Senior Art Theses: Big, Bold and Bright

Michelle Foster, A&E Editor

The 2018 Senior Art Thesis Exhibition has arrived with big, bold strokes. With 14 artists displaying work in Sheehan Gallery and four in the Fouts exhibition space, the exhibition provides an opportunity for senior art majors to share their work with the community.

This year’s pieces make great use of the two gallery spaces, with many large installation pieces and plenty that pop with bright colors. The artwork varies in medium, including ceramics and photography, and many artists have chosen to take a twist on traditional mediums in order to raise questions and subvert norms. Many of them invite interaction, such as senior Catalina Burch’s work, which features bright yellow footsteps gesturing for visitors to follow them into the installation and the written invitation: “What are you afraid of? Take a peek.”

While each piece is distinct, many are in conversation with each other in the galleries and work well as a whole. Senior Sabrina Salkind, whose mixed media collages titled “Genes Are Overrated” featured thought-provoking and imaginatively strange images, spoke to this aspect.

“There’s a lot of similarities,” Salkind said. “There’s a few pieces that are hanging from the ceiling, different installations, but they’re spread out nicely throughout the gallery, there’s a lot of conversation between different colors through different people’s work, so one corner’s really bright, and the bright balances well with the dark painting. There are some overlapping themes too: some people are working with animal studies, other people are working with found objects. It’s also very diverse — we all have different reasons for doing what we’re doing even if it’s similar. But I think visually … [it’s] working really well with the distribution of different materials and colors.”

Many senior art majors have taken the show as an opportunity to work in mediums different from what they’re used to. Christopher Belluschi ’18 worked on a larger, more minimalist scale than he usually does. His piece, “Consumed, Assumed, Resumed,” features large pieces of wood he has collected from the Oregon Coast, along with other found objects such as glass bottles, hanging from the ceiling. Behind it is a colorful backdrop. Belluschi explained the thought behind his work, that is installed in the Fouts exhibition space.

“My work’s inspired by a place on the coast that I go to, on the Oregon Coast, called Manzanita,” Belluschi said. “I’ve been going there my whole life and just collecting pieces of wood and interesting objects that wash up that I’ve found, so as the semester — or really year — progressed, we had to make our thesis, and I kind of realized that I wanted to be blatant and represent that place.”

Casey Poe ’18 also branched out this year in terms of the medium she worked with. Poe has been working more with digital drawings this year than in previous years, and her thesis reflects this. Displayed in Sheehan Gallery, it consists of a collection of digital drawings, which pop with color and feature the faces of Poe and her relatives.

“My piece is on identity, on my personal identity, but it’s also about hybridity of identity,” Poe said. “I do digital drawing — my focus is drawing — and I did a lot of digital prints that I printed and mounted, and I work with layers. So my whole theme is about myself majority, but basically about multi-ethnic people or multi-ethnic backgrounds, or about how your layers of ethnicity make your identity, and your identity’s not one fixed thing but a mixture of layers.”

In her pieces, Poe has not only created an exploration of her identity, but also artwork that may resonate with gallery visitors who are also invited to reflect on the layers of their own identities.

Svetlana Petrova ’18 also created a piece influenced by her identity. Titled “27th of May, 1703,” it is a collection of canvases with a combination of oil paint and embroidery, making for colorful, abstract work.

“I was kind of trained as a painter, but at the same time my family’s kind of big on craft and embroidery and that kind of thing, especially since my mom studies ethnography a lot, so I grew up with knowing traditional Russian craft, that kind of thing,” Petrova said. “So [my piece] turned into this processing or melding of the two things because I’m an immigrant and I moved when I was young.”

As these senior art majors’ times at Whitman draws to a close, displaying their work invites them to reflect on the value of art in their lives or in the world.

“To have this creative guidance as an art major really helps you to see your potential and see how art can function in the real world,” Belluschi said. “I think art as a whole is necessary to balance everything else you see in the world, and I think everyone likes to either be creative and express themselves in some way or another, and certainly in museums and gallery spaces people get a sense of enjoyment and freedom from seeing other people’s creative freedoms. It’s kind of similar to taking a walk in the forest; it’s kind of an escape from everything else to see these things that people put forth in the world.”

Ultimately, the Senior Art Thesis Exhibition provides a professional gallery space in which senior art majors have the opportunity to show their work, see their peer’s work and gain experience working with a gallery. While not all of these students will go on to pursue art as a career after graduation, the exhibition serves as a rewarding capstone to their visual art studies at Whitman.