Studio Art at UMW

Image of Professional Practices Presentation posterI had the privilege and the pleasure to be a panelist at the 5th annual Professional Practices in Studio Art Presentation on Monday evening. The work Carol Garmon’s students are doing is nothing short of amazing. I have to admit that I was a little nervous coming into the evening because I thought I might have to formally judge the works (something I am far from qualified to do), but to my great relief the panelists were there only to comment and reflect on each student’s work. Well, talking about things I know little about is something I excel at, and I certainly didn’t hold back during these presentations. In fact, the students and faculty present were extremely polite about the fact that I could neither control my effusion of enthusiasm nor stop commentating wildly.

That said, I had an absolute ball. The students were charged with presenting their work as well as providing a theoretical and/or autobiographical context (akin to a narrative) that would frame their choices, their concerns, and future directions that they plan on pursuing. The whole thing really captured the notion of a group of students reflecting upon their work and asking themselves the difficult question of where they are headed with it. I truly wanted to be a studio art major throughout the whole presentation because they were engaging in a beautifully fused process of imagination, action, and reflection — the holy trinity of education. Huge congratulations are in order to each and every student that presented as well as Carole Garmon who facilitated this important opportunity for each student to negotiate the vision and future directions of their work in front of a larger audience. It was possibly the best two hours I have spent on campus since I arrived two years ago.

Below is a brief tale of the tape from each student’s presentation, with links to works I could find online. The fact that the majority of these students don’t have some kind of online portfolio (or at least something I could easily find) is a shame given the exciting nature of their work. In many ways their work depends upon a wider audience and commentary, and when freak shows like me want to write about their genius, the absence of an online presence makes them that much less “bloggable.” As an aside, this makes me think about Annetta Kapon’s recent post suggesting that artists need websites, a process that applications like WordPress.com or Blogger make far less laborious. Moreover, these services are more search engine friendly, making the possibility that their work will be found easily far more likely than if they were to create their own online portfolios in Dreamweaver or some other program like it. Their exposure both globally on the web and locally throughout the UMW campus might be further magnified if they were to create their portfolios using UMW Blogs because they would be part of a focused community that is both search engine friendly and contextualized within a specific learning community. More than that, they can take it with them when they go. I wonder what each of them would find if they Google’d their own names along with UMW (hint, hint 😉 ).

Ok, enough of playing the instructional technologist, now I get to but my art critic hat on, however uncomfortably it may sit on my feeble brain.

Beth Wilkins
Beth’s photography was really fascinating. I hope she finds this and gies me some links to here actual work because they are really powerful and the trajectory of here process can be best understood through the actual visuals. In short, the work she presented started with larger, fragmented images that worked together to create a unified whole. She had taken images of parts of a woman’s body that were than pieced together to make a fascinating disjuncted whole. It was her more recent experiments with taking a series of images on a roll of film that were then placed together in unique forms that really pushed this idea. In other words, the roll of film became the subject of her experiments beautifully using the actual form of the photographic apparatus to help frame the process of her art. Her piece Anger is one I keep coming back to in my mind again and again, it was quite powerful. I am doing this no justice, and really hope she finds this here because further clarification and correction would be more than welcome.

Robert Lynn
Image of Robert Lynne's ArtworkRobert is already one of my favorites given his awesome blog. In fact, it is through this blog that I have been able to follow some of his work remotely. But I have to say that hearing him frame the experiments with painting (his chosen medium) he has been engaged as a means to ramp up his notions of irrational and realist art was quite impressive. He delivered a very exacting analysis of his own work and his influences (one of which is Caravaggio as you can see to the right) while suggesting that neither wholly frames his vision. In fact his latest work is an interesting collage/pastiche of the two (I forget the name —can you help me Rob?) that portends some amazing stuff yet to come. He may have an image of this painting somewhere online, and it is quite an interesting mashup of technical exactitude within irrational space.

Richard Jones
Richard had very interesting approach to his work that in many ways framed the impact of post modernism and the difficulty of hermeneutics in some very intelligent ways. He worked with graphite and charcoal illustrations and his work resisted any straightforward narrative or even recognizable forms. His Apples and Baseballs was a striking illustration that was in many ways both complete and incomplete as he noted. it was a tracing of the lack of distinctions between forms and the almost machine-like replication of this lack. Richard also had drawings of rooms are outdoor spaces (what I think are outdoor spaces) that seemed recognizable but on a closer look were undefined, almost empty. It was great stuff, and as much theoretical as aesthetic, which was how he understood his drawings. he also quoted his major influence as the Spawn illustrator Todd McFarlane. This really struck me, because the palpable presence of pop culture in his work as well as his attempts to erase it were quite fascinating for me. The work was not nearly as narrative driven as McFarlane’s work with Spawn, yet it depended heavily upon this illustrator’s powerful sense of the aesthetic.

Matt Czapiewski

Matt Czap's In Walmart drawing

Matt’s work is awesome. I am personally a huge fan and you can see his portfolio for yourself here. He is an animator of the first order, and his Walmart piece (featured above) and his animated film Sharks and Not Sharks (embedded below) suggest not only his ability to draw powerful animations, but also to write compelling, funny, and socially scathing dialog for his animated movie that marks an all-around prowess on his part. I even think he makes his own music! II read his work as a cultural critique, but I think he would resist that reading to some degree, for he is not so much fueled by antagonisms as drawn in by representing absurdities, or so I say.

Daniel Roberts
Daniel’s presentation dealt with controlled aggression, struggle and tension in his paintings, sketches, and portraits. His work dealt specifically with the representation of boxing as means to capture some of this motifs in his work. He discussed the influence of artists like George Bellows (as an aside, I never realized how surreal Bellows’s early work was). From there he examined some of his own paintings on the subject, and I have to say that one of his works (which I am blanking on the name of) is a really powerful look at perception, movement, and contact on a canvas by splitting the canvas into vertical strips of the campus and rearranging them so that bodies of the two boxers are effectively spliced into one another. An stylistic choice that beautifully captures the way these two individuals become one in the act of boxing, but how the dynamic quality of the actual punch can be best be through a sense of its disjuncture. I really wish I could show you this piece so that everything I said previously doesn’t seem so abstracted and silly. But in the absence of an image (do you think they need portfolios0 you’ll just have to let me ill-formed words be your guide.

Katherine Arens
Katherine’s painting were a self-styled investigation of self. And she framed a series of portraits that framed her within surreal spaces. What I found fascinating about her works is that the sense of self was quite unified while the world around her was quite fragmented and irrational. It stood in sharp contradistinction to Beth’s work, that seemed to focus so sharply on the fragmentation of the body. Katherine’s work marked a very deliberate sense of the self in a field of works that often exaggerated or erased self.

Molly Sheldon
Image of Molly Sheldon's Self PortraitMolly’s work is nothing less than crazy. I really big her Lynchean imagination, and her first piece was the apple skull and caterpillar pictured to the right. The story behind this is that she has been told throughout her life that she is a lot like her deceased grandfather whom she never really knew because he died before she was old enough to remember him. He was also an artist, and this ceramic self-portrait is based on one of her grandfather’s drawings of a caterpillar. Her grandfather is the skeletor-like apple while she is the caterpillar crawling out of his eye socket. This image was made that much trippier by her narrative, and much of her work is similarly twisted. You can see her numerous self-portraits here. two works that aren;t featured there that made a deep impression on me are an installation piece of deer skulls adorned with elaborate hats made of trash and a sculpture of her mother as a grotesquely caricatured fertility stature — it is currently on exhibit at a local gallery, the name of which has slipped my mind. I will try and find the gallery and get an image of this wild sculpture.

Christina McGovern
Christina’s work was the only one I didn’t comment upon during the presentation. And I can make up for my self consciousness of speaking too much now. Her work deals predominantly with ceramic sculpture, and unlike all of the others presenters there is some truly elemental and organic about her pieces. The forms of the human torso, often headless, focus predominantly on a kind of universal form of beings, but that may be a misreading. What was fascinating to me is how many of these sculptures under-emphasized distinct features of the face or body in order to dwell in the possibilities of generalizing similarities and connections. For em a very unintuitive move in art that I often have to recalibrate my own privileging of difference and detail to fully comprehend the immense power of such an idea of connectedness. More than that made of her works were functional, utilitarian art that purposefully underscore their connection to more fundamental shapes that in many ways help remind us of our dependence on form as human beings.

Cristina Falcone
Cristina had a interesting bifurcation in her work. The first sketches focused on very specific scientific illustrations that captured in detail the beauty and elegant design of plants. This was in many ways what she understood as her methodical or planned work. her spontaneous work took on a totally different logic, giving way to St Patrick’s day illustrations drawn on beer pong tables, an illustrated shrine to Hunter S. Thompson and her interest in the possibilities of graffiti. These two elements of her work suggested the further possibilities of fusing the technical and spontaneous (which was no less detailed) into a more “coherent” (if that is indeed the right word, though I am not sure it is) style that she is working towards. Seeing an artist like Cristina examine the possibilities out loud was really inspiring. I immediately thought of Maria Sibylia Merian, the German scientific illustrator of the late seventeenth/early eighteenth centuries — I just didn’t remember her name until now. Her work fuses the spontaneous reaction to these unknown species of plants and insects that captures here wonder as well as the fine detail of their beautiful design.

Michael Mosley
Michael’s work was in a radical different vein than all of the other students. He works with objects found in nature, and traces his process on top of the objects. One work was a wooden stump that he found, carved out, and burned narrative along the inside of the trunk. It was meticulous work that traces a fascination work process. In fact, as he said during his presentation, his work is very much about the process of its creating as much as it is about the actual product. This was exemplified beautifully by a large piece he built out of different colored thread that resembles a kind of loom. The elements of the piece are very much about the process of its creating rather than some polished work. His work is in the tradition of land artists like Andy Goldsworthy that is often ephemeral and must be captured before it is transformed irrevocably. This lead to a discussion of how video and other media might help him both preserve and transform his current process. A fascinating discussion which in many ways accentuated how much his deep thinking about process and possibility allows him to constantly re-imagine his approach to his work.

Davette Leonard
Davette’s work was a series of still life paintings that work through the formal elements of style. I am not an art critic (could ya tell?) and I never had a very specific sense of the value of the still life as a tradition. When I would see them in museums I often asked myself, what makes this apple or this orange better than any other? But, like most things, out of context mummified in a museum these things can;t speak for themselves. It was Davette’s discussion of the colors and her own process of captures the light, shades, and form while the fruits themselves began to spoil and rot struck me deeply. The focus of her work on the specter of mortality struck me deeply. Here work featuring an apricot and a cranberry was the best example for me:the apricot was discolored and hollowed out suggesting an evisceration that produced a series of organ-like cranberries. I don’t think I will ever look at still life paintings in the same way again.

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