Evander Preston is an artist, recluse, rabble-rouser, beer drinker, Asian food fanatic and shoe whore. At 80, he’s still churning out outlandish projects and turning heads in Pass-a-Grille, where he’s a resident and gallery owner.
A native of St. Pete, the 6-foot-3 enigma has spent his entire life making headlines for his nonconformist art (he’s currently painting a coffin with a pay phone inside); his famous clients (Lauren Bacall and Jimmy Buffett); his handcrafted jewelry (an editor at W Magazine
wore one of his necklaces to an event in Switzerland); and his antics (in 2007, he handed out 100 bottles of bourbon to homeless folks hanging around Williams Park).
For three decades Preston ran a music store in downtown St. Pete, where he taught lessons and sold some of the country’s first stock of Yamaha pianos and organs, which explains his collection of antique organs, synthesizers and keyboards.
Preston, who describes himself as “agoraphobic,” admits he’d rather hang out in his treasure trove of a gallery than move among Tampa Bay’s “herd.” He works out of a cluttered cottage studio behind his two-story gallery on 8th Avenue in Pass-a-Grille.
Some folks go to Pass-a-Grille for the sunsets. Other folks go to tour Preston’s gallery, which is home to a Chinese rickshaw, a 1950s motorcycle (with sidecar), a 14-karat-gold mousetrap, countless organs, candelabras, neon signs, Chinese lanterns, masks, jewelry, the artist’s personal shoe collection and a functioning kitchen, complete with a gas wok, Tandoor oven and duck press.
“For years we had parties here every week, big parties for high-paying [jewelry] customers,” Evander says. “I lead a much quieter life now. I drink my beer. I make my art. I have no great aspirations and I don’t care if I sell anything or not. That’s what all rebel artists do.”
Where he goes for a good time: Zack Gross at Z Grille
. “Zack is one of my best friends. He custom makes things for me. He’s a real wild man. I don’t hang out with regular people. They bore me to tears. Zack is exotic. His food is exotic and his restaurant is exotic.”
Where he goes to buy beer: The Racetrac at 28th St. N and 22nd Ave. N
. “There’s a helluva fun bunch of people there. I go there every day to get my beer. I like watching the cattle drive of people that come in and out. Nobody bothers me. In all the years I’ve been going there nobody has asked me what I do for a living.”