The Creative Campus Initiative Finds New Ways to Engage

Campus and Community Engagement Intern Michele Ko ’16 discusses the CFA’s student engagement strategies. 

What if arts engagement programming was like an a la carte menu. What would you pick? A talk about an upcoming performance? A workshop with the artist? Maybe an intimate lunch or dinner followed by discussion? These are all ways that the Creative Campus Initiative at the CFA is experimenting with student engagement with the arts. One could think of it like a pyramid – a three-tiered strategy that gives participants an opportunity to pick the level they are comfortable in and have a variety of opportunities to choose from.

At the base of the pyramid is the beginner level, where engagement appeals to students who have little to no knowledge of the arts or CFA programming. These students might be attending a CFA event for the first time or seeking more informal ways to interact with art. Moving up the pyramid, the intermediate level attracts students who have a bit more comfortability with the arts; maybe they are enrolled in a related course or have previously expressed interest in a particular art form. At the top of the pyramid is the advanced level, which targets students who are very invested in the arts, such as studio art and art history majors or students who create art on campus or in collaboration with the CFA. The hope is that with the right programming, students will find an appealing entry point into the arts and may potentially move up the pyramid. At every level the main goal is to encourage students to invest in attending CFA programs.

Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental: '17 Borders Crossing'
Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental: ’17 Borders Crossing’ 

The easiest ways to engage students who are unfamiliar with the arts is through supporting course modules and co-taught courses, which emphasize a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching, learning and researching. Modules entail non-art faculty collaborating with an artist to teach two to four class sessions in an existing course. For this semester’s module, ENVS 255 Getting a Bigger Picture: Integrating Environmental History and Visual Studies, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is working with Amy Lipton, co-Director of the Eco Art Space. Co-taught courses are created and taught by two faculty members, one from the performing arts and one from a non-arts discipline. This semester, postdoctoral teaching fellow Helen Mills Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman are teaching ENVS 201 Research Methods in Environmental Studies: River Encounters.

Other beginner-level events involve facilitating informal conversations about art, such as the “Artful Lunch Series,” where students and faculty discuss their favorite works in the Davison Art Center over bagged lunches. This semester’s series features presentations by Professor of History and Letters Laurie Nussdorfer, Assistant Professor of Art History Claire Grace and Lucas McLaughlin ’15.

Another way to engage beginner students is through social media platforms. As part of the “Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental: ‘17 Borders Crossing’ (Connecticut Premiere),”  the CFA invited students to participate in an essay writing contest on Facebook. By connecting to students on Facebook, the CFA reached students who may not normally engage with the CFA.

Tari Aceh! Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra
Tari Aceh! Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra

On the intermediate level, the CFA engages students who are more familiar with the arts and the CFA’s work. Some of these programs also open up opportunities for students to become more advanced engagers. In conjunction with “Tari Aceh! Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra,” for example, the CFA hosted a free dance workshop that allowed students to directly and physically engage with the performers, the dance form and Indonesian culture.

Dine/Dance/Discover events, which take place before and after Breaking Ground Dance series performances, seek to build a community of engaged students. The program enhances the experiences of students who are typically well acquainted with dance. The consistent set of programs also reinforces their engagement with the arts and the CFA.

Advanced engagers have a high comfort level with exploring topics through the arts and are often artistic producers or curators on campus or with the CFA. Engaging these students involves giving them the opportunities to embark on their own artistic projects or engage very deeply in the artistic process with a visiting artist.

Feet to the Fire, in collaboration with the COE and the Green Fund, gave three students the opportunity to develop their own multimedia project exploring the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia. Rachel Lindy ’15, Rachel Weisenberg ’15 and Isaac Silk ’14 spent the summer living in the area, interviewing residents and taking photographs. The project was put on display in Zelnick Pavillion in February. By sharing their images and stories, they hope to encourage dialogue around fossil fuel consumption.

Betty Lou. Rachie Weisberg. August 2013
Betty Lou. Rachie Weisberg. August 2013

One major advanced level program is the “makers workshops,” where visiting artists help students create their own art related to the artist’s work, concepts or show. Last year, artist Evan Roth visited Wesleyan and participated in a makers workshop in association with his show “Evan Roth//Intellectual Property Donor.” Drawing on the show’s themes of open-source, activism and digital media, students identified systems and urban conditions ripe for hacking at Wesleyan and turned them into participant-driven art works. Later this semester, visiting singer/songwriter Omnia Hegazy will participate in a songwriting makers workshop on Thursday, March 26, with students interested in music and writing.

The new Design Digital Design studio, which opened in January 2015, provides a more ongoing, permanent space for art students to conceptualize and produce their own work in a meaningful way. Students interested in art, photographic, architecture, graphic design and more are encouraged to work on digital design projects in the space in conjunction with other students and faculty.

An illustrative way to see the pyramid strategy at work is by looking at how the programming of one visiting artist engages each level, such as Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci’s visit last fall. Saci engaged beginner level students through numerous class visits as well as post-class lunches, which gave students the opportunity for intermediate engagement. Saci also engaged in informal, moderated conversation with Turath House residents. Saci even attended one of the the Rap Assembly’s cypher – a group of highly engaged Wesleyan rappers.

The CFA is not alone in its engagement strategy. Colleges across the country are experimenting with new and innovative ways to involve their student body in the arts. At colleges like MIT, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan, engagement takes a number of forms, from arts-based entrepreneurship festivals to master classes with professional dancers to art-making events during Welcome Week for freshmen. Check out their events with these links: MIT, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan. Where would you fall on the pyramid?

Sewon Kang ’14 on the “Blood, Muscle, Bone” intensives and performative teach-in (Nov. 11)

Creative Campus Intern Sewon Kang ’14 discusses the intensives that have been part of the Creative Campus course “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty,” as well as the free “Blood, Muscle, Bone” Performative Teach-In which will be held on Monday, November 11, 2013 from 7pm to 11pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. (The doors will open every 30 minutes—come and stay as long as you like.)

2012 residency of "Blood, Muscle, Bone" in Tallahassee. Photo by Aubrie Rodriguez.
2012 residency of “Blood, Muscle, Bone” in Tallahassee. Photo by Aubrie Rodriguez.

Having recently emerged from the “Blood, Muscle, Bone” intensives, adjusting to the rhythm of school again is almost like switching brains.  For five days, I employed a radically different mode of thinking and processing than I ever have before.  I moved, thought, and felt about many different issues surrounding wealth, poverty, and the body, and collaborated with my instructors and fellow students in surprising and new ways.

Our first few intensives were committed to the creation of a collective toolbox.  Our guest instructors, Professors William Arsenio, Wendy Rayack, and Lois Brown, gave lectures related to wealth and poverty through the lens of their particular fields.  From recent fiscal and experimental data, to the days of early American slave trading, the range of information presented to us walked us through an issue that transcends time and place, and affects all humans.

While listening to these lectures, Liz, Jawole, and their associates Vincent Thomas and Keith Thompson encouraged us to take on the role of the artist in addition to the role of the student. While listening, we posed questions and problematized the information, but we were also challenged to explore the information in ways that we would not necessarily have the freedom to do in other classrooms.  We paid attention and took note of the visualizations and soundtracks floating through our heads, and responded to the lecturer’s body language and cues with our own bodies.  Such prompts helped me realize that there are hundreds of angles from which this issue could be addressed which got me excited to further develop some of them with my classmates.

The lectures were punctuated by creative exercises and movement studies designed to give us more tools for our arsenal.  The artists devised activities that allowed us to explore deeper and respond to what we learned with our thoughts and emotions.  I was able to use my intellect and my body in combination to process the weight of the information.  Wealth disparity in the U.S. is at an all time high; the richest 400 individuals are worth $2.02 trillion dollars, more than the net worth of the bottom 50% of the population.  The immediacy of creative opportunities to process and react to such information was incredibly beneficial for me, as it’s sometimes difficult to take in facts, figures, and histories without taking into consideration their humanity and reality.  There was an amazing collaboration between the artists and guests lecturers, allowing us to experiment and process with total freedom and comfort that I deeply appreciated.

I find the prospect of communicating and translating my ideas into movement a bit daunting, but mostly thrilling.  Throughout the remainder of the intensive, Jawole, Liz, Vincent, and Keith had us create in small groups within limited timeframes.  Working like this helped me get more comfortable with the act of communicating my ideas in an artistic way.  I also got a taste for how creative and talented my peers are, and am excited to see what I can learn from working closely with them.

At one point, we all sat around in a circle and conducted an “asset inventory.”  Everyone in the room shared a skill or an aspect about themselves that makes a contribution to the community, and the diversity of responses and experiences in the class opened up so many possibilities.  I shared that I love to backpack and that I enjoy the challenge of carrying everything I need to survive on the strength of my own back.  Using this idea as a metaphor, a small group of students and I got together to figure out how to create a backpack for change and reported back to the group.  We created a movement piece that reflects on the meaning of carrying and sharing weight, and the necessity of being prepared for the tough times ahead.  Since then, we’ve been workshopping the piece with Keith and other students who have joined in on the process.  I’m really looking forward to where it will all go from here.

My fellow students and I have explored a lot of difficult problems and ideas in this course, some of which really hit home.  We’re continuing to process the material creatively through songwriting, photography, and movement among other things. We’re currently honing in on ways to articulate what we’ve learned to a wider audience.  As concerned citizens who are deeply disturbed by these inequities, we’re finding ways to express how to respond both personally and intellectually to the fact that there is something seriously wrong here.  We’ve become witness to these problems in our country and are determined to do something about it. We’re carrying this heavy reality on our backs.  We’re trying to deal with the weight of what it all means.

Our efforts will culminate in a special performance-based teach-in that will take place on Monday, November 11, 2013 from 7pm to 11pm every half hour in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. This teach-in is inspired by the activist movements that came before us, which emphasized the importance and need for knowledge first.  This experiential event is going to be multifaceted, with elements that enlighten, shock, and ask the audience to participate and think with us.  We’re going to use our bodies and various art forms to demonstrate the physicality of these issues to make issues of disparity tangible.  We’ll invite participants to move, feel, explore and engage in dialogue with us, because the only way we can address these issues is to do it together.

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews the “Faces of China” exhibition (through Dec. 6)

Rebecca Seidel ’15 interviews the free exhibition “Faces of China, 1981: Photographs by Tom Zetterstrom,” on display at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Gallery through Friday, December 6, 2013. The exhibition will be closed from Tuesday, November 26 through Tuesday, December 3, 2013.

Tom Zetterstrom, "Combing," Shanghai, 1981, original gelatin silver print.
Tom Zetterstrom, “Combing,” Shanghai, 1981, original gelatin silver print.

In an interview this past August with curator Patrick Dowdey, photographer Tom Zetterstrom spoke about the approach he took to capturing everyday life in China through portraiture—a project for which he was commissioned by the Yale-China Association back in the 1980s, and whose results are now on display for the first time in nearly three decades. Above all, he said, he tried to get as up-close to his subjects as possible, ideally shooting at arm’s length.

“Dangling around my neck were three cameras, so I presented myself as the obvious photographer and not someone who was trying to sneak a shot on the run,” he said. “So I was able to engage with the subject on an individual level, one on one.”

Mr. Zetterstrom’s focus on one-on-one engagement shines through quite powerfully in “Faces of China, 1981,” a collection of photographs now on view at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Gallery. His physical proximity to his subjects makes for portraits that are both intimate and inviting. But by interspersing these portraits with photographs of billboards, religious artwork, and other relics he encountered during his visit to China, Mr. Zetterstrom also steps back far enough to capture a bigger and more complex picture—that of a culture in flux.

In the early 1980s, China was still emerging from the shadows of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. In 1981, when Mr. Zetterstrom and members of the Yale-China Association landed in China and started traveling from city to city, the country was moving towards a large-scale transformation, following the path set by Deng Xiaoping’s “Reform and Opening Up” policy. As this process unfolded, China became open to foreigners in a way that it hadn’t been for years.  Given this new access, many people were eager to get a closer look: what was China like in the midst of these changes? What were the people like? What kind of effect was the reform having on them?

Mr. Zetterstrom’s photographs (some in black and white, some in color) offer answers to these questions—or at least fragments of answers—in a rich and evocative way. His portraits document people of all ages and occupations, catching snapshots of simple moments from their lives: a woman gathering tea from the countryside, two friends smoking together, a man caught in the middle of eating a popsicle.  A common feature among these portraits is that many of their subjects are looking straight into the lens, creating a line of communication between the subject and the viewer that is almost startlingly direct.

None of the images seem stiff or posed—even though, as Mr. Zetterstrom emphasizes, “these are not candid shots.” The sense of mutual trust between photographer and subject radiates from the page. This rings true with something Mr. Zetterstrom noted in his interview: that he went into this project without any preconceptions about the people he was photographing. As a result, his photographs have a simple and organic quality to them. Though the scenery might be foreign to many Western viewers, the expressions on the subjects’ faces are deeply familiar.

While these portraits are timeless in many ways, the other images interspersed with them—images of advertisements, older socialist art, religious artwork—provide a more concrete time frame, offering information about the historical and cultural crossroads in which these people are living. It would be impossible to draw complete conclusions from these images alone, but they do show China in 1981 as a place where residue of an earlier time remains, even as the society as a whole is taking steps forward.

The photos, arranged in a single row along the periphery of the gallery, are accompanied by only a minimal amount of text: after every five images or so, there is a list of each photo’s title and the location where it was shot. Mr. Zetterstrom reveals additional information about some of the photos in his interview with Mr. Dowdey, but walking from photograph to photograph without this supplementary knowledge is like progressing through a story with some general themes and key details but no fully tangible plot. This works perfectly given the content of some of the photographs—particularly the portraits, where the subjects and scenery speak for themselves. The objects that are showcased—religious artwork, billboards, a mannequin in a storefront—also tell their own stories, but it was difficult to fully discern their significance at first.

A few laps around the exhibition start to reveal more layers of meaning: a photograph of a dilapidated billboard depicting socialist art, for instance, presents a counterpoint to a newer, better-kept billboard showcasing commercial art. Contrasts and discrepancies like these hint at the direction in which Chinese culture was evolving at the time.

Still, for a viewer with minimal knowledge of the historical context of the photographs, more supplementary information might be helpful. The video of Mr. Zetterstrom’s interview is available for viewing in another room at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, so that’s a good place to start. Some transcribed excerpts from this interview are also printed in a pamphlet available in the exhibition room.

Mr. Zetterstrom’s approach to photography in China was both deliberate and impulsive: he noted in his interview that he was always carefully and thoughtfully observing his surroundings, but when the opportunity for a meaningful photo arose, he was prepared to seize the moment and act on it immediately. This effort translated into photographs that are at once fleeting and timeless—photographs that give immediacy to sweeping cultural shifts, especially when put in conversation with one another.

By piecing together this conversation for us, Mr. Zetterstrom offers a compelling lens through which to view this pivotal era in China’s recent history.  More than thirty years later, given all the transformations China has undergone since those early stages of reform, this lens is more valuable than ever.

Interviews With Alumni Artists: Gabriela Herman ’03 and Juliana Romano ’04

Rebecca Seidel ’15 interviews Gabriela Herman ’03 and Juliana Romano ’04, two of the featured artists in the free exhibition The Alumni Show II, on display in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery through Sunday, December 8, 2013. Both Ms. Herman and Ms. Romano will also be attending the Homecoming/Family Weekend Reception for the exhibition on Saturday, November 2, 2013 from 2pm to 4pm in Zilkha Gallery.

As anyone who has stopped by the Zilkha Gallery in the past few months already knows, the current semester-long exhibition hosts a truly unforgettable body of work.

The Alumni Show II celebrates the artwork of four decades of Wesleyan alumni. The exhibit, arranged by guest curator John Ravenal ’81, P’15, showcases a huge range of media, styles, and subjects—reflecting the infinite number of paths Wesleyan students take after graduating. This Saturday, November 2, 2013, Mr. Ravenal will be joined at 2:30pm by ten of the fifteen artists featured in the exhibition for the show’s Homecoming/Family Weekend Reception, which will last from 2pm to 4pm.  Over the past week, I got a chance to interview a few of these artists.

For the first installment of this interview series, I talked to Gabriela Herman ’03 and Juliana Romano ’04. Highlights from these interviews are featured below.


Gabriela Herman, "Natural Selection," 2011, archival inkjet print
Gabriela Herman, “Natural Selection,” 2011, archival inkjet print

Gabriela Herman ’03 is a freelance photographer who divides her time between Brooklyn, Martha’s Vineyard, and Brazil. For the collection on display in the exhibition in  Zilkha Gallery, she photographed bloggers sitting alone in dark rooms, with their faces bathed in the glow of their laptop screens. “Passion and inspiration thrive in these dark corners as blogs change the way we interact, literally linking us to one another,” she writes in her artist’s statement. I spoke to her about the inspiration behind her work, what she’s up to now, and the art of storytelling through photography.

What drove you to this particular subject matter?

Well, it was sort of organic, but the first part of it was just something with the lighting and then it developed into the blogger idea. But the first part was just that a friend of mine was at her house, and she was leaning over her bed on her computer, and I just noticed the light from her laptop screen lighting her face—it was just this beautiful light. And I was like, “Oh, my God! Stay right there for one sec.” And I grabbed my camera, which I happened to have over there, and I took three frames, and then I came home and I looked at what I had shot, and I thought, “There’s definitely something really interesting going on here.” So that was definitely the bud of the idea. And that picture used to be in the collection—it got edited out, but it was in there for a while.

So that was the start of the idea. And then I came up with the idea of photographing bloggers in that way, with the light from their laptops being a metaphor for the tunnel, sort of—the light as a tunnel from being alone to this other connected world where we’re all together, online, and using that light source.

All my projects are very personal, and involve things that I’m very tied to. I am very involved online in the blogosphere, I have many blogs, I read and consume tons of blogs, and I think blogs are sort of our go-to center for information these days, and that bloggers can be our curators of information. I wanted to highlight that fact.

How did you go about finding bloggers?

So originally the idea was to shoot one blogger, and then the next blogger was going to be someone that they recommended, so that the photos would all be linked up in the same way that blogs link to other blogs. It didn’t end up being totally linear in that way, but every time I did a shoot of someone, I did get them to recommend a set of people, and so that’s how I found most of the bloggers; it was almost always through the recommendations of other bloggers.

As a blogger yourself, do you see yourself in these photos?

Yeah, I guess in the way that the online blogosphere influences my own photography. I know there are certain photographers who don’t want to look at anyone else’s work, don’t want to be influenced by anyone else, just want to be pure and shoot what comes into their heads, but for me it’s quite the opposite. I take in everything online; I read all the blogs, and every time I’m going through and I’m looking at other people’s work, I get so inspired. You know, it’s not copying what you see, but you just get inspired here and there. I love going to the blogosphere to motivate myself.

So you’ve been blogging for a while?

Yes. It’s changed, though, because when I first moved to New York, I used to blog a ton about the scene, and I used to go out all the time to gallery openings and to photo events, and I would write up who I ran into that night, and blog about what I saw and that kind of stuff. But now everyone’s moved to Tumblr, and Tumblr’s much more visual and less word or text-driven. Blogging has become much more about posting images and maybe a line or two about the images, and less about text.

What was it like using computer screens as the main source of light for these photographs?

I made [my subjects] turn off all of the lights. That’s not to say there wasn’t outside light from the windows—I couldn’t control that—but the light from the Apple icon makes this beautiful, soft, sort of diffused lighting. It was really easy to do the shoots, because [the lighting] really helped to simplify the factors going into the shoot: all I really needed was the laptop and the person, and I knew going in, 20 minutes in, that I got the shot. It was a very easy, sort of in-and-out kind of shooting.

And was there a lot of post-production work involved as well?

Not really at all. I’ll pump up the blacks and the contrast a little, and take out a couple distracting things here and there, but for the most part, they’re pretty true to what was shot in raw.

Were most of the photos taken in New York?

The majority were in New York, but when I was shooting at times when I was traveling, I would always have reached out to some bloggers. So there is a girl from Boston in there, and there’s one from San Francisco, from when I was out there. When I was in Paris, I happened to find a photo blogger, too.

Any other projects you’re working on right now?

I’m currently working on my next big project, which is portraits of people who are in college or older, who have or were raised by at least one gay parent. It has some audio components—I’m doing audio interviews of the subjects and having them share their stories. I’m talking to people who were raised from birth by a gay parent, or by two gay parents, as well as people who were raised by a mom and a dad and then later had a parent come out. So I’m getting the audio into their stories, and then a portrait of them that somehow relates to the moment when they found out about their parents.

So you really like to convey stories through your photos.

Yeah, it’s much more powerful, and I think people are much more receptive when you have something to say—you know, when I have a story to tell, versus just looking at a pretty picture.

And you work full-time as a photographer?

I’m a full-time freelance photographer. I’ve been very focused on editorial photography, which is for magazines. I’ve literally been traveling right now since August, just on different assignments; I’ve been doing a lot of travel photography for several magazines.

What is your favorite type of scenario to photograph?

My favorite scenario to photograph would be when I can spend two to three days with a person—not just show up for a shoot for two hours, in and out, but spend a few days with someone, and photograph not just them, but also everything around them: what they’re doing, where they’re living, where they’re working. I get to encompass the whole story by hanging out with someone for a couple of days. That’s my favorite kind of work.

Juliana Romano, "Taylor Swift Walking," 2012, oil on linen
Juliana Romano, “Taylor Swift Walking,” 2012, oil on linen

Juliana Romano ’04 is a painter whose love for portrait and figure painting dates back to her time as a Studio Art major at Wesleyan. She now lives in New York, but she also now teaches studio art here at her alma mater. Her work in the exhibition in Zilkha Gallery features portraits of “young women who are noticeably cute or pretty.” Two of her three pieces on display are paintings of Taylor Swift. She writes, “I’m interested in the tension that surrounds this kind of girl, the anxiety about whether or not she will be consumed by her own image.” I talked to her about the creative process behind her artwork, the facial expressions of her subjects, and what it’s like to be back at Wesleyan to teach.

What drove you to pursue this subject matter?

I’ve been painting figures since I was an undergrad at Wesleyan. I used to paint the models who we used in the art classes, but they were professional artist models, and I wanted to pursue a more personal subject matter—but then that was problematic for me in other ways. And so I started trying to bring things that I didn’t think necessarily belonged in an art context into the art context.  I spent a lot of time reading Us Weekly, and tabloids, and fan sites, and so I thought it would be fun to start grafting the space between that kind of fan fiction area and what I designated as art. And that was how I started playing with the pop culture figures. And there are these incredible image archives of all these people. So once I started thinking that Taylor Swift was pretty and would be a fun subject, I was able to find amazing pictures of her—everywhere she goes, she’s photographed. And that became its own kind of element within the work, which I thought was interesting.

And you combine the photographs while you’re painting to form a composite image?

Sometimes I’ll like one thing about one picture and another thing about another, and I’ve practiced enough that I can use multiple sources for one face.

You wrote that your work “brings together portraits of famous and non-famous people in an unsystematic way, creating instability for the viewer.” Can you tell me a bit more about that?

I’ve found that people often, even if it’s totally just a stray picture of someone I know and whom nobody else would know, people always think it’s somebody famous. It’s like the chicken and the egg: I don’t know which came first, but people always have a sense of familiarity with these subjects.

I noticed that the women in these paintings have pretty neutral and interiorized expressions on their faces.

I always work with this really neutral expression. I think it’s probably a mirror of my own “concentration” face, that sense of meditation that happens when I’m working. I’m not having an ecstatic, hyperbolic moment—maybe if I was, that would come out in it—but I like that: it gives them a sense of interiority. And I’ve talked about that even since I was an undergrad; I remember [Professor of Art] Tula Telfair talking about that with me. When I had my first body of work, the first time I saw a bunch of my paintings of people together, I was really surprised by the really strong effect that I had that they were, all together, looking out of the canvas. I think if you look at the actual pictures that I work from, you might not get that sense as strongly. So I don’t know where it comes from.

How much time do you typically spend working on a painting?

I don’t spend a lot of time; usually a couple of days of about five hour sessions. But with these ones that are in the show, you can see—the one that’s of Taylor Swift in a sweater was made in one day, in a couple hours, but the one of her walking in the white dress took probably about a week. You can see the difference in the material—the hair took a really, really long time because I had to keep letting it dry, and the face took a really long time, but the one on the right was super fast.

What’s it like to be back at Wesleyan to teach?

I mean, it’s the best. It’s so great. I love my classes, I love my students, and it’s just so fun to be back. It’s such a special place.

After taking studio art classes here, it must be strange to suddenly be the one teaching.

It’s not weird. Being a student is so closely linked to being a teacher. It’s just a really easy transition. It’s funny, because when I came back for my five-year reunion, I hadn’t been back in a long time, and then my ten-year reunion is coming up this year, and that’s a really different feeling. That first gap was really crazy, and now I’m much more used to it. It doesn’t feel like ten years. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s the truth.

Rebecca Seidel ’15 talks to Alahna Watson ’13 about the Thesis Art Exhibition (Reception on May 25)

Saturday, May 25 will be last chance to check out the 2013 Thesis Art Exhibition in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. The special Reunion & Commencement gallery hours are from 10am to 5pm. And there will be a reception from 2pm to 4pm, with remarks at 2:45pm. The exhibition, which features the Class of 2013’s thesis students in the Department of Art and Art History’s Art Studio Program, offers a compelling window into the hard work and technical prowess that went into each thesis project. The exhibition is curated by Professor of Art Tula Telfair, and is co-sponsored by University Relations.

Last month, the seniors’ work was on rotation in the Zilkha Gallery: each week, five or six seniors displayed larger showcases of their work. For the year-end showcase, each senior has a smaller amount of work on display.  Each piece of art stands on its own as a testament to the artist’s creativity and longstanding devotion to their work. When placed all together in this single space, though, these pieces come into conversation with each other in interesting and surprising ways.

It’s hard to wrap your head around the sheer variety in media and subject matter in this showcase—in one area of the exhibit, photographs of celebrity impersonators occupy the same corridor as a huge sculpture of a chicken leg that’s coated in corn flakes.

alahna-watsonI got a chance to speak to a few seniors about the artwork they have on display in the gallery. One of the people I caught up with was Alahna Watson ’13, the artist behind the aforementioned chicken leg. Her thesis, which reflects on her experiences growing up in the south, incorporates lots of different media—including watercolor paintings, computer print-outs, and sculpture. She spoke about her creative process, the inspiration behind her work, and how it feels to have her art on display.

Why did you choose the subject and medium that you did? What was the motivation behind it?

My subject matter stems from my time growing up in southern Georgia. While I was there, I never really felt like I fit in in my small, rural, insular town, and I often struggled to articulate the feeling of being an outsider in the place that I called home. I think coming to Wesleyan and meeting people from all different backgrounds, taking sociology and art classes, and, of course, talking about my life story with my friends until 5am, has finally helped me pinpoint and address the issues of class, race, and “outsiderness” that I wasn’t sure how to talk about before.

When it came time to do a thesis, there was never really a question of what I wanted to do it on. I think that doing a studio art thesis is about finding something that is unique to your own experience or viewpoint and being able to share that with a wide audience. My experiences in the south have shaped my identity so much that it was bound to come out in some form or another. I was lucky that the drawing concentration is so open in terms of media. My exhibition included sculptures, computer-based print-outs, and watercolor paintings, and they were all under the umbrella of “drawing.” I was glad that my ideas didn’t have to be limited to just 2D expression.

What was your creative process like?

It’s interesting that most of the stuff people saw in the final show was really only created in the last month or two before it went up. My adviser, Assistant Professor of Art Julia Randall, really stresses the importance of making “throw-away” drawings in order to get all of our ideas out and boil them down until only the good ones are left. There are a bunch of completely finished pictures and projects that never made the final cut. I would get an idea for a drawing in the shower or during lunch, spend days creating the piece, have it torn apart in a critique, end up throwing it away, and then return to the idea again, in a different form, weeks later.

How did it feel to be working on one huge project for such an extended period of time?

It was both exhausting and completely rewarding. Looking at some of the drawings I made in October or even over winter break is kind of like reading your diary entries from middle school—cringe-worthy. When you sit with the same idea for that long it morphs and develops and it really becomes a part of you. There was a time when I couldn’t go to Price Chopper without wondering if I could use the old food wrappers blowing around in the parking lot for a drawing. You start to see everything through the lense of your thesis. I think that’s what makes the final product so rich—you really have considered your idea from every angle. That being said, having so much time to think about the same thing leaves a lot of room for self-doubt. There were definitely times at 4am when I had drawn until my hand was numb that I started panicking, asking, “Do I even have a thesis? Are these ideas even cohesive? Who am I?!”

What was it like reflecting on your own background and experiences through this artistic lens?

I think one of the big things that I came to appreciate from doing a studio art thesis was that I always had to consider how my ideas would come across to people who weren’t familiar with me, my background, or my work. In talking about people, customs, and culture from a specific place I had to always make sure that I wasn’t being too judgmental or careless in my representations and opinions. I think having to constantly check in with myself and pinpoint exactly what I wanted to express made me reflect on my own background in an almost scientific way. By the end of the process I felt pretty detached from a lot of the personal experiences I have lived through because I was analyzing them so much.  But I think a certain level of detachment was good because it helped me put a lot of really personal stuff on display for hundreds of people to see without feeling embarrassed.

What’s it like to have your work up on display now?

It’s interesting that for the group exhibition people only get to see one piece from your final show. My giant fried chicken leg was the piece chosen, and I think a lot of its meaning is lost because it’s out of its original context. Of course it takes on new meaning because of the other people’s work that is displayed around it, and I think maybe people will pay more attention to its design and materiality now that it’s a stand-alone sculpture rather than a statement inside a bigger narrative. It’s a little weird having only one piece on display when the rest of my year-long project is rolled up in storage. That chicken leg is almost like a relic.

What do you hope visitors will get out of observing your work?

Like I said, I think a lot of the chicken leg’s original context is lost now that it’s by itself, but I hope people still find it startling, humorous, and maybe even a little uncomfortable. Fried chicken has a lot of problematic connotations in our society, which I hopefully touched on in my exhibition. By blowing it up to human-size and forcing you walk around it, I hope that, even by itself, it sparks some dialogue.

Aletta Brady ’15 talks to Joe McCarthy and Peter Albano about MiddletownRemix Festival (May 11)

Music & Public Life Intern Aletta Brady ’15 talks to photographer and filmmaker Joe McCarthy and woodcut artist, bookbinder, papermaker, and muralist Peter Albano about MiddletownRemix: Hear More, See More – A Festival of Art and Sound, taking place on Saturday, May 11, 2013 from 2pm to 5pm. The art/sound installation “Camera Obscura,” a temporary 16′ X 8′ “camera” commissioned for the festival, will be installed on the corner of Main Street and Grand Street by Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Albano. The installation will also be featured outside of the Usdan University Center at 45 Wyllys Avenue the week leading up to the festival, from Monday May 6 through Thursday, May 9, 2013.

Photographer and filmmaker Joe McCarthy (left) and woodcut artist, bookbinder, papermaker, and muralist Peter Albano (right), working on their art/sound installation “Camera Obscura,” commissioned for the MiddletownRemix Festival, taking place on Saturday, May 11 from 2pm to 5pm.

In mid-April, I biked over to Peter and Joe’s house after I got off of work at the Center for the Arts. When I arrived, they were out in their backyard working on building their art installation that will be featured at MiddletownRemix: Hear More, See More – A Festival of Art and Sound on Saturday, May 11 from 2pm to 5pm. The installation is titled “Camera Obscura.” They happily showed me around the frame of the piece that they were working on, and invited me to join them around their coy pond for our interview.

Peter Albano is a graduate of the University of Hartford Art School where he studied printmaking, and Joe McCarthy studied photography and film in Boston and Los Angeles, before the two of them met in Middletown, and collaborated as artists on the Hog River Revival Project in Hartford. They described their project for the MiddletownRemix festival as “pinhole photography, just on a much larger scale—a pinhole camera that you can walk inside of. The sound element going on will [make it] a full sensory experience inside the camera”.

They had a lot of great things to say about the MiddletownRemix festival, and their role in it. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Aletta Brady ‘15: Tell me about your art/sound installation “Camera Obscura” that will be displayed at the MiddletownRemix festival.

Joe McCarthy: We started thinking about the idea of creating this soundscape that was basically just taken, much like the [MiddletownRemix] project, from the streets. Nothing really created, more just arranged. And then we thought, “well, what kind of visual can match that sound element?” And, you know, the most bare bones, un-augmented camera is just a simple pinhole lens. There’s nothing to focus it, it is what it is, it’s just light. It use[s] the visuals from the streets of Middletown that are literally just what’s in front of your eyes. Its kind of like removing people from Main Street in order for them to more clearly view Main Street, or more clearly experience Main Street.

Peter Albano: One of the issues that we encountered was incorporating a sound element that highlighted the visual elements, because those are two completely different senses, and we landed on the idea of creating and taking one out of the environment, and that’s what the structure to walk into was, rather than any structure you just observe.

Aletta Brady ‘15: Why were you interested in creating an installation for the MiddletownRemix festival in particular?

Joe McCarthy: I think that we were both really excited that [the festival] is all about Middletown, like two blocks from where we make work, you know? ‘Cause the area that you choose to be in definitely has an influence on your work, and this sort of opportunity has allowed that influence to come to the front, which is healthy sometimes.

Conceptual drawing of “Camera Obscura,” a temporary 16′ X 8′ “camera,” which will be installed on the corner of Main Street and Grand Street during the MiddletownRemix Festival on Saturday, May 11 from 2pm to 5pm.

Aletta Brady ‘15: Tell me about yourselves as artists and your own personal journeys.

Peter Albano: I come from a much different background technique-wise than Joe. I’m much more of a drawer. I studied printmaking in college. I never dabbled in photography until the Hog River project. What drew me to this project was the scale of it, and the idea of getting it to work, making it work. It’s an endeavor. On a more broad scheme, I think most of our work revolves around the idea of highlighting the citizen that passes [and] community involvement. The Hog River project was a Hartford-centric project, and it revolved around the gathering of people and the sharing of information, and I think this project is a nice step up from there.

Joe McCarthy: All of my work, it just is a kind of way for me to break down something that I’m curious about. The subject matter is always on a personal level derived from me trying to reconcile my thoughts about one thing or another. Technically, the work I do has a lot to do with light, and in the Hog River project, that was all about [light], because there wasn’t any of it. That kind of became [the “Camera Obscura” project], where you have all the light in the world, and it’s all about limiting it and blocking it out and controlling the light.

Aletta Brady ‘15: What are you most excited about for Saturday May 11, the day of the MiddletownRemix festival?

Peter Albano: The flash mob dance [at 2:30pm in front of It’s Only Natural Market at 575 Main Street].

Joe McCarthy: I always get a kick out of being able to stand away from my work and watching how people interact with it, its always fun. Its cool to make something and there’s nothing you can do, it’s out there now, so all you have to do is just stand back and no one knows like, “oh those are the guys that made it.” So you can just stand there and watch someone, or go into the camera with someone, and really just pay attention to how that stranger interacts with this completely new thing to them. Its impossible to be objective. By the end of this camera, neither one of us will be able to say its good or bad, or if it worked or it didn’t, ‘cause we’re way too close to it, so I’m always curious about what the reveal on a finished piece of work is to a clean set of eyes.

For the complete MiddletownRemix festival schedule, and to capture, contribute and remix sounds from Wesleyan and Middletown using the free UrbanRemix app for iPhone/iOS and Android devices, visit

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews “Andrew Raftery: Open House” (through Dec. 9)

Rebecca Seidel attends “Andrew Raftery: Open House,” an exhibition presented by the Davison Art Center, through Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Andrew Raftery (American, born 1962), Open House: Scene One, 2008. Engraving. Courtesy of the artist and Mary Ryan Gallery, New York.

There is only a week left to visit Andrew Raftery: Open House, a five-part series of printed engravings and related work by contemporary artist Andrew Raftery.  Nobody should miss the opportunity to get lost in the boundless details and rich content of Mr. Raftery’s work.

In the five engravings on display, Mr. Raftery illustrates several rooms in a house that is on the real estate market, allowing us an inside view as potential buyers examine the place.  Together, the engravings constitute a single place and moment, viewed from varied perspectives.  Meticulously executed, these scenes offer a compelling snapshot of an upper-middle class American household.  They also explore a familiar interaction—that between realtors and buyers—in an intriguingly non-verbal way.

The figures in the prints are lifelike and dynamic, the architecture precisely proportioned.  It’s almost impossible to comprehend the years of thought, planning, and meticulous preparatory work that Mr. Raftery put into these engravings—the endeavor spanned six years, culminating in 2008.  But spend some time at the gallery, and you will begin to understand and appreciate the depth of his focus.

In addition to showcasing the engravings themselves, the exhibit guides viewers through Mr. Raftery’s preparatory process.  There are over 50 working drawings on display alongside the five engravings.  Among these samples, we see pen-and-ink architectural studies, nude and clothed sketches of the figures who appear in the engravings, and ink-wash tone studies of those same figures.  Mr. Raftery also constructed scale models of the rooms, studying the proportions of both the rooms themselves and the people wandering through them.  These models reveal the astounding thoroughness of Mr. Raftery’s creative process.  They also give you a sense that he enjoyed the challenge of bringing this house and the people in it to life through such exhaustive planning.

The display of all these stages of preparation showcases not only Mr. Raftery’s concern with detail and precision, but also his deftness and versatility as an artist.  The preliminary drawings are masterful works of art themselves.

The exhibit is designed so that for each scene, you have to walk through all the preliminary work before arriving at the final product.   As I walked around the perimeter of the exhibit, I found myself getting anxious to arrive at the published scenes so that I would better understand the context of the preliminary drawings.  While this was a confusing experience at times, the setup was certainly effective in paralleling Mr. Raftery’s process of creation.  It made me appreciate more thoroughly the amount of preparation and thought that went into the final five prints.

In these scenes, the thoroughness of Mr. Raftery’s work extends down to the most minute details.  The engravings feature identifiable brand-name housewares and appliances, such as a Michael Graves/Alessi kettle in the kitchen.  The house’s walls feature known works of art, including Robert Maplethorpe’s “Orchid” and David Hockne’s “Paper Pools.”  Mr. Raftery even gives himself a shout-out, displaying one of his own works of art in the master bedroom.  These details reveal a lot about the homeowners—although interestingly, the homeowners themselves never appear. The house is on display both to the prospective buyers and to us as viewers—and where the house-hoppers see tasteful décor and good architecture, we see reflections of upper-middle class America and consumer culture.  Our voyeuristic vantage point allows us to see a bigger picture, in addition to appreciating the tiny details.  Despite the narrow scope of its subject matter—or perhaps because of it—this exhibit digs deep into a subset of American culture.

The figures in the engravings, while rather generic in their features and physiques, evoke clear sentiments with their body language—feelings of curiosity, uncertainty, and satisfaction all radiate from the paper.  People of all ages walk through the open house: in the first scene, we see a realtor handing something to an older couple in the living room, while a younger couple enters the room from the back.  Other scenes include babies and small children.  The interactions between realtor and buyer, between the old and the young, infuse these engravings with vital energy.  We can see how much thought Mr. Raftery put into these figures through his exhaustive preparatory drawings, a great number of which appear alongside the final engravings.  His studies of form and shadow and position pay off tremendously.

Despite the thoroughness of the engravings, and despite the specificity of so many details, much remains unseen in this open house.  We don’t know the context in which the house is being sold, or the background of the potential buyers.  Questions of family dynamics and cultural climate come into play.  Mr. Raftery infuses a fairly commonplace setting with boundless questions, layering all the exquisite details with pockets of uncertainty and room for speculation.

Mr. Raftery draws inspiration from Claude Mellan, a 17th-century engraver who formed images and evoked tone using parallel lines of varying densities.  This influence manifests itself overwhelmingly in Open House: the images we see are composites of dizzying numbers of parallel lines. Mr. Raftery executes this engraving style perfectly.

In a recent interview at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he resides on the faculty, Mr. Raftery said regarding Open House, “I like this idea that we can look at spaces and kind of read them. I thought the layers of history that are embodied in my style would relate to the layers of history that were embodied in this subject.” This certainly rings true in the exhibit. The form and subject not only compliment one another perfectly—they also enhance one another in unexpected ways.  Engraving is often considered a dated art form, but Raftery’s implementation of formal engraving techniques—especially his use of hatched lines for tone—help him capture a familiar snapshot of modern culture in a realistic and timeless way.

As the preparatory drawings and models make clear, this exhibit is as much about the final products of Mr. Raftery’s work as the meticulous effort that went into it.  To emphasize this, one feature of the exhibit is a video of Mr. Raftery explaining and demonstrating the process of engraving.  He showed how he uses a tool called a burin, with a rounded handle and a sharp steel shaft, to engrave images onto a copper plate.  He also guides us through the process of transferring the work from engraved metal to printed paper.  This explanatory portion is located at the end of the exhibit, immediately following the fifth and final scene. The video enhanced my appreciation of the art of engraving, and of the prodigious skill it requires.  I felt exhausted just thinking about the level of concentration that this type of printmaking requires, but Mr. Raftery displays a genuine delight in the entire process.

With Open House, Mr. Raftery showcases his exceptional skills as both an artist and an observer of life’s everyday intricacies.  In the process, he breathes new life into an age-old art form, offering a lesson in the virtues of focus and precision.

Don’t miss Andrew Raftery: Open House at the Davison Art Center, open through Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima” (through Dec. 7)

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima,” an exhibition presented at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Gallery through December 7, 2012.

Imura Tatsushi, age 9, Children’s Day on May 5, 1947

There is something magical about children’s art, something that beckons us closer.  Maybe it’s the uninhibited way that kids tend to put their lives on paper, with earnest lines and splashes of color.  Maybe looking at the art of children evokes nostalgia for us, memories of a purer time in our lives.  The pictures on display at “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima” have all these charms, but they also hold their own as visually stunning pieces of art.  Above all, though, it’s the backstory of the exhibition that makes it so compelling.

In 1947, Japan was still reeling from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To aid in the relief effort, the children of the All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. sent a huge amount of art supplies overseas to the Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima.  Using those supplies, the children there produced a vibrant collection of artwork.  They drew and painted scenes from their neighborhoods, and captured moments from traditional Japanese festivities.  The children of Honkawa Elementary School sent a box of nearly 50 of their drawings back to the All Souls Church as an expression of gratitude for the art supplies.

After the initial excitement of the exchange died down, the pictures were stored in a church vault and forgotten for about 50 years. But in 1996, the box was rediscovered.  A new wave of interest surrounded the artwork, some of which began the journey back to Honkawa Elementary School in 2007.

A 2011 documentary, Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard, tracked down some of the artists, now in their late 70s.  These people recount memories of war-torn Japan and discuss the paths their lives have taken.  The film chronicles their reactions as they are reunited with their former classmates and with their artwork.

At Wesleyan’s Mansfield Freeman Center, you’ll find a display of some of the original pieces of art, thoughtfully arranged by curator Patrick Dowdey.  There are works by children ages 7 to 12, done in crayons, markers, watercolors, paper cutouts, and more.  There are a few samples of Japanese calligraphy as well, phrases about nature, Japanese culture, and life in general.  The art is grouped according to subject matter.

Looking at the artwork alone, you would never guess that all this positive creative energy arose out of a place still recovering from war, a city totally ravaged by the atomic bomb.  Barely any of the pictures show evidence of destruction, nor do they illustrate feelings of despair.  In fact, most of the artwork is contagiously cheerful, depicting snapshots of life at school and in bustling neighborhoods.

There are only a few pictures that hint at any sort of struggle. In an intriguing twist, a piece of calligraphy accompanying those pictures reads, “America, Our Friend.”

The art bursts with color, evoking senses of depth and movement.  It’s spontaneous and free.  But even beyond illustrating the natural energy of children’s creativity, the artwork on display here showcases unmistakable talent—skills way beyond these children’s years.  Within this relatively small sampling, we find incredibly intricate displays of architecture and storefronts, serene landscapes of rivers and clouds, figures and faces that glow with life.

The individual pieces in this exhibit tell stories of their own—stories of Japanese culture, of natural wonders, of life as a child.  But as a whole, “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima” tells an unforgettable story of compassion across borders and hope in the wake of a disaster.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

Creative Campus at the Student Activities Fair (Friday, September 14, 2pm)

Want to know what arts events are happening on campus? Are you involved in arts events and want to get the word out about them? Are you creative and want an outlet for that awesome expression? Or maybe you want to offer up your fresh take on what’s happening on this very creative campus.

The Creative Campus website was created collaboratively with Wesleyan students, artists, and staff. It is intended for anyone who wants to know what is going on with creative life on this vibrant and inspirational campus. It is a way of aggregating and collecting the creative life on campus, across disciplines, passions, departments, and student groups.

And speaking of student groups, Creative Campus will have a table at the Student Activities Fair tomorrow, Friday September 14, from 2-5pm! Come check us out to find out how you can get involved, to promote your student group through Creative Campus, or just to say hi. Hope to see you there!

Rebecca Seidel ’15 interviews Kamar Thomas ’12 about his work in the Thesis Art Exhibition (through May 26)

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews the Thesis Art Exhibition, and sits down with Kamar Thomas ’12, to discuss his seven-painting thesis series, “me, myself, & i”. 

Kamar Thomas, "Untitled" from the series "me, myself, & i"

For an incredible dose of fresh ideas manifested in artwork of all dimensions, I recommend heading over to the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, where the Thesis Art Exhibition is currently in full swing.  This annual showcase features select works from the thesis projects of seniors in the Department of Art & Art History‘s Art Studio program.

Each senior had a chance to display a larger sampling of his or her work last month, in more specialized five-day exhibits featuring five or six students each.  This final exhibition brings all the senior theses together into a comprehensive spectacle.  It’s astonishing to observe all the different concepts and media these seniors chose to explore.  Even though each senior only gets to display one piece of art in this final showing, the walls still brim with evidence of all the thought and creativity that went into each project.

Evidence of this creativity is not limited to the Zilkha Gallery.  If you’ve visited the main dining hall at the Usdan University Center recently, you’ve probably noticed that the back walls have a new infusion of color.  Those vibrant faces that have caught your eye are two paintings from the thesis series of Kamar Thomas ’12, me, myself, & i.  The Usdan University Center bought these paintings from Mr. Thomas and now has them on display.

All seven paintings in his thesis are self-portraits, each contributing to an exploration of self-conception and identity.  As he explains in the description mounted next to his painting at the Zilkha Gallery, issues of identity are especially important to him because of the life transitions he has experienced: “I grew up on Jamaica and spent my entire life there, only moving to the United States to study at Wesleyan University four years ago.  I have encountered the need to be flexible while staying connected to my past as I navigate my ever-changing present.”

For each self-portrait, Mr. Thomas would cover his own face in paint, then have his face photographed.  He would then edit that photograph in Photoshop.  The resulting image would be the inspiration for his painting.  The resulting works of art are eye-catchingly colorful and hard to forget.

I got a chance to sit down with Mr. Thomas and talk to him about his artwork.  Here is some of what he had to say.

Tell me a little bit about your thesis.

Well, it’s inspired by my own biography, having moved from Jamaica to here.  Each of [the paintings] in the series is my way of making another identity that isn’t directly connected to anything else.  So, for instance my skin is dark. You look and say, ‘Oh, it’s a black guy.’  But if you paint it, then what is it?  It really is an exploration of the flexibility of what identity is.

How did you come up with the idea for your thesis?

Playing around, coming up with a couple of ideas, bouncing ideas off my advisor – many, many things.  I can’t really spend such huge amounts of time [on a project] unless I have a personal connection to it.  So it was experimenting – finding something that interested me that I know other people wanted to see, too.

What have the reactions been like?

They’ve been so great.  I felt like a rock star at my own show.  There were so many people.  I even sold some of [my paintings].  You know how great that feels?  If you become an English major, it’s like writing a thesis and having a publisher going, ‘I want to sell your book.’ I still can’t believe it.

It must be cool to walk upstairs at Usdan and see your paintings on the walls.

It’s just so weird.  If anything is filmed at Usdan, my paintings will be in the background.  That’s my claim to fame.

In your description of your thesis series, you said that you ‘select images to paint based on their emotional impact and on how exciting they will be to paint.’  Do you think your paintings have had an emotional impact?

Yes, I would say they have emotional impact.  At first, people will see it and think, ‘Oh my God, this looks great,’ and they won’t really think why until long afterwards.  Then the intellect will kick in and go, ‘Well, how did you come up with this idea?’  As much as I like high art, I don’t want to be the person where you need to have taken nine Art History courses to even begin to grasp what these things mean.  They’re very loud.  They’re kind of like pop music – a lot of people like it, but there are still some hipsters who are like, ‘This is too mainstream for me.’ At the show, people were like, ‘Well, I don’t really like it, but it took a lot of work, so congratulations.’  It’s all right – I don’t want everyone to like it, anyway.

How did you publicize your own work?

The school helps you.  The school prints out the flyers and whatnot, and the senior thesis exhibition has happened every year since painting has been offered here, so it’s out there.  Also, I had a Facebook event.  All the painters in my week had a Facebook event, so their friends were coming.  I told a few people, and these few people told some more people – so it was word of mouth, Facebook, and people who I met randomly at dinners.

Each of your paintings is unique, but they all have some common characteristics.  How did you go about creating these pieces? Did you work on them all at once?

At first, I did them serially.  The real learning curve happened during my Christmas break and spring break, when I had nothing to do except paint – so I’d just get up and paint.  I started working on each of them at the same time.  It was, I would say, far more fun than doing any other thesis.  It wasn’t difficult at all.  It took work, but once you stopped complaining about that – I mean, you’re painting.  You’re not digging a hole sixty feet below the Earth’s surface, searching for shiny rocks.  You’re painting.

How long did each piece take you to paint?

The first one took forever.  The very first one took from September to the beginning of November, I believe. The second one took three weeks.  The third one took all of Christmas break.  I took from January till spring break to do another one, and then during spring break I finished three. And then I was done early, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I guess you never got tired of painting?

Hell, no.  I know some people are burnt out by it.  But, you know, if you’ve already decided to disappoint your parents, you might as well do it on a grand, impressive scale.  Even if I was tired of it, I would never mention it or bring it up.  So no, I never got tired of it.  And right now I have a lot of ideas for my next paintings.

That must be exciting.

Oh, extremely exciting.  I’m moving to New York City, and seeing how that plays out.  I’m going to move somewhere and paint in my apartment, wherever I am.

I know that in order to create a thesis, Art Studio majors have to raise funds themselves.  What was that like?

I begged like I have never begged before.  I worked like I have never worked before.  Because I’m international, I can’t work off campus, and I’m only allowed twenty hours a week to work.  So at the end of my sophomore year, I realized, I’m going to have to start painting and selling now.  Otherwise – no thesis.  No money, no thesis.

My thesis in total cost between three and five thousand dollars – I was talking to a few people, and they were shocked that the school didn’t provide the materials.  It was harder to raise the money than it was to make the paintings.

Do you think the University should supply more funding for Studio Art thesis work?

Definitely.  If I ever have large sums of money, I’ll do it myself.  The formula is so simple: no money, no thesis.  No one cares how much talent you have or what you’re trying to do.  Because, I mean, you’re not the next Picasso, and even if you are, you won’t know, because you don’t have any money to try.

Have you always liked art?

Nope. [In Jamaica], I didn’t know about the concept of a museum or art as a means to sustain yourself, or art as a means of expression or making an emotional impact.  I came here and took some art history courses and saw that there were textbooks written on it – just a whole field dedicated to it.

What about actually painting – doing it yourself?

Growing up nearsighted, poor hand-eye coordination, born broke, I just wasn’t exposed to it.  But once I was, I liked it; loved it.

Was painting self-portraits a self-reflective process for you?

That’s putting it mildly.  You want to know yourself? Paint yourself seven times.  You really want to know yourself?  Go outside in broad daylight with your face in full makeup, with two women holding up a mirror and a background behind you and another woman taking a picture, and having school children walk by. You will develop a level of confidence that you didn’t even know you had.

The Thesis Art Exhibition will continue in Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery until Saturday, May 26, 2012. There will be a reception on Saturday, May 26, 2012, from 2pm to 4pm.