This semester the eight students in my Writing Art Criticism class researched and wrote essays about the work of the artists featured in the Senior Exhibition and published them in a catalog. As part of their process, the art history students interviewed their studio colleagues, asking them questions about how they came to art, how they made their work, and how they engage with the world through their art making. Writing, of course, requires selection, and many interesting facts, stories, and reflections could not be included in the final essays. In this series of blog posts, my students revisit their interviews and share additional perspectives on the rich and compelling practices of their peers.
— Daniel Harkett, Associate Professor, Art Department
Abigael Conran and Nora Hill
Adela Ramović’s work for the Senior Exhibition has its roots in her grandmother’s garden. In these excerpts from an interview with the artist conducted on March 9, 2018, Adela speaks about the origins of her painting practice and where she hopes it will take her.
ABIGAEL CONRAN: Do you have any main artistic influences?
ADELA RAMOVIĆ: At first I loved Grace Hartigan…. I just love her representation of the fall in Maine. And that’s where those [paintings] first came from because I was looking at her pieces and trying to—
NORA HILL: —deconstruct them.
AR: Yeah. I first wanted to paint that…I tried to do a still life, and they’re also supposed to be abstract. I was trying to do it different ways, [but] it just never looked like [Hartigan’s work]. And then I tried to cut them out and make them and realized it is something about nature that’s calling me. So I started looking and making what I see…. It was then about colors that I saw, and shapes, but now it’s more the actual experience and the real artifact.
AR: I’m inclined to do clinical psychology and focus on art therapy because I know how much it helps me and how much it helps kids. There are so many research-focused treatments for the way it helps—when kids paint, it helps them. At some point we were going to make [my paintings] into things you can move and play around but they just don’t do this, they are mostly to engage the eye…the process is engaging for me and then it has to be engaging in the eye of the viewer.
I have no intentions of going forward with making art for a living, but if I ever end up doing art therapy, I would make my own shapes so kids can play with [them], because I think it’s a great way of giving yourself to patients and letting them in and letting them find whatever they want.
Works-in-progress by Adela Ramović.
ABIGAEL CONRAN: When you first made the shift towards portraiture, did you know that was something you wanted to continue with?
SCARLET HOLVENSTOT: Yeah, I think that so much of it is looking at people in the eyes, and so…the ones that I’m drawn to are the ones where you’re really looking into their eyes. And then you can kind of decide on your own, what is this person feeling? Why is this person smoking? What are they thinking about, like, how do they feel?
AC: So much of the social media culture that we live in is about curating an image. I wonder, do you wear a different hat, so to speak, when posting on social media platforms or do you always remain in that photographer mind-set?
SH: I’m actually signed with a modeling agency in New York, so, like, my Instagram is me.
SH: So it’s all me in front of the camera. So my photography is, like, totally off-line…not part of what I share or anything like that. And these pictures are…so controversial that I don’t think they should be shared publicly, like it really is up to the viewer in person. And that’s the way I feel about these two [points to Liv and Sig], and there are definitely questions about consent and how people are going to view this work and I don’t really have answers right now.
AC: Being a senior, and now looking at your last few months at Colby, how does this exhibition sum up your time here?
SH: Yeah, I mean, I’m super excited to show the work and have it displayed. Honestly, this semester is, like, so hard.
AC: I bet.
SH: So producing work has been hard, just like getting the images, and then, you know it requires a very certain circumstance for me to take these pictures. You know, my friends have to be available, and they have to be smoking, and there has to be light, and so, like, it’s hard to take photos. But, yeah, I’m ready for it to kind of come to a close. I’m ready for this weed culture at this school to come to an end. Because I don’t think it’s the healthiest thing, and it’s been a part of my four years, and I wouldn’t choose it, but that just seems to be what exists on this campus.
Portrait of Scarlet Holvenstot.
When I sat down to speak with Daphne Hernandez about her art and what it meant to her, she told me a story about her first remembered experience with art. “I have this super vivid memory,” she said. “I was watching PBS Kids because we didn’t have cable back then. There was a person drawing, doing hatch marks over and over to demonstrate how to make a circle…and very clearly in my five-year-old head I was like…that’s what an artist does—cool!” She smiled at me and paused before continuing, “We didn’t have a printer when I was younger so, you know, if I wanted a picture, I’d have to draw it.” Her tale of watching TV as a kid brings us (dare I say) full circle in her Senior Exhibition pieces. Her horizontal portraits of eyes include the shape she watched the artist hatch on PBS so long ago and, still wanting pictures, she’s still making them herself.
Austin Lee and Katie Ryan
“This is my body, I’m OK with my body, or I’m working through things with my body.”
Molly Wu tells us this is what the nude is in her work. She finds power in the naked figure, flipping the art-historical use of the nude on its head. Her subjects, all survivors of sexual assault, find power too—their modeling has enabled them to reclaim their bodies.
Molly elaborates on the impact of her photographs on her models: “There’s this one girl I interviewed who said something after we finished that I thought was particularly special. She was like, ‘I’ve never seen a picture of myself nude in a positive light before,’ which is something that the project did for her. And so I know that the project is for me, and it is for the show, but I feel like it has sort of evolved into at least partially becoming photographs that are meant for the women that I’m photographing.”
She acknowledges the therapeutic qualities of her work as well as the diversity of experience for each survivor. Molly speaks about how this is represented in her work: “I decided to leave a large variance in the photos, and feelings you get from the photos, because everyone ends up in different spots leaving this experience. Especially because of the time—I don’t know what the time frame is, from when it happened to present day, so I think that also plays a large part. Everyone is on a different path and in a different place on that path.”
Molly’s series enforces the survivors’ individuality and strength, something often missing from discussions of sexual assault in the media that focus on the perpetrators and lump the survivors into a faceless group. Molly fights against this. Here the perpetrators are unnamed and unmentioned; the spotlight is on the survivors.
“Who are your favorite painters?”
“Jeremy Lipking. He’s an amazing painter. Gottfried Helnwein. He does really large-scale portraits of children. They’re kind of grotesque. It’s about the loss of innocence in children. That’s much more extreme than what I’m going for, and my paintings aren’t going for anything, but I do like those themes. But, yeah, I just like people who paint portraits with some sort of story behind [them], some sort of feeling or motivation.”
Kaci’s work for Colby’s Senior Exhibition displays her interest in narrative-laced portraiture and represents a conversation with her favorite artists.
Compare Kaci’s Katie (top image) to Lipking’s Thoughts of Summer (bottom image) and you’ll see a kinship between the young subjects of the works. Lipking’s protagonist shuffles along a stormy shoreline, surrounded by a frenzy of seagulls. The title hints at the mental activity of the young girl—she yearns for brighter days, either from the past or still in the future, driven to melancholia by their absence.
Perhaps this is the same summer Katie is watching die. Behind the large trunk in the foreground, autumn’s decay creeps over the green leaves, and Katie exhibits an attitude similar to that of Lipking’s subject, a desire for something not present. Does she have “thoughts of summer” as well?
Like Lipking’s painting, Kaci’s works suggest narratives with little given information and allow the viewer space for contemplation and interpretation. They are, in part, a response to one of her favorite artists, and a gesture of thanks to a visual tradition she seeks to join.
Kaci Kus, Katie, 2018. Oil on canvas.
Jeremy Lipking, Thoughts of Summer, n.d. Oil.
Nina Oleynik and Emily Martin
Cam Price follows a road he’s known for a while, one that takes him from Colby to Sugarloaf with his ski team. Throwing the car in drive, Cam begins his trip. As he drives, the houses, trees, and landscapes whip past the windows of his car. More often than not, he blows by these different spots without ever really exploring them. He’s usually focused on his final destination, the mountain. This time, however, Cam puts the car in park and gets out. Exploring some of the spots he has so often overlooked, he photographs them, trying to highlight the beauty in the small things. His goal is to convey a moment in time when you stop and appreciate the red barn or the vibrant tractor contrasted with the otherwise bleak or decaying garage door. Everybody at Colby is in a rush for something, whether it’s academics or finding a job or just kind of life, he thinks. Taking pictures is his relief.
Photograph by Cam Price.
“I think unfortunately Colby is not particularly unique in its treatment of women’s bodies. I don’t know if I had gone to school somewhere else, [if] I would even be a printmaker…I do think that college campuses as a whole are not at the forefront of fabulous policies for how to handle, say, mistreatment of women’s bodies.” —Rachel Bird
Rachel and I went to high school together in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a public school of two thousand students—a size that trumps Colby—and back then, I didn’t really know her. What little I did know was this: she was artsy, bespectacled, and had impossibly thick black hair. During our four years here at Colby, this hasn’t really changed. She still wears glasses and she still has black hair (although sometimes I swear it’s tinged with streaks of blue). I do know, however, that I’ve written two separate papers about her for my art history major. I do know that her feminism resonates with me. I do know that I am grateful she came to Colby. I know that while she initially took printmaking on a whim, this decision gave her the platform to create art that gives a voice to women who are too often silenced. I know there is a lot more to Rachel than I initially gave her credit for, and I’m thankful to have had another four years with her. While I can’t say that I know everything there is to know about Rachel, I do know that her work and its messages make the community we both call home better.
Photograph of Rachel Bird.
Amelia and I are seated on the floor of her bedroom surrounded by photos. Prints from her most recent rolls are spread out in front of us in neat rows, while dozens of photos she took in high school are plastered on the walls, and stacks of former projects litter the floor around us. It’s immediately clear that Amelia is drawn to the everyday, the small moments with her friends and family that you or I might quickly snap on an iPhone. Instead, Amelia shoots moments like these with the Rolleiflex, a color-film camera she was introduced to this year. In this interview excerpt, Amelia elaborates on how the Rolleiflex has shaped this series of photographs.
AMELIA PATSALOS-FOX: What’s been exciting for me is that I have to, like, go to the post office and send off my rolls, and wait for them and then scan them and then be disappointed. I pictured this photo—and I won’t use this because of the coloring, but—a totally different way, you know? I loved what was going on in the moment and I took a picture and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to and that’s been an exciting part of the process as well, just not having that instant gratification of I’m going to put this on Instagram—
KATIE RYAN: Yeah, especially today.
AP-F: —and get a million likes, and I think I’ve been maybe a little bit more mindful of how I’m taking a picture and how I’m framing it, and that’s something that goes along with the camera and I think it’s really impacted my process…I am trying to naturally take pictures of what I’m drawn to, but at the same time I’m going through a deeper process to do it, and that’s been the work.
Amelia Patsalos-Fox with her Rolleiflex camera.
For Nathan Lee, his paintings for the Senior Exhibition started with himself—literally. In preparing to draw portraits of the people closest to him at Colby, he began by making self-portraits. As I sit down with Nathan, he tells me, “It just started with a human face”: his face. He explains that in order to accurately represent your subjects, you must contemplate yourself first because you know what your face should look like better than anyone else. Nathan continues, “It’s just so weird to go from happy to crazy with just a little bit more of an edge on your mouth…. [T]hese little things…made me start deciding that I want to do portraits.” Capturing each emotion his friends present to the world, and doing it correctly, is very important to Nathan. While his portraits are made for a wide audience, the content is extremely personal. He hopes to show viewers an intimate side of his relationships and to demonstrate the close bonds he has forged with a select few over his four years at Colby. But he is aware that even our closest friendships are filtered through our own perceptions. “These are my impressions,” he says. “These are not anyone else’s impressions. Some of the impressions can overlap with other people’s. But I wanted to have a more personal connection with myself. I don’t consult with anyone else, saying, Oh, what do you think?” Paradoxically, as Nathan explores his relationships with others, his own self is a beginning and an end.
Nathan Lee, Nathan, 2018. Oil and Expo marker on plexiglass.
Jake Lester’s photographs for the Senior Exhibition focus on the people and places he loves—subjects that were also key to his earliest experiences with photography. A latecomer to the studio art program, Jake reflects on how his formal photography training has changed the way he thinks about his medium.
JAKE LESTER: I took Photo 1 junior fall and then I was abroad, so it’s been a short and condensed experience with formal art photography. But before that I was shooting as a hobby, and that might actually be really relevant to discussing how I think now…for me, photography started with my dad always having a camera, always taking it out when we had family experiences…. So for him it’s documentation, this way of cataloging a moment or a “happy family nanosecond,” sometimes we say…. It’s funny thinking about how my dad uses pictures as a way to remember and a way to reflect and document.
So that’s where I came from, and I was doing that sort of as a hobby…. He got a camera for me when I was sixteen and then I was taking pictures when I went hiking and when I did something special on a trip with my friends…. And I didn’t have a good smartphone until a couple years ago and so, actually, sometimes in contexts where people would be taking smartphone pictures or whatever at an event, that was when I might have my camera…so that’s where I—I think that influenced some of it.
NORA HILL: How do you think taking photo classes has changed the way you think about photography?
JL: Definitely more thought goes into the ambiguity of an image. It’s interesting being in class with Gary [Green]. Everyone knows that he’s not really into people smiling at the camera, which he explains by saying…in a lot of other types of facial expressions there’s some ambiguity to what someone is thinking, what they are feeling, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that I now sometimes foster…. I love that about photography—that you can tell a story in images, but with studying more…I sometimes try to do a preface and let someone else tell the story.
Sara Friedland and Amelia Patsalos-Fox
Yanlin Zhao’s paintings are as compelling visually as they are complicated to create. Behind each of her works is a process that involves far more than the finished product reveals, and a personal connection to them that runs as deep as the water on which they are based. Her close relationship with water during her childhood has shaped her attraction to both the beauty and uncontrollable nature of it. Like water, the paint she works with can be unpredictable, so she has crafted a unique and meticulous method of creating her oil paintings.
Preparing a wood panel, Yanlin pours several paint mixtures of different colors and densities into several cups to let them interact with each other. Then she either flips the cups onto the panel or pours them slowly and consistently. She shifts and tilts the panel, letting some paint flow off the edge, adding more if she feels like it. She takes other steps, such as adding drops of silicone oil to the paint mixtures to create bubble-like features in some paintings.
While she has learned to work with the paint, an important question remains: How will each piece turn out when it dries? Unfortunately, there is no way of telling. Due to the variability of the outcome, Yanlin is forced to be persistent, producing work until she finds a group that flows together. Her acceptance of uncertainty demonstrates her ability to adapt to the unexpected and her devotion to her craft.
“I started off the semester researching lichen and other kinds of growths that can thrive in the city,” Annie tells me as we tiptoe around the painted wooden blocks scattered on the floor of the sculpture studio. “I really like the idea of something coming in and colonizing a man-made surface, just totally encompassing any surface it can.”
When Annie was growing up, her bedroom was on the top floor of her Boston home. Some days, when she couldn’t get out of the city, the only growing life she saw was the algae on her roof. Similarly, while studying in Siena, Italy, she noticed there were no flowers or trees in view, just the lichen on the rooftops. Together, these experiences inspired Annie to embark on a new artistic journey.
Annie’s projects over this past year have involved exploring how different media can create interesting textural elements. She has experimented with clay, plaster, wood, and wax to represent the quality of surfaces she is drawn to. In a recently completed piece, for example, she layered thick coats of black oil paint on a cut of steel to form an irregular surface pitted with shallow indentations, like the crusts of lichen she finds so compelling.
The city and nature are often understood as being mutually exclusive, and their coexistence overlooked. Annie challenges this notion by drawing our attention to the subtle textures of urban plant scapes. She urges us to take a closer look at what is in front of us.
Notebook by Annie Pease.