Professors’ Works, Beyond the Classroom

julia carleton and katy montoya - list gallery 7_color printStarting March 5th and running through April 10th, the Department of Art Faculty and Staff exhibition will be on display at The List Gallery in LPAC.  During the gallery opening on tuesday, most of the artists featured were present at the opening and partook in a discussion of their works.

The exhibit displays works by nine artists who are currently teaching and working at Swarthmore College: Jake Beckman ‘05, Syd Carpenter, Randall Exon, Logan Grider, Doug Herren, Brian Meunier, Andrea Packard, Mary Phelan, and Ron Tarver. The works vary greatly in terms of mediums, but seem to come together over a theme of nature and people’s role in the environment, as well as their transformation and interpretation of it.

Andrea Packard ‘85, one of the featured artists as well as the gallery’s director, explained how the works “feature a diversity of style, media, and craft, but have common threads in their themes of nature.”

“One of the things that I love about making art is a love of texture, form, and trying to create something that manifests what we love so much in nature,” Packard said during the lecture.

This is evident in the pieces featured in the gallery, with mediums such as print, wood, and fabric. If anything, this range of artwork highlights common themes rather than their differences. What is most obvious when walking through the gallery is the artist’s’ commitment to craftsmanship and the exploration of the transformations of nature. With mixed media, seeing the artwork in person allows for a greater appreciation of the texturally rich qualities and grandiose features of some pieces and the subtleties and details of others. In fact, Packard recommends to visitors that they come back to the gallery when it is empty, and see how the works “visually rhyme” with each other from across the space.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the collection is learning the processes that the artists went through to create these pieces. This sheds further light on the meaning and representations of the works, allowing for a greater understanding as well as appreciation. For Brian Meuinier, Professor of Studio Art, his inspiration for these pieces are drawn from places such as Turkey and Sri Lanka, as well as from perfume bottles, the emperor’s army in China, and the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie”. His sculptures of perched birds are some of the smallest pieces he has made yet (usually they’re approximately life size).

“I’m always thinking about some kind of fantasy land in my head that is a sort of swamp land and so I like this sort of water relationship” Meuinier explains how his French-Arcadian roots are expressed.

This is evident in “Bayou Song”, where a songbird with beautifully carved out wings that seem to be in mid motion, is on top of an elegantly carved perch. In another piece of his, “Caw”, Meuinier explains how the rounded tops of the pedestal columns mimic the shape of Mayan sounds, another example of how an understanding of the artistic process leads to a better understand of the work itself.

The pieces “Danaus Plexippus” and “Lielula Muerta” by Ron Tarver, visiting assistant professor of photography (can you double check this- conflicting reports), highlight the complexities that can go into producing a piece of art. At first glance, these two works, both featuring dead insects (a butterfly and a dragonfly) might appear to simply be photographed images printed on paper; however, as Tarver explains, the unique style of these pictures is the result of a more complex process.

“These two pieces were done without a camera, and I got to the point where I thought that everything that you could possibly with a camera has already been done,” Tarver said. “So I sort of hung my camera up and started playing with a scanner…I’m really intrigued by this process, I love how things work and the way materials and chemicals interact.”

In the case of these two pieces, Tarver scanned insects and printed them onto rice paper. This unique texture allows for a slightly different variation of the image each time that it is printed, reflecting his thoughts about the uniqueness of each work of art.

Logan Grider, assistant professor of studio art, similarly discussed aspects of how he makes his art. His two colorful abstract paintings, both untitled, are encaustic on wood panels. Encaustic refers to a style of paint that entails mixing heated beeswax with color pigments. He demonstrated the unique texture of the paints by literally scraping off a small bit of layer from the edge of one of his paintings, showing the waxy element of the paint. With these special pigments Grider attempts to hone in on a color relationship that bends towards an emotional register without quite revealing it exactly.

Other pieces include a series of four paintings by Randall Exon, professor of studio art. All oil on canvas, Exon sees his work as an opportunity to place a character in a design. “The character I can pull out as an artist in very important to me,” he said. “It’s not the subject that’s interesting, it’s the design you put it in.” This is perhaps most evident in “Margaret’s Chair 1,” which, at first glance, is simply a painting of a chair in an empty room. However, Exon discussed how the chair is really a portrait of a woman named Margaret, and says that if you know her, you would see how this chair is truly a spot-on portrait of her.

Jake Beckman ’05, a visiting assistant professor of studio art (who is also responsible for the big chair on Parrish Beach!), has three pieces that come out of the wall, and are a mix of wood, graphite, as well as other materials. These pieces convey the “in-between” state of nature; that is, the moments between when materials are in nature and when they are extracted by humans. For example in his piece titled “Aggregated Line”, a sculpture of a pile of some sort of fine raw material seems almost heavy, although the piece itself is very small.

Sid Carpenter, professor of studio art, has two pieces from her “places of our own” series. These sculptures are predominantly made of clay, and include a fence covered with bottles. Carpenter was inspired by farms and gardens, and gives identity to farmers, who in today’s agricultural system have become anonymous.

Andrea Packard’s three pieces attempt to highlight the man-made aspects of representing nature in art and her giant carved and inked wood panel “Midnight Glory” is breathtaking. A large picture of the forest carved into wood, the simplicity of its black and white color scheme highlights the interweaving of the woods in an impressive manner.

Doug Herren’s two ceramic and enamel painted sculptures impressively mimic metal. Although sculpted out of ceramic, a material from the earth, he is able to have it mimic a metal structure, highlighting the relationship between nature and man. Mary Phelan, visiting assistant professor of studio art, has two pieces in the exhibit, titled “Arbustulum” and “Illuminare.” These two works are digital prints, uniquely made to create an aesthetically pleasing as well as striking image.

The gallery opening was abuzz March 5th with support for the Swarthmore Faculty and Staff exhibit evident. Students as well as other members of the Swarthmore community poured into the space, highlighting the strong interest in the work our teachers do outside of the classroom. It is obvious that the art department is filled with creative and passionate faculty and staff who are just as eager to share their art as the Swarthmore community is to see it.

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