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Senior Profile: Paper Nostalgia with Gracie Farley ’17

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Trudging into Science Center Tuesday night I could feel a lot of weight on my back. Exams, essays, the fact I wore flip-flops when there was three inches of rain on the ground, all seemed to drag me into a state of mind identical to the quagmire outside. Sitting down to talk with Grace Farley ’17, however, I found myself forgetting all of that. For a little while, I was lucky enough to just listen to an extremely talented person talk about their unique experience with art and the art department.

For many students here at Swarthmore the task of finding a real place within any department can be tricky. The sense of belonging students can sometimes find by devoting time and effort to a study they truly care about can be hard enough to get from one major, but Gracie has had the extra challenge of finding a home in two seemingly different fields, art and biology.

“For my past three years here I haven’t really felt like an art major. Since I’m doing biology as well, that’s received a lot of my time and focus. Up until recently, I’ve really struggled finding my own style and motivation to create art until last summer during senior studio,” Farley said.

Starting her senior fall, however, she experienced her “switch.” Reflecting on the past year, a small smile crept onto her face as she reflected on how she finally developed her identity as an artist.

“I really started feeling comfortable as someone who could create art. I’m really kind of sad to be leaving right as I discovered this aspect of myself,” said Farley.

With her time at Swarthmore coming to a close, Farley’s senior thesis exhibition felt like a special treat. A series she titled “Paper Spaces,” her exhibition comprised of paper collages depicting scenes from her family life as well as more fantastical designs. Through trimmed and colored paper, she shaped storybook scenes of fish darting through a field of stars and little girls on tiny moon who throw flowers into the cosmos. While her galactic fairy tale definitely holds a real sense of joy, her other works that depict the quiet moments taken from the life her parents and grandparents have their own quiet charm.

“I was basing all these works off of old family photos, so I think there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes through in these collages,” she said.

Despite working from photographs, many of her family scenes feel like they were done in the style of memory. She cut out only the suggestion of facial features for many of her relatives. A slightly darker tan where a nose would cast a shadow or the white fringe of eyebrows could be all there is on a face as if it existed in a childhood memory that could only be half remembered. However, the atmosphere of all these scenes are easy to pinpoint. The tranquil moments that seem to hold their own special sort of emotion are reconstructed with trimmed paper. A summer day walking along the beach, a worn couch filled with children posing for a camera, late winter afternoon spent sledding, and many of the other little moments she created felt so easy sweet and familiar.

“It’s actually a little funny though. There’s one piece of a family with a sled that’s actually taken from a picture where one of the children in the photo is my mom. I just never imagined my mom’s family going on a trip to go sledding or ice skating at all,” she said.

“I think for me, my family is really important to my identity. As someone who is multiracial, they have played a big part of sculpting my identity in terms of where I come from, who I am, and what spaces I feel comfortable speaking up in. I think for me, reflecting on my family, I’ve come to a point where I don’t really see it as something with two distinct parts, like an Asian side of my family and a white side of my family. My family is multiracial just like I’m multiracial just kind of in more discreet units. I just found that realization as I was working on these family photos really cathartic.”

Looking towards her life after Swarthmore, Gracie sees her future in the laboratory slightly more than the studio.

“I got asked what I wanted my future with art to be in my senior critique the other day, but I think because I only started to feel like an artist recently I never really considered art as a career. Right now, I probably see myself as a lab technician somewhere. I really do want to continue producing art especially since I’ve built up so much momentum these last few months and I don’t want to lose that.”

Though the road ahead may seem to be dominated more by pipets than paintbrushes, Farley admitted that is getting a little extra push to keep creating art from a familiar source.

“At the moment I have a few family members who want some commissions,” she said with a smile.

Petroff invites community to float his drawings

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“Floating Drawings,” three-dimensional artwork, is composed of planar elements that “float” before the wall. Paper, wire, and cloth are displayed upon a silk screen, covered in gouache painting, and hang from the List Gallery wall. Meanwhile, the artist, Alexis Petroff, lectures to an audience in the Lang Performing Arts Center about his work, his journey as an artist, as well as the inspiration and process behind his “Floating Drawings.”

On January 19, 2017, the college opened its newest List Gallery exhibition titled “Floating Drawings,” the work of Petroff. Selected as a 2017 Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist, Petroff was invited to lecture about his work in the LPAC, followed by a reception where the Gallery was officially opened to the public, free of charge. The Gallery includes numerous works by Petroff beyond his “floating” artwork with four accordion books displaying photographs of objects pertaining to their titles: “Float,” “Carts,” “Betwixt,” and “No Rubbish.”

The ideas and inspiration for this artwork include Petroff’s previous works, such as “Tape Collages,” preparatory drawings, Google Maps, and even the List Gallery.

The inspiration comes from preparatory drawings and collages based on the process of lifting a fragment of reality from its context and placing it into a new one. The aim is to merge the elements to create a whole,” Petroff said.

Even though Petroff currently focuses on 3-D artwork, he has also created previous projects that include collages out of tape and the photograph books that are on display in the List Gallery.

“Approximately 11 years ago, I transitioned from making gouache prints and paintings on paper to making three dimensional work. As I investigated the tensions between drawing and sculpture, in keeping with the ways I approach image making, I found new territory to explore within the space that parallels the wall,” Petroff said.

The process Petroff uses to create the artwork begins with brainstorming ideas for the pieces and sketching them. He then proceeds to execute the idea by first choosing the materials he will use, which include paper, wire, cloth, and A or AA light fastens. These materials in turn tell him how to proceed in interpreting the idea and allowing the object to take “life” as he constructs the artwork. The work includes the painting of some of the materials, cutout of cloth, the arrangement of the different components, and the fastening of the components onto the silk panels.

“[It is] the relationship between the elements in space that constitute my work,” Petroff said.

Before Petroff’s arrival at Swarthmore, Andrea Packard, the director of the List Gallery, met with members of the department of art to discuss potential exhibition candidates for the List Gallery. Professor of Art Logan Grider, who met Petroff years ago as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, suggested him. The exhibition was unanimously agreed upon, and Petroff was invited to lecture and display his work at Swarthmore.

“[Petroff’s] own journey in art has been a long one and his artistic evolution is ongoing. It embraces the art of many cultures and the phenomenon of both littered streets and digital realms,” Packard said in her introduction of Petroff.    

Among the artwork on display in the Gallery is a piece Petroff created for the Swarthmore Peace Library called “Ode to Mahatma.” While researching Swarthmore College last year using its website, Petroff discovered the webpage on the Peace Library and was fascinated by its collection of Mahatma Gandhi’s correspondence as well as the library’s mission statement, “To gather, preserve, and make accessible material that documents non-governmental efforts for nonviolent social change, disarmament, and conflict resolution between people and nations.” He decided to take the mission to heart. The piece is a gift to the library, its shapes are inspired by Gandhi’s spinning wheel, and its colors are an ode to the Indian Flag.  

Amongst the planning of the event, flyers went around, programs were mailed to students, and an event was listed as part of the college’s calendar. The attendees of the lecture and exhibit opening included Noah Morrison ’17. As a photographer, Morrison was interested in the numerous types of interdisciplinary forms in image making, which are present in Petroff’s work. Morrison admired Petroff’s approach to his work, even speaking to him about it at the exhibit.

“I understood that there are many ways to produce art and be a working artist, and it does not have to be horribly intensive [or] boring [when] creating a beautiful body of work,” Morrison said.

The “Floating Drawings” exhibit will be on display until March 12 at the List Gallery in LPAC, where there will be a closing event from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

List Offers New “Reflections” on Painting

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On Thursday, Nov. 3, the List Gallery opened a newly mounted exhibit of works by American figurative painter Lois Dodd. Dodd, this year’s Donald J. Gordon Visiting Artist, also delivered an artist’s talk that evening to a full auditorium in LPAC cinema. Alongside Dodd during the talk were Faye Hirsch, editor and art critic at Art in America Magazine, and Andrea Packard, List Gallery director and curator, both of whom seemed absolutely delighted to discuss Dodd’s work with her. During her introduction to the talk, Packard thanked Alexandre Gallery, which represents Dodd and facilitated loans to the List Gallery.

“Our little gallery has a monumentality I’ve never seen before,” Packard said during the talk, in regards to the show.

Dodd was born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1927. In the late ‘40s, she attended Cooper Union School of Art. During the talk, she explained that she had little exposure to art before college. Dodd would go on to become part of a group of figurative painters working from observation. Dodd painted at a time when the art world deemed such practice obsolete in light of abstract expressionism.

“This was a movement particularly notable for its erasure of female participation while producing some of the most famous male modernists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko. Her paintings are more figurative and less abstracted than these male artists and, therefore, shift and complicate a commonly monolithic understanding of post-war American art,” said Blake Oetting ’18.

Oetting is one of this year’s List Gallery interns who helped unpack the paintings before their installation. Given its subversive implications, Oetting commended Packard and the art department for organizing the show.

The exhibit, titled “Lois Dodd: Windows and Reflections,” focuses on a recurring theme in Dodd’s work. The paintings, spanning from 1963 to 2006, include views from the window of her apartment on East 2nd Street in lower Manhattan, landscapes surrounding her weekend home at the Delaware Water Gap, and the gardens and woods surrounding her summer home on the St. George in Maine. Harmonic handlings of color, texture, and form characterize these compositions.

“I’ve been studying this work in reproductions, so to see the actual paintings is huge,” said Hirsch, who is currently working on a monograph on Dodd and her art. During the talk, Dodd, Hirsch, and Packard discussed Dodd’s painterly practice and philosophy.

“My easel was usually a tree,” Dodd said on her paintings from St. George, eliciting a few chuckles from the audience. “I covered it up with plastic at night, and returned to it during the day … It would take a few days.”

Dodd stressed the importance of the trompe-l’oeil techniques in her paintings. Trompe-l’oeil refers to the realistic handling of paint that grants objects the visual illusion of existing in the same three-dimensional space as the viewer. Although Dodd’s work retains a painterly texture, the scale of the paintings helps establish the trompe-l’oeil effect.

“I was thinking trompe-l’oeil thoughts at the time,” said Dodd. “I didn’t want them to be small and far away from me.”

Accompanying the exhibit is a 32-page exhibition catalog with essays by Packard and Barry Schwabsky, chief art critic for The Nation. Packard and Schwabsky discuss the pleasant intricacies of Dodd’s paintings, and ground them within larger art historical contexts.

“Her images of windows, as well as natural apertures such as ponds and intersecting tree limbs, call attention to the way we variously frame and focus our attention,” Packard said in her essay.

The lack of human representation in most of Dodd’s paintings was addressed during the talk as well.

“One of the things I was struck by in the show is … there are no people represented in there … It seems to me that the human presence we feel very much [in these paintings] is you,” Hirsch said to Dodd at one point. “It’s a very subtle presence … and it’s not a human of depiction.”

“That sounds great,” responded Dodd calmly, again moving the audience to laughter.

Oetting found these moments in the talk particularly charming and indicative of the beauty in art interpretation.

“It gave an idea of Lois’s personality and also emphasized the idea of her work — and art in general — being living, breathing cultural relics that are constantly being reinterpreted and reevaluated,” said Oetting.

Dodd’s calm disposition was very much in line with the accessibility of her art; audience members were moved to engage and ask questions of Dodd and each other. In other words, the paintings invited interpretation.

“I am very impressed with how engaging Lois Dodd’s show is,” said Oetting. “I don’t think it requires an extensive background in art history to appreciate her aesthetic nor grasp, at least loosely, some of the themes she was interested in exploring.”

The show will be on view until Dec. 15. Physical copies of the catalogue are available in the gallery, and a PDF is available online.

“It’s becoming more and more obvious: Lois Dodd is one of the best painters of the past half-century or so,” said Schwabsky in his essay.

List honors legacy of photographer Bruce Cratsley

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Walking into the List Gallery, now featuring “Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities,” one is struck by the vastness of Bruce Cratsley ’66’s portfolio.  The exhibition highlights images taken between 1977 and 1999 on Cratsley’s twin lens Rolleiflex camera, showcasing a range of subjects from participants in a gay pride parade to marble statues in a museum. Lectures and events will accompany the exhibition until it closes on October 30.

List Gallery Director Andrea Packard ’85 and Studio Art Instructor Ron Tarver curated the exhibit. Of Cratsley’s over 2,000 images, they were challenged to select only a limit amount for presentation.  

“As curators, you not only pick the artist,” Packard said, speaking to the difficulty in choosing these images, “but you have to think, ‘What are the best physical objects which represent the artist’s visions?’”

Throughout such a vast corpus of work, Cratsley frequently juxtaposed shadows and light to add a unique quality to his black and white photos.  

Tarver, who also is a staff photographer with The Philadelphia Inquirer, said, “Bruce’s work is all about light and texture, and sort of creating a mood with light, and how he used light to sort of sculpt his images. His focus is all on light and shadow.”

One theme in Cratsley’s photographs is especially poignant. By documenting the LGBT community and the AIDS crisis over the course of his career, he confronted topics in the 1980s, which were controversial when these images were captured and are still so today.

Tarver said, “It was a time when [this] wasn’t really talked about, but he was one of the first photographers to sort of push that idea of photographing mainly gay pride, putting it out there, and then turning it into art, and documenting it.”

A series of portraits of David, one of Cratsley’s partners, specifically reflects the toll of contracting AIDS.  At the time of these pictures, there were many myths surrounding the syndrome, which fed into paranoia and prejudices. Cratsley himself contracted AIDS and passed away in 1998.

Packard remarked on her own experience of graduating from Swarthmore and observing the impacts of the disease, explaining that there are still societal impacts to deal with today.

“That crisis manifested aspects of the best and worst of humanity, and those underlying qualities about human society … those underlying habits of both caring for each other and sometimes distancing ourselves from others are still prevalent, and we still have to work hard to overcome that sort of habitual and hurtful thinking.”

For Cratsley, though, there was no dominating single subject or theme. His diverse work included, among more, portraiture, still life images, and scenes captured in window reflections.  

“The show in its nature kind of delves into a lot of his different modes of working,” noted List Gallery Intern Blake Oetting ’18.

Packard commented that it can be important for students to see such a range.  

“I think it’s good for artists to know, young artists learning photography or any medium, that artists study and engage with lots of different things. We don’t have to be specialists in one,” Packard said.

To develop and create his photographs, Cratsley used two and one-quarter-inch negatives which were exposed in a darkroom. During this process, Cratsley varied levels of exposure to create different effects in lighting — a physical process that many duplicate today digitally.  He also did not use a glass collodion, which usually forces the negatives to lie flat, when printing, resulting in final prints which are not perfectly square. This effect is noticeable in his works currently on display.  

“If you go to the exhibit,” Tarver noted, “you may notice that the matte and the edge of the print isn’t necessarily parallel, and that’s because he didn’t use the glass plate.  From an aesthetic point of view, that’s probably where he … did his own thing.”

Trained by photographer Lisette Model, Cratsley was introduced to a distinct style early in his career. Model’s work is, according to Tarver, “not very fussy.”  

“She would photograph people on the street … very unposed,” he said.

Packard explained that Model defined photography as “the art of the instant,” and noted that Cratsley’s works took full advantage of this motif.  

“That paradox of instantaneity and timelessness in an image is something that a lot of artists are drawn to, whether they’re painters or photographers,” said Packard. “I think his work is interesting in that it really is an exemplar of that.”

“One thing I really am proud of with this show is the way Bruce did not define himself solely by one thing,” noted Packard. “He wasn’t solely a gay man, solely a person with AIDS, and the show [reveals] what a beautiful, full, life he led.”

The exhibition runs through October 30 with events occurring throughout its tenure. On Thursday, September 15, Tarver will deliver a lecture before an opening reception entitled “Bruce Cratsley’s Inspirations and Legacy.” The lecture begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Lang Performing Arts Center, and the reception is at 5:30 p.m. in the List Gallery.

Jasmin Rodriguez-Schroeder ’17 will speak at a closing reception on October 19 at 12:30 p.m., where an exhibition pamphlet created by Oetting will be available.

Vavrek brings relief(s) to Swarthmore

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Last Thursday, a crowd of students, professors, and other members of the Swarthmore community gathered in the Lang Performing Arts Center cinema to hear artist Ken Vavrek lecture on his work. The List Gallery also opened an exhibition of selected works from Vavrek’s 50-year career. Every year, the Art Department and List Gallery invite an artist like Vavrek that they believe exemplifies Swarthmore’s intellectual ideals to present their work as the Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist and Lecturer.

Marking the start of the ceremony, Professor of Studio Art Syd Carpenter delivered a warm introduction to Vavrek and his work. After a brief round of applause, Vavrek approached the podium to speak. He tampered with his microphone for a moment, took a sip of water to quell his nerves, and then began by gushing about the opportunity.

“[It] really is a huge compliment,” Vavrek said in regards to the invitation. “They’ve had some amazing shows in this gallery.”

Vavrek’s lecture explored several of his artistic motivations, highlighting significant shifts in his work. He opened with a photograph of himself in high school, holding what he called a “Calder rip-off,” and discussed his humble beginnings in art. However, even Vavrek’s self-proclaimed “cliché” mobiles illustrate his recurring theme of dynamic sculpture. This is particularly developed in his most recent low-relief sculptures, which he calls “sectionals,” and are on view at the List Gallery.

“Movement is…very eminent and prominent in the platters and sectionals,” Vavrek affirmed.

Despite their physical stillness, the forms of the sectionals seem to vibrate and swell. They also appear to overlap, creating an enveloping collage of moving forms.

“He had somehow managed, brilliantly, to amplify it all.” Carpenter said on revisiting his work after a number of years. “He pursues his vision with a graceful, yet relentless intensity….When I look at that work, I see this pulse that’s moving through the work that has not ceased … [this is] the work of a mature artist at the top of his game … you feel the pulse, the physicality, of this work … he knows what he’s doing.”

A 1975 trip to Utah’s Arches National Monument and other Southwest desert sites inspired the wall sculptures and boat-like vessels of Vavrek’s Desert series, which are also on view at the List Gallery and preceded his low-relief sectionals and platters. He explained his 1981 breakthrough when he realized he could fire sections and piece them together to make one large wall sculpture. A sense of dynamism and tension is also evident in these works, again particularly through the overlapping of forms. As the viewer explores these works, they may find themselves in pure awe at their execution — as Vavrek surely felt when he saw the desert structures on his trip.

During the lecture, Vavrek also explained the names of his work from the Desert period, which is of note since his recent sculptures are mostly untitled. Names such as Rough Break and Desperado, nostalgically reference the “imaginary culture of the West” Vavrek experienced through movies in the fifties and was reminded of during his trip.

In addition to experiences like the desert trip, Vavrek discussed various artists that influenced him. Willem De Kooning and Rudy Autio-inspired sculptures followed his early infatuation with Calder. Vavrek has always been in dialogue with his contemporaries, and Professor Carpenter has placed him amongst mid-20th century modernists like Anthony Caro, Hans Hofmann, and Mies van der Rohe.

Modest and transparent when it comes to his influences, he held that artists should feel free to “steal” from one another, but only in the event that their art reshapes the idea into something new.

Vavrek and his work are interdisciplinary, to which many students and professors at Swarthmore can relate. With strong math and science skills — especially in geometry — he initially went to college to study engineering. The geological influences in his Desert series reflect a close study of the earth, muddling the constructed boundary between science and art. Vavrek also spoke briefly to the “specificity of place” in his work.

“I expect people, when they look at my work, to not know what it is, but they know that some kind of an event is taking place.” Vavrek said.

This captivating notion of an event then introduces theories of physics, spacetime, and the cosmos to his work. Indeed, Vavrek’s work welcomes different interpretations from each viewer.

At the end of the talk, Vavrek was asked about any stalls in his career, or if he even had any, since it seemed to flow from one development to the next in his lecture.

“There were a lot of moments…where I was stuck,” Vavrek said. “Then…I would just start playing and not think about it….It took a year before something came out that was, you know, worth paying attention to, and I wasn’t surprised by that. I am not a naturally talented artist. I’m a moderately talented artist that has gotten a lot out of that talent by working.”

A founder of Philadelphia’s Clay Studio, Vavrek is an important member of the local ceramic artists community and his work has been exhibited and collected across the United States at many reputable institutions, such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, the Everson Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His exhibit at the List Gallery will be open until February 28.

Senior thesis work now on exhibit at List Gallery

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Z.L. Zhou/The Phoenix
Z.L. Zhou/The Phoenix

This year, the List Gallery has been home to many professional exhibits in a variety of media, from artists with different interests and backgrounds. Starting last week until the end of the semester, it will be home to several senior thesis exhibitions.

Two of these exhibits, works of painting and sculpture by students Temple Price ’15 and Emily Lipner ’15. Lipner’s work, titled “Meditations,” is a collection of gouache — somewhat like an opaque watercolor — paintings that use color and perspective expertly. The paint looks both liquid and waxy, often as if it’s dripping and holding still at the same time. This use of the specific variety of paint as well as even tape is all part of Lipner’s artistic vision.

“Many of these paintings used tape to create hard lines, or to contain the fluidity of water-based media within a hard-edged form,” she said.

The shapes are abstract but also reminiscent of furniture and shelves, everyday objects that are easy to forget about but stick in the back of your memory.

“I sought to look critically at the spaces that I frequently inhabit, especially campus spaces and my studio in particular, to extrapolate and call attention to forms in our worlds that we may not immediately recognize,” said Lipner.

Many of Lipner’s pieces are series of small prints arranged in big paper panels that repeat — with minor variations. That’s related to the theme of understated spaces, the artist thinks. Her goal was to bring attention to these spaces in a way that was more innovative and interesting than painting a still scene.

“I meditated on these observations through repetitions,” she said,”creating multiple iterations of a single object or composition of forms so as to learn more about the shape relationships and color relationships within my painting.”

Take, for example, her piece “Exercises.” It’s an “iteration of a single composition of shapes” through which the artist may “play with the composition to underscore the versatility and endless possibilities inherent in color and form.”

One thing that isn’t apparent from a visit to the exhibit is the artist’s history, and how the work exists in context.

“My show was a major departure from the work I had done in earlier semesters, focusing on representation and the figure,” said Lipner. “I used microcosmic still lives of corners and interior spaces to depart from these subjects, leading me to the show I eventually produced.”

Sharing the space in the gallery was Price’s exhibition, a collection of huge wooden blocks delicately carved into humanoid bodies. Like Lipner’s work, which was inspired simply by her being in rooms, Price’s art pieces came to being as a matter of seemingly trivial consequence.

“My latest body of work started when I found large Douglas fir beams left over from the demolition of the old squash courts,” said Price.

Each sculpture is a contorted representation of a human figure: sitting, slouching, standing twisted. The work is very delicately made, with a startling attention to detail. Price used a number of tools and techniques to give every piece the same level of care and granting it a different artistic quality.

“The texture each tool creates is a reflection of both my effort and the qualities inherent in the wood it. This body of work is as much about the materials as it is about the human form.”

The dedication to the craft is not without its downsides, of course.

“Wood is a pain in the ass to carve. I have lots of splinters. The tools are insanely dangerous.”

While appreciating the many subtleties of the form is helpful in really appreciating the work, the power of Price’s art also comes from the immediately visible sculpted humanity of each piece. He plays on what he calls a “familiarity” with the human form, changing the orientation and proportions of the body in different ways in each piece.

As with Lipner, Price’s work represents a shift in focus from his earlier material. While he is no newcomer to working in wood, his idea of the medium has changed.

“Previous years of work have focused on functional works: mainly lamps and vessels,” said Price. “This is the first time I have attempted to sculpt the figure.”

These two collections, pictured, have been taken down. Now on display is work by Cookie Dou ’15, whose show is aptly titled “Small Watercolors.” It’s more straightforward, focusing on Dou’s ordinary daily observations. She stuck to more classical forms, and let her work serve as a practiced execution of a developed tradition.

Dou made use of the “portability” of the watercolor medium to incite what she calls a “deeper sense of appreciation for the mundane,” featuring everyday items like plastic forks and popsicle sticks. The typical perception of this subject matter (boring, mass-produced) is unrelated to the artistic quality of the work (carefully made and really interesting).

The rest of her work features cityscapes, foods, animals — items from both the foreground and background of daily scenes. Dou’s objective through her work, in many ways, is to freeze her mortal experiences in paint and give them more life.

“I’m able to capture fleeting moments really quickly and give my experiences a quality of permanence,” Dou said.

In addition to her dedication to art, Dou is a biology major who plans on entering a medical profession. Her experiences in labs and other traditional academic work allow her to use art as an effective emotional release.

“I’m much less focused about myself and my personal journey when writing a science paper, as the paper is about the research and raw data,” she said, “while my art thesis and this upcoming show is entirely personal.”

Dou’s work is on display from today until April 28, alongside the exhibition of her classmate Ava Cotlowitz ’15 (work pictured), which offers beautiful rendering of cows, among other things.

Kehoe and Lichtman still-lives now on display at List Gallery

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IMG_5676
Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda

Velázquez somehow managed to show up in the frame of the enormous screen in Lang Performing Arts Center during a well-attended presentation by Catherine Kehoe and Susan Lichtman, introducing their “Tone Shapes and Shape Notes” exhibit, currently inhabiting the List Gallery. But only as a ‘sort-of’ inspiration.

“Still-life painting,” said Kehoe, “makes it possible to compose a world that remains constant.”

It wasn’t, however, Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” but one of his more obscure portraits being projected onto the screen, placed right next to Kehoe’s interpretation of it, in her fragmented, abstract style. Where, for Velázquez the major subjects of his work might have traditionally been a King, a workshop assistant for practice or the Princess, for Kehoe, the characters, on the contrary, are the light and textures of surface and space, dancing together and transforming through her drafts upon drafts, like a poem, brought out of various human identities to resonate as a function of the traditions and the paintbrushes and the images used to communicate between them.

“What happened?” asked Kehoe, closer towards the end of the presentation, looking at once from behind her glasses to the laptop on the pedestal to the projection screen looming behind her. “Something went dark.”

It was as though the self used to allude to and describe the existence of “art” had suddenly become, in little more than a microsecond of darkness, more significant than what the art on the screen was trying to represent. It seemed the lag in the projection was a threat to the stoic frame’s legitimacy. This screen was the same screen, after all, upon which the dastardly compositions of artists such as Roman Polanski and Jean-Luc Godard are repeatedly projected into students’s eyes as precisely that: formidable threats to the narrative of traditional film’s legitimacy. And this gallery was the same gallery whose events are accustomed to serving Swarthmore art admirers a glass or two of wine.

The frame of the two spaces was deliberately set for art, primarily as spectacle, like an animal in a cage; but the pause provided insight into the outline of the List gallery’s main character and subject, i.e. the frame. One might say, in this light, while identifying with the brushstroke of the presentation’s malfunction — instead of with the actual artists and artworks being presented — with Kehoe, that:

“I quickly forget I am looking at myself; when I see the resulting paintings, it is as if someone has captured my image without my knowledge.”

If one could identify with a technical malfunction…

It’s indeed incredible how accessible art is today, like the animal kingdom, from a variety of what art calls “perspectives.” The technological fact that her Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, in the course of half-an-hour, could show more of the artist’s works, along side their inspirations, both quotational and visual, than the gallery-space could exhibit over the course of a month, was a technological fact of the same flavor as that of Youtube videos capable of revealing to viewers more about a wild animal than a zoo could possibly dream of.

The exhibit must therefore carry some ritualistic value, like a technical malfunction, reminding us of worlds we used to know.

It is said somewhere, probably by Adorno, that the most valuable — insofar as they are ‘timely’ or ‘contemporary’ — works of art are those in which a power recognizes itself, as in a mirror. As powers change, so too do the limits of the art in which a power sees itself, projects itself, evaluates itself and, in the end, accepts itself. But something about the general structure of this relationship, like the relationship between a ruling elite and its capital or its fashion, remains the same.

“As I paint, I conjure up unplanned narratives. I realize I am revealing small things that have been on my mind: a story I heard on the news, a relationship between family members, a memory of those unsettled moments when we have just arrived home or are about to leave for elsewhere,” said Lichtman.

The frame, whose — yes, a frame can be a character too — subjects, from French film to PowerPoint presentations, never remain the same, lords over LPAC like the names of Art’s policing authorities. Velázquez, Cezánne, and Monet are continually deployed, like security apparatuses, zoo-guards, to legitimize art and its conducive cages. The frame is certainly the unnamed, unarticulated subject of the presentation and exhibit.

Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” to contrast, took sponsorship as its main subject, when most court-painting was accustomed to taking royalty as its main subject. Representation for Velázquez, and most the court painters, generally meant to embellish a power, to represent, to reify, to rectify a power, thus reproducing a power.

“—a few hues and white intermix to build a narrow tonal world, an atmospheric envelope—”

In Kafka’s “Trial,” the hero — like art within the frame of LPAC’s unacknowledged projection screen —  is condemned for a crime he did not know he committed. He fails to gain any practical counsel from lawyers, from the police, and from the law itself.  In hopes of solving the mystery of his condemnation, the hero decides to seek legal counsel from, of all people, an artist named Titorelli. The reason for this is vague, like everything in Kafka; but his seeking an artist is a fact, since the desperation pervading his pursuit of justice at every corner compels him almost unconsciously to the very limits and frames of civilization itself, like a lion pacing back and forth inside a cage.

The artist, a court-painter who provides the paintings in which the power of the court and all the individuals who comprise it, not only wants but needs to see itself. The only thing unique about Titorelli’s “art” — which, as a function of the court, is for all intents and purposes the opposite of originality — is the fact that it is he, Titorelli, who produces it. Titorelli’s reputation, like Swarthmore’s List Gallery, the signifier, i.e. the court-power which contracts his skills, is more significant than what, through the name and process of ‘art,’ like ‘animal life’ in a zoo, is supposed to be signified. His art, like the lion’s appetite, instead of becoming inspirational or an exemplary original, defers all creativity to the function of the frames in which the power of the court functions and is reproduced.

A walk from LPAC’s theatre to the List gallery, likewise, defers all creativity to the function and power of the frame, in which Swarthmore apparently recognizes itself. Art today is unimaginable without the frame, whether it is financial, in the form of a sponsor, bureaucratic in the form of portfolios, cover letters or resumes or formal, in the confessional form of a PowerPoint presentation.

“It’s all been done before,” said Kehoe.

 

Let’s meander towards student art

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

With the much-lambasted Crum Creek Meander finally removed this past week, we are curious to see what public art will be gracing our campus next. A suggestion: let it be student art.

In past years, the college has had a number of art installations, some of which, like the mural on the side of the Science Center and the polarized light painting outside of Science Center 101, are here to stay on a permanent basis. All of these have been by outside artists, and we do love that their work is here, but why has the college not given students an opportunity to showcase their art?

The Kitao Gallery allows student artists to display their work, but it lacks exposure. The Kitao board has mentioned bringing its exhibits to a larger audience, and the college could definitely help out here: why not run a college-sponsored contest for a rotating art installation? Schools like Harvard and Dartmouth offer opportunities for students to have their art publicly displayed. Perhaps a wall in Shane could be freed up, a space on the beach reserved.

Kitao, as a student-run organization, is also unable to remain open the same way that the List Gallery can, further restricting ability of student artists to be displayed. Perhaps the college could create a job to watch over Kitao like the students who sit in List. And honestly, the use of the List gallery for Studio Art majors’ senior projects is something we could see a lot more of.

The college could show more support for WSRN, raising awareness of how many students perform and create art on the radio. Institutions like Franklin & Marshall broadcast their radio station in public areas, such as their dining halls. Were Sharples or Essie’s to play WSRN for even a few hours out of the day, hundreds of students could be exposed to what happens on the air, which is otherwise often heard by shamefully few people. Student radio has a long history on this campus and it would take very little to give it more support.

So little work, but so much payoff: our student artists should get the exposure they deserve.

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