Senior Art Exhibits: Meredith Leich, Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Oil painting by Sebastian Duncan Portuondo.

The first in a series of senior art exhibits in the List Gallery, Meredith Leich and Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo’s work demonstrated not only their artistic accomplishment but the striking creativity and sensitivity of two individuals whose joy in their work has created a venue of discovering and sharing their own selves.

“I began working with watercolor for the first time last fall, rather on a whim, but was taken with the medium and continued,” Leich explains in an online interview. Central to the work displayed were Leich’s watercolor series of the Science Center and a folding screen modeled on Japanese “byobu” screens with four hanging watercolor scrolls.

Watercolor panels by Meredith Leich

Each scroll makes up a landscape scene from Leich’s grandparents’ house. “That place has always held a great deal of mystery and beauty for me and I wanted to capture that both through my painting of the landscape and through the figure of the girl who walks towards and then away from the viewer.” The project also allowed Leich to explore three-dimensional work.

Leich, who has been influenced by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and her Professor Randall Exon, among others, describes her process as follows: “When I am painting, I try to notice every nuance of my subject and call attention to details that might otherwise go overlooked….We live such fast lives, especially here at Swarthmore, that I think we rarely pause to actually look at the world around.”

Watercolor series by Meredith Leich

Nuance is key to Leich’s work, which balances light and tone to create graceful, delicate, yet strong effects. A painting of a stairwell in Beardsley catches how light and color from an autumn tree as it plays on a metal banister. Leich’s series of portraits seem to track a shy game of light and observation as the viewer cannot quite make eye contact with the subject and full, white light seems to illuminate the illusive rather than clarify.

Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo’s work is bold in palette and approach but similar in its efforts to reach deeper into a subject and bring it into light. Mixed media, painting, mosaic and installation pieces made up his exhibit and the work required that viewer’s touch and open pieces in order to more fully view them.

A strong influence in Duncan-Portuondo’s work is religious symbolism and imagery. A beautiful altar with a richly colored mosaic tree inside and instructions in English and Spanish to close after opening is at once inviting and intensely private. As explained in his artist’s statement, a central interest in the exhibit is bringing the private into public space: “It seeks to deconstruct our way of thinking of these categories as dichotomous and thereby create a space for narratives which have been relegated to spaces outside of majoritarian imaginaries.”

Floor installation by Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo

Understanding and exploring symbols of identity, whether they related to religion, ethnicity, or sexuality, is also a fundamental aspect of the work in Duncan-Portuondo’s exhibit. As Duncan-Portuondo explains in his artist’s statement, “The process of creating art has been a process of coming to know myself and probing the way I can express this knowledge to a public.”

Color and placement invite the viewer to take part in the exploratory process of discovering the self. A landscape oil painting vibrates with red, which resonates and infuses life throughout the scene. Another piece, “90 miles” arranges various images in a manner that carries the eye across the wall in winding and elliptical journey.

The work of both artists reflects skill, patience, and invites viewers to join in the journey of self-discovery inherent to the process of making art. The next senior exhibit in the List, featuring Rachel Turner and Emmanuelle Wambach will open on Friday, April 18.