Diamond, Ma showcase artistic growth at Kitao

Two of Sung Min Ma’s oil paintings hang in the Kitao Art Gallery. (Camila Ryder/The Phoenix)

Two of Sarah Diamond’s portraits hang in the Kitao Art Gallery. (Camila Ryder/The Phoenix)















Today, Swarthmore students have one last opportunity to take in the artwork of Sarah Diamond ’13 and Sung Min Ma ’12 at the Kitao Gallery. This comes after a well-attended opening on Feb. 2, and another successful reception this past Sunday.

It seems Swarthmore can’t get enough of these two driven young artists.

The exhibit follows the work of students Ma and Diamond starting from their first forays into oil painting all the way through to their current work.

“This was one of my first oil paintings,” Ma said, pointing to a subdued self-portrait during the reception last Sunday. “I was a lot more interested in modeling when I started. Now I’m more into design.”

There’s a definite trajectory marked by Ma’s shift in artistic focus and it serves to define his portion of the exhibit. His selection of paintings highlights his move from an interest in portraiture and maintaining a clear subject in his paintings to a preoccupation with design, and the positioning of shapes within a certain space.

“I took my first oil painting course with Professor Logan [Grider] during my sophomore year. He’s the best professor,” said Ma. Assistant Professor of Studio Art Logan Grider, whose artwork is on display at the List Gallery, taught Ma and heavily influenced Ma’s own work. Ma readily acknowledges this. “People recognize the similarities. We actually made this together,” Ma said, pointing to his quiet depiction of an animal made out of cardboard and other recycled objects.

Ma’s personal approach to art seems to derive from an innate desire to overcome. A pre-med student who also plans to finish his economics major this year, Ma approaches his art as part gratifying self-expression and part exercise in abstract and systematic problem solving. “Thirty percent of the time I feel so happy when I’m painting, seventy percent of the time I feel stressed,” he said, groaning towards the end to emphasize the point.

His goal, Ma said, is to “direct the viewer’s attention in a certain way.” In a warm, ochre and gold depiction of a bedroom, Ma emphasizes rectangular shapes and uses their inherent line and axes to direct the light. In this way, Ma is able to suggest a sense of space that isn’t plainly visible, but remains detectable nonetheless.

Sarah Diamond, the other half of the Kitao exhibit, also looks at her selection of artwork as representative of her experience working with and understanding oil painting as a medium.

“For me, this isn’t one body of work,” Diamond said enthusiastically, referring to two of her paintings. “I mean, look at those two paintings,” she said, “They could be by two different people!”

Diamond doesn’t profess to harbor a specifically refined, fine-tuned vision that she’s seeking to convey. Instead, the artist understands her exhibit as a moment in her artistic trajectory, a moment she wanted to share with the community at large. “We learn that shows are supposed to be about seeing artwork that comes together to tell a kind of big cohesive story. My show isn’t like that at all. Mine is kind of a ‘look what I’m learning show.’”

Diamond’s portrait of Henry Ainley ʼ12 is one of several portraits in the gallery’s exhibit. (Camila Ryder/The Phoenix)

Despite these humble claims, there is a clear thematic and structural thread that connects all of Diamond’s work. All of her paintings at the gallery are portraits, and Diamond’s affinity for portraiture originates from her belief in the medium’s universally accessible nature.

“One of the things we all have in common is that we’re all people, and I think that’s something the viewer can see immediately and read into,” she said.

Diamond’s paintings are extremely distinctive thanks to her fascination with skin. Her work is characterized by a vibrancy in hues and a diversity in color that seem to writhe just barely underneath the skin of her subjects. “People are always like, ‘Oh there are so many colors!’ But I really think I see them,” Diamond shrugs. “But I could also just be nuts.”

Diamond’s large, imposing and colorful portraits prioritize recognizability without compromising Diamond’s unique and organic perception of people. In representing individuals, Diamond aims for accuracy, not photorealism.“I value being a craftsman and being good,” Diamond said. “People project images and trace them … I could never do that. I mean I take photos because I can’t have people sitting for me. But I don’t paint the photo, I look at the photo, I reference the photo, and I look at other photos.”

Diamond acknowledges that misrepresentations of a real image might translate onto her canvas, but for her, that’s the fun part.“I’m fine with these inconsistencies, I’m fine with a lot of the distortions, lines that aren’t really crisp and lines that are blending into something else and tones that seem a little bit bizarre,” Diamond said, “because, I mean, you can read into it however you want to, and it’s interesting, and it’s real.”

From the selected paintings of Sarah Diamond and Sung Ming Ma at the Kitao Gallery, it is clear that the two artists are honing in on their own style and thematic content. Their selections represent both artists’ deepened understanding of their own artistic philosophies and aims. Ma and Diamond lay bare this typically personal process with their exhibit, and in doing so, bring to Swarthmore an enlightening and uniquely intimate social event.

The Kitao Gallery will be showing Sung Ming Ma and Sarah Diamond’s paintings for the last time today from 4-5 p.m.

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