Making time to paint in Ireland

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While many students spent their summers in bustling cities crammed in public transportation or stuck in traffic, four students spent their summer in rural Ireland painting.

Max Barry ’19, Simona Dwass ’19, Maisie Yixuan Luo 19, and Julie Mizrahi ’19 spent their summer in Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland, with Randall Exon, the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Professor of Art. This month Barry, Dwass, and Yixuan Luo will be displaying selections of their work at the Kitao Gallery beginning with a reception on Thursday afternoon from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Exon is a continuing fellow at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation and has taken three to five students with him to Ireland for the past several summers to work on their art. Barry, Dwass, and Yixuan Luo are all art majors and have taken a class with Exon, who invited them on the trip.

“The first time I heard him talk about it was when I took his class freshman spring, and we’d been talking about it during that semester. And then last year, sophomore fall, he officially invited me to go the following summer,” said Barry.

They started their summer with a two-week class taught at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation by Exon and Jeffrey Reed, associate professor of art at Community College of Philadelphia. The class had students from around the world and the curriculum focused on painting landscapes.

“The class was very specifically en plein air painting, so we would go on field trips and go sit somewhere on the beautiful Irish countryside, and we would have an assignment to paint waves or paint something with a very specific color portfolio. And then the rest of the time, we were just supposed to build  off of what we learned in this class and continue our own work,” said Dwass.

After the course the students spent another four weeks at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation, where they worked in their own studio space and had more choice in what they wished to paint.

“Ireland was ideal for me in sophomore year because it really gave me the chance to just paint all day every day and experience being an artist going to residency, having a studio, how to manage your time on your own, how to make assignments for yourself, and be productive without the class structure or without a professor who is guiding you closely, so that was a really unique experience for me,” said Yixuan Luo.

The loose structure of the remaining time allowed the students to dive into their own work, something that is not always easy to do in a class or academic environment.

“It was the first time I had ever really been given a studio and told go do art, whatever you want, without any assignments, which was super intimidating but also really fun. The hardest part was definitely deciding what to do because I’m not really a painter. I’ve never been super good at very detailed fine arts. So I had a really hard time with the [landscape] painting because I could not get the texture grass to stick on my page — it just wouldn’t happen. But I think once I landed on a set of paintings that really interested me, it was a lot of fun to go in that vein,” said Dwass.  All three of the students eventually settled on a subject to focus on, which will be part of the display in Kitao.

Dwass worked on limiting herself to two colors plus white while painting different chairs around the Foundation.

Barry chose to focus on portraits, specifically self-portraits, and allowed himself the opportunity to experiment with color.

“After [landscapes] I started move into portraiture. I did a lot of self- portraits. … The works that are in the show highlight my work: I had never painted before going here, so after doing landscapes I wanted to experiment more with color, so you will see that a lot in the self-portraits,” said Barry.

Yixuan Luo chose to experiment with the dimensions, taking inspiration from David Hockney and Picasso.

“[Picasso and Hockney] see painting as a challenge of capturing the 3-D world onto the 2-D surface, so I got really into that, and I started experimenting with just environments around me, and then that really got me going,” said Yixuan Luo.

Yixuan Luo painted different environments where she spent time while at the Foundation.

All three students saw this as an opportunity to dedicate time to art and grow as artists.

This was the first time where I totally dedicated myself to just working on my art, and that was very meditative for me. It made me value the time that I spent working on my art a lot more, and … I feel like the choices I’ve made this semester in my artwork have been a lot more decisive and I think a lot more powerful,” said Barry.

Yixuan Luo and Dwass also noted how the experience of working independently in a studio would help them learn to experiment more with their art and in their senior independent study for the studio art major.

The Ireland trip allowed them to focus on their artwork away from the pressures of Swarthmore.

“My favorite part of my Ireland experience is [I got to experience what it would be like to be] a professional artist. I really got to have a taste of that. It’s really ideal because I can just spend the time to paint without worrying about all the other stuff like how to survive or how to do homework and stuff; I just need to paint, that’s all. So it is really ideal and idealistic in a way because I know that in reality, I need to find balance with work I need to do for school and to get money versus, like, painting. So that was a great experience for me,” said Yixuan Luo.

Selections of Barry, Dwass and Yixuan Luo’s work from the summer were installed in Kitao on Saturday and will be on display until Nov. 21. You can see the artwork on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when Kitao is open or during any Kitao event before Nov. 21.

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