Seeing as how this week I will be reviewing the fortieth annual University of Tulsa Gussman Juried Student Exhibition, I figured a short lesson on writing about art would be in order. Listen up, art history students and future curators!
I used to hate writing. I mean, hate it! Critical analysis was arduous for me because it forces one to have an opinion and to be able to justify it. It was not until art history courses at OU that I began to understand the process of writing.
It generally helps to love what you are writing about. I always appreciated looking at art in museums and galleries, but being able to communicate your reactions to an art piece is important because it will ultimately create and solidify your tastes.
Writing about art involves following a set of steps. The first is formal analysis. In this stage, one should describe the work of art in its physical form. It is important to remember to remain as objective as possible in this stage.
The next step is interpretation. Here, one would attempt to infer the artist's intention behind creating what he or she did based on the physicality and content of the work. Finally, there is judgment, the end all, be all of an art criticism paper. Based on what you see and interpret, is the piece successful or not? Do you feel the artist effectively communicated something through the art? This is where subjectivity can be employed in full force because judgment is based entirely on one's personal reactions to the work.
In art school, we were encouraged not to used terms or phrases such as, "I like this" or "I don't like this" when critiquing artwork. It is important to be able to critique the formal elements utilized in the art work so that one is not just expressing a shallow reaction to a piece. Formal elements are the skeleton of the artwork, comprised of things like color, line, balance and symmetry.
Fortunately for me, at the Gussman Juried Student Exhibition, there was a plethora of student art for me to dissect and judge!
I arrived at the Alexander Hogue Gallery during school hours. There was some sort of meeting going on, possibly with all the participants and the juror of the show, so I had plenty of time and space to be able to walk around and intimately interact with every single piece on display.
Out of the more than forty artworks exhibited, about half really caught my eye.
This show really took me back to days of being a young studio major, anxiously awaiting the reactions of the public to my work in a venue that displays mine and my peers' work, side by side, for public comparison and consumption.
Make the Round
The first piece I encountered was "Reflection," a graphite drawing by Terrance Brown. Fairly centered in the middle of the picture plane, the head and neck of a young man peers over his left shoulder. He is dressed in a striped beanie, hoodie and wears glasses. Behind the glasses, the eyes of the self-portrait look out and make direct contact with those of the viewer.
Based on the low range of value employed by the artist, I would assume that Brown wanted to emphasize the darkness of the pupils in order to create as much a human connection as possible. This piece is handsomely executed, a true naturalistic self-portrait.
Now, based on length constraints, I will not use a formal format when reviewing the rest of the works I discuss, but I will describe as much as possible the works that stood out to me.
"Lady Book" by Johanna Burton was the winner of third place in the graduate division. The media is simply described as intaglio on cotton, but ultimately it is a work of immense mixed media as the book is made of "feminine" fabrics like lace and pink cotton.
A pair of white gloves was provided in order to view the delicate "Lady Book." On each page of the book is an intaglio (etching) print, done in red that features a different scene of a woman, or women doing different things.
The most visually strong images come from the page where a woman is pushing a baby stroller. On the subsequent page, a woman plays with a tennis racquet. Burton's stylization of her subjects is whimsical, yet graphic. The women, done with simple, smiling faces are generally dressed in lingerie and high heels, with breasts and pubic hair exposed. The juxtaposition of the simplified forms and the adult content is most successful, and the backgrounds of the intaglio etchings are very well done.
Next was "Tia" by Kaylee Huerta, which is oil with gold leaf on canvas. A brunette woman dominates the left-hand side of the canvas. She peers to the right and a rich, scarlet robe, decorated with gold leaf detail wraps around the head and body of the subject. "Tia" clutches the drapery up to her bosom with her left hand, and the background is a plain black, glossy background.
As a figurative artist, I was immediately drawn to this work. It reminded me of the earlier stages of figurative paintings, on the verge of becoming alive, yet held back. Also, the background could be more incorporated in the whole of the piece. However, "Tia" is well-composed and intriguing.
Second place undergraduate winner, Kaitlin Beam's "Sneaker" is a lyrical wire sculpture of a shoe, while "oh, annabelle" by Brianna Whitney is a lively, colored lithograph that depicts an appropriated vintage mugshot.
"Breadwinners" by Adrienne Lalli is a mixed media piece, featuring etching, chine colle, cyanotype and thread. On a background of an image printed from a grocer's bread isle are two figures, half human, half animal, etched in red ink. Surrounding the two cut out figures are auras of neon yellow energy, expressed in thread. To me, this was one of the most successful mixed media pieces.
"Alice" by Allison Lackner, pen and ink, marker and chine colle, is texturally satisfying, and visually haunting. A little girl in black and white, sits on a stool, holding a rose. A stuffed rabbit sits at her feet. The wooden planks of the floor lead out to the viewer, while behind the figure is a pink striped wall that pops against the black and white foreground and middle ground.
First place undergrad went to "resting" by Angela Mareschal. This oil on paper piece displays sophisticated modeling and composition, but honestly, I responded more to Mareschal's "Italian Series."
First place graduate went to "Forest of Light" by Susan Edwards, a stunning assemblage of porcelain and mixed media. A forest of hydra-like forms rises from a ground of black sand.
These organic, writhing "trees" are illuminated from the inside, creating a warm glow inside the brilliant porcelain. The visual impact of this piece is quite strong and I found myself entranced by its effect.
Best of Show went to Giang Pham for "Stack and stare," a monumental charcoal drawing. On the left, a high pile of stuffed animals arises; some of them look over at a rubber chicken that is on the right. In the foreground is what looks like a toy snake. All of these figures are placed on top of a stack of white papers, and behind them is a flat, dark background.
This is an innovative, unexpected still life. The scale of the drawing itself is something to be noted, while the wrinkled texture of the surface, to me, adds another dimension of interest to the overall winning piece.
The diversity of this showing is immense and this is a great opportunity to see the work of up and coming artists. Who knows? Maybe these students are Tulsa's next generation of great artists.
The Gussman Juried Student Exhibition is on display until April 25 at the Alexander Hogue Gallery located at 2935 E 5th St. on the University of Tulsa Campus. For more info, call 631-2739.
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