more recent works. I'd seen several of the others on exhibit previously, though Spear's instantly identifiable style – juxtaposing meticulously cross-hatched black ink against bold blocks of color – is always striking. If anyone wants to provide me with a belated Hanukkah present, I'll gladly accept "It's a Rap!," Spears' side-splitting depiction of Star Wars' Admiral Ackbar as an Adidas-clad hip-hopper.

But the bigger surprise for me at Halo was the collection of art by Raymond Klecker, whose pencil drawings and oil canvases show an intriguing embrace of the grotesque and surreal. Both artists are scheduled to leave their work on display for six weeks or so; Halo's co-owner Ryan Delarosa told me that more than a dozen pieces had already sold that evening, but they should restock if you still have Christmas shopping to do.

Before heading home, I visited Thornton Park's Mother Falcon for the opening of Lure of Velour, which sought to revive the lost art of black velvet paintings previously reserved for Elvis and the Last Supper. This handful of brave artists (including Ernie Turner, Jimmy Breen and Heidi Kneisl) introduced new subjects to the velour universe – including Kim Jong-Un riding a unicorn and a cat wearing sunglasses (my favorite, natch). While there, I stopped in the adjoining bar for a last look at September's Shining show; it will shortly make way for Dec. 22's Cream, which features gift-worthy work by Johannah O'Donnell, Thomas Thorspecken and Patrick Fatica, among others.

Finally, I ended my 18 hours of art-retail therapy with a Sunday-afternoon excursion to Stardust Video & Coffee's Grandma Party Bazaar, Orlando's essential annual artisan market. Much like every visit to IKEA, I never escape Grandma without buying beyond my limit. This year, I finally got that haircut (courtesy of Alchemy), along with a fish pillow-puppet from Brendan O'Connor, pastries and prophylactics from Jessica Earley, a Breakfast Club Enzian poster by Lure Design and a free hug from Doug Rhodehamel. The sun shone, shoppers smiled, elderly carolers warbled off-key: It was a nearly ideal family-friendly event, except for the "Majik Mall" tent's smutty anti-sex signage. (Were they sincerely insane, or just unsuccessfully ironic? Someone let me know.)

In the end, community, creativity and commerce combined to restore my holiday spirit. I'd like to think O.J. would have approved.


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