Maybe it is telling of the college’s Quaker roots that in order to see some student artwork you go into the gray art building, walk up four flights of gray stairs into a gray hallway with no signs or decorations or resources expended into the display. Four out of five pieces in the exhibit are gray, too.
The artwork in question is a series of collage projects from Brian Meunier’s first year seminar in Drawing, currently residing on the top floor of Beardsley Hall. There are four monochrome self portraits and one bigger, more colorful scene — a small and crowded cityscape.
The projects carried Meunier’s students through a large portion of the semester and were the only collage assignments, as the medium requires careful and time consuming layering of material to put together pieces of work.
“The weakness [of collage] is that it takes a lot of time, hence I can usually only give one assignment per semester,” said Meunier.
“My least favorite part about collage is how tedious it can be. My section of the big collage took more hours than I can remember,” said a student in the class, Talia Borofsky ‘18. Borofsky in fact recalls staying at school through her October break in order to complete the collage.
That is not to suggest that collage is just a cumbersome timesink. While it has recently been relegated in the public eye to a platform for fun kindergarten craft projects and weakly heartfelt Facebook birthday posts, collage offers unique benefits to artistic growth. The format of collage helps artists develop a new perspective for approaching their work.
“Working in collage forces one to work from the general to the specific- an ideal that we encourage in all our other mediums. In working from the general to the specific, from larger pieces to the smallest, the overall composition is considered from the onset,” said Meunier.
On the surface, the time commitment necessary for working in collage seems exhausting and without purpose. But what may look like tedium and waste on the surface comes with serious benefits to the consideration artists give to color and composition.
“Given the slow process, it further forces slower and deeper visual analysis,” said Meunier.
The projects were helpful learning aids not only because they were in collage, but because they combined color with black and white. Making collages with and without color permitted the students to compare their experience.
“In working in color and trying to match the colors from disparate sources, one studies color. In a black and white composition, there is a progression in value from the darker to the lighter forms, an analysis of shading in a compartmentalized way,” said Meunier.
The centerpiece, while striking in its incorporation of color, also has an interesting history of production. The bright landscape is a collaged reworking of part of a series of 1339 Italian paintings titled “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government.” The paintings, done by groundbreaking medieval artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti, are a series of massive frescoes.
There is more behind the work than the collaging that is visibly apparent. Even the decision to adapt this work as part of the project required collaboration and consideration.
“This painting was chosen by both Prof. Michael Cothren, who was teaching the art history first year seminar last semester, and myself,” said Meunier.
The project served as an interactive space between historical analysis and artistic interpretation.
“His students analyzed the painting via art historical modalities, and my students interpreted it in form. Each class gave a presentation to the other,” said Meunier.
The interdisciplinary aspect, he believes, helps students in both camps indispensably.
“This collage was a group project. Group projects are valuable in that each artist must adjust their own skills and expectations to the whole,” added Meunier.
While the team aspect of the project has benefits in theory, there were a few bumps in practice.
“It got really crowded,” said Borofsky. “I wish I had done a better job of making my portion more cohesive with the others.”
Yet despite the challenges students faced to design the projects, there was a stunning lack of attention paid to them. Each work was displayed carefully and labeled, and it was clear that given the time and energy involved in preparing the work that they are prepared to display. But limited attention is drawn to spaces dedicated to student artwork showcases.
“There is the student-run Kitao Gallery,” said Meunier. “There are also the Senior Studio Major thesis exhibitions during late spring semester in the List Gallery, and the 3rd floor exhibition space in Beardsley is usually used to highlight work from the current semester, either finished, or works in progress.”
The collages may be in one of the least interesting rooms on campus, but the work itself is just the opposite.