Selections from Writing Art Criticism: Senior Show 2019

As participants in Colby’s studio program developed their work for the Senior Art Exhibition this spring, students in my Writing Art Criticism class researched and wrote interpretive essays for the accompanying catalog. In this series of Lanternposts my students explore alternative ways of responding to and telling stories about their peers’ work in the digital realm. Taking advantage of the flexibility of The Lantern’s format, they experiment with video, sound, the art comic, and the photo essay, among other modes. As they do so, they show us some of the rich possibilities offered by digital publications at a time when the art world increasingly conducts its conversations online.

— Daniel Harkett, Associate Professor, Art Department

Sarah Rossien and Katie Herzig on Alice Yutong Hua

Alice Yutong Hua, Scape, 2018. Plaster and oil on panel, 24 x 24 in.

For Alice Hua, a painting is not solely defined by its material base. Take, for example, her work Scape. It consists of layers of paint and joint compound—a paste made from gypsum dust and water—applied to the surface of a plywood board. Both of her base materials are commonly used in construction work, but Alice uses them to create fine art instead. We decided to go out and find these materials on Colby College’s campus, photographing them in the contexts in which they are normally used.

Digital photographs by Sarah Rossien and Katie Herzig

The first material we found was plywood, which Alice uses as a base for her paintings. Some minor research[1] revealed that the most common uses of plywood within the construction industry are “to make light partition or external walls, to make formwork, to make a mould for wet concrete, to make furniture, as part of flooring systems for packaging, and to make light doors and shutters.” We found this material used as scaffolding on a construction project outside the museum.

It wasn’t too hard to find an example of paint use on campus. Paint is essentially “a coating or covering material applied on metallic or non-metallic surfaces for decorative or protective purposes.”[2] Paint is often used in fine art, but the combination of paint with less conventional materials is what makes Alice’s process stand out. We found paint in a shade similar to that used in Scape in the Student Government Association Office.

Alice purchased joint compound from the Home Depot with little prior knowledge of how it is generally used. The Home Depot recommends “using this material for laminating and repairing cracks in interior plaster and masonry.”[3] We found joint compound used on campus to make popcorn ceilings in dorm rooms and to patch drywall on construction sites.


Hannah Springhorn and Caroline Webb on Andie Velazquez

In this video, painter Andie Velazquez describes her approach to color.


Bennett Allen and Tim Hood on Wendy Li

Wendy Li’s photographs honor the manual skills of older people at a moment when her grandparents’ generation is often imagined to be struggling to adapt to the technological age. Here, students at Colby speak about their own attachments to traditional craft practices.

Chase Coleman on tying knots
Photo courtesy of Chase Coleman

One of the first things I learned about sailing as a little kid was how to tie knots. I guess the bowline [knot] is a good place to start. It’s sort of unique, because once you make a bowline, it’ll hold whatever amount of force you put on it without the knot getting any tighter. You can pull a boat home with this little guy and it will still be easy to undo. It also makes a great dog or goat leash in a pinch.

Michaela Oberkfell on making jewelry from natural objects
Photo courtesy of Michaela Oberkfell

I’ve always been a little bit crafty. I think four years ago I made earrings out of a seashell. I drilled a tiny hole and then attached the earrings to a little wire. I’ve always loved art but it hasn’t really been something that I’ve felt I could pursue as a career or a job at Colby.

I use leaves because they are beautiful and my jewelry preserves something that’s usually only there for a fleeting moment or fleeting few weeks. It’s especially beautiful in Maine, with so much snow for so much of the year, to have a little piece of fall to carry with you. 

The idea behind pressing and preserving plants is that in theory you could crack open the resin fifty years from now and still have DNA from the plant. So there could be some inherent value in that.

I guess I’ve always been really good at looking closely at all the little things, and noticing them for a very long time. Mostly it’s just little plants or little flowers. It helps for finding four-leaf clovers, I will say that. But all of the little pieces that people don’t notice are there.—Michaela Oberkfell

Bea Woodruff on calligraphy
Photo courtesy of Bea Woodruff

I’m not a super creative type but I saw someone do this online and I thought it was pretty cool, so I bought some pens and paper. Ever since, I’ve been working on my calligraphy. A lot of the Instagram accounts I follow post work that’s been photoshopped as well as hand-drawn calligraphy, but for now I’m just a calligrapher.—Bea Woodruff

Ellie Wright on fly tying
Photo courtesy of Ellie Wright

I grew up admiring the flies my dad tied on the end of my lines. They were intricate and colorful and looked like little toy insects. Except we were only able to play with them when we got older. So there was always a pull to see them closer. As I got older I started getting more involved with fly-fishing communities, through guide school, Colby fly-fishing club, and guiding in Alaska. I learned how important it was, as a guide especially, to be able to replenish your own fly box. Clients tend to snap flies off when they’re learning to fight fish and cast with any brush in their back cast. So it became necessary to learn how to break down the different components of each fly. They’re honestly like little origami pieces of fur and feather and foam. It really is just sewing ability; they’re all tied together with a piece of thread.

Fly tying was a way into the fly-fishing world for some women. Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana, would hire women to tie flies live in the storefront. It really was a craft. Some people have patterns named after them. Of course, most of them  are males because it is historically a male-dominated industry. 

I really fell in love with the art of how you sculpt the pieces together. Like how you wrap feathers for wings or tie down sparkle for attraction. Holding something that you sculpted, and then being able to catch a fish with it, is a very powerful form of art.—Ellie Wright