“Control & lack thereof”: The Stunning Culmination of Three Swarthmore Seniors’ Artistic Endeavors

Between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on April 18, the List Gallery buzzed with activity as friends, family, community, and art enthusiasts attended the reception for the senior thesis art exhibition “control & lack thereof” featuring the works of Maximillian Barry ’19, Guinevere Mesh ’19, and Simona Dwass ’19. Barry’s geometric wax sculptures cut through the gallery, providing it with a sense of symmetry while Mesh’s powerful oil paintings lined the walls of the elongated rectangular section of the gallery. Although Mesh’s pieces did hold a common thread, the content of the pieces threw the symmetry off kilter, drawing one’s focus all around the room. In the square annex, Dwass’s aesthetically pleasing wood cuts and oil paintings hung on the walls, each piece equidistant from one another. This satisfaction was only extenuated by the symmetry provided by Barry’s pieces.

As an art and engineering major, Barry married components from both of his majors in his senior thesis creations. He initially saw the overlap between the two fields while working to design his own dorm room as part of his final project for his Drawing Architecture class at Swarthmore.

In his thesis, Barry wrote about the intersection between his areas of study.

“I have found that both fields can learn from one another, as the ability to communicate information visually is necessary for engineers and understanding the behavior of our world is something artists have yearned to know for millennia.”

These ideas were very evident in the forms he created: the texture, color, and shapes chosen were precise while owning a subtle fluidity. The process of letting the wax flow followed by freezing it in itself points towards a metamorphic quality that Barry’s pieces alluded to.

His passion for art pervaded through not only his pieces, but also the manner in which he spoke about the experience of creating art after realizing that he was going to major in it.

“It wasn’t even work, it was just like I have to do this for my own sanity, for my own like being. Like, I just have to keep making art.”

Barry also discussed the overall message and theme of his displayed collection.

“I think it is mainly about listening and like paying attention. I am usually a very quiet and soft-spoken person … This is my effort to try to communicate and to try to get people to listen and pay attention, so it is very much detail oriented and it is very much for me about like the surfaces as landscapes and like places for the eye to explore and the forms are mainly to extenuate that fact.”

For Dwass, art came as unexpected love following some art classes she enjoyed partaking in her freshman year. Dwass was not sure about why she specifically majored in art, but she said, “I didn’t anticipate loving it so much … It was a lot of fun — a lot more fun than I had expected.”

Like Barry, Dwass is both an engineering and art major, and her affinity for both fields was evident through the precision of her edges and experimental approach to making art. Her works for the exhibition were influenced by Keith Wilson and Ron Rumford. Throughout the semester, Dwass worked to perfect the clarity and sharpness of her woodcuts and the strokes she created using oil paint. While talking about using oils, Dwass expressed her enthusiasm for the way in which she felt the medium gave her a lot of control through the ease with which she could choose the color and edit when necessary. During the process, she considered intricate details that others may often overlook and even spent time “really thinking about edge in and of itself, not just edge within a painting.”

To create a piece, Dwass would make a sketch on paper or on a computer of a photograph and then decide which colors to use. She experimented with colors that deviated from reality and explored how colors complement one another. The colors combinations she put on display at the exhibit were prominent, bright, and nuanced — a particularly intriguing color combination included a deep, almost brown or black shade of purple and a slightly green tinted blue that appeared to be close to turquoise.

When looking at Dwass’s pieces, one feels satisfaction with the arrangement before them. There is no need to look for some deeper meaning as the pieces are formalistic in their style — the art de-emphasizes the content and instead places emphasis on the aesthetic.

Despite being influenced by the Vienna Secession Movement, German and Austrian Expressionists, and American Abstract Expressionists, Mesh, both a Biology and Art major, has created an oil painting style that is distinctly her own. The variety of colors, hues, shapes, and brushstroke intensities showcased her ability to be flexible while staying true to her individual style. Her paintings all had an air of whimsicality about them. For this exhibition, she took easily recognizable objects, such as oranges, and dismembered them in her paintings.

In her thesis, she wrote about the intention behind her collection.

“I want to not only preserve emotion in my paintings but suffuse emotion in my audience … I believe that in obliterating objects and making them momentarily unrecognizable, the viewer loses their care for what objects in the painting are in reality and instead focuses on how the painting contributes to an individual experience.”

Mesh also talked about her choice of using still-life subject.

“The reason I chose innocuous objects like still-life and oranges and apples is because I didn’t want the viewer to come to a piece already having certain ideas about the subject matter. By taking something that’s as normal as like an orange or a cup or something like that I want the viewer to be able to kind of put and project what they want to onto the painting.”

In providing the viewer with white space, she gave them the space to reflect and come to their own emotional response. After taking her first art class at Swarthmore, Mesh realized how important it was to her and used it as a structure for expression.

All artists expressed their gratefulness for Swarthmore’s art department and the availability of resources and recommended taking art courses at Swarthmore. Although the works created by Barry, Dwass, and Mesh are no longer on display at the List Gallery, there are more senior thesis exhibitions to come before their conclusion on May 20. Come to the List Gallery to see what your fellow Swatties have created before they graduate and take their artistic talents with them!

Featured image courtesy of Grace Dumdaw ’21

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