Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 3
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students Showcase Talent at the 16th Annual Juried Student Art Salon

Student artwork lines the halls at the Fouts Center for Visual Arts. Photo by Sailor Harris

The start of the semester marked the beginning of the 16th Annual Juried Art Salon, transforming the first and second floors of the Fouts Center for Visual Arts into a rich gallery chock-full of student works exploring complex themes. The annual Juried Student Art Salon is an opportunity for Whitman students of all majors to showcase their art to their peers, professors and the general Walla Walla community.

Assistant Professor of Art Emily Somoskey, one of this year’s six jurors, explained that this year’s jurors looked for submissions that included technical skill, conceptual depth and a sense of completion.

“I [personally] look for a creative approach to how students are using materials in combination with the ideas that they’re expressing,” Somoskey said. “I like to engage with work that slowly reveals its meaning over time, that really finds a nice balance between having a message but also leaving room for the viewer to find their own interpretation.”

First-year artist Roman Di Giulio submitted an AI-inspired piece titled “A Fool” drawn entirely with blue ballpoint pen. For Di Giulio, the exhibition has been a critical source of support from the department.

“Art shows are a great way for artists to build confidence with their work … especially when it’s someone’s first time having their work on display that’s a big moment for them,” Di Giulio said. “Having widespread recognition and appreciation for their work is really validating.” 

Somoskey highlights the importance of showing student work to a non-artist audience, both for the artists themselves and the Walla Walla community.

“Although they probably share [their work] with their classmates, this is the chance for students to share that with the community and so it’s a way to really take pride in the work that students have been doing and to share and connect with each other and for the community to open up their perspectives on what it means to be a student in today’s climate,” Somoskey said. “A student from any discipline on campus can walk into the gallery and find something that they connect with.”

Senior Pavita Sidhu, who is graduating this semester with a minor in art, submitted her piece “On a Bench Near 15th Ave, probably” from her Advanced Painting class as a homage to memories from her childhood and playing fairies with her sisters. 

“I wanted to build off of the idea of childhood memories and how when you reinvoke memories it’s rendered differently to what it actually was in reality,” Sidhu said. “But, each memory is still unique and your own and a reflection of you at this time but also what you were.”

Art is something that Sidhu interacted with throughout her life, but attending Whitman and engaging with the art department allowed Sidhu to hold more space for her artistic side. 

“I’ve loved art my entire life … I came into Whitman thinking I was going to do biology and then I realized that the love for my hobby was not just my hobby, it was a passion [and] it was something I wanted to pursue after graduation,” Sidhu said.

Di Giulio’s piece, created during his “Intro to Drawing” course, grapples with his personal anxieties about the ever-growing power and capability of AI, which can generate art, music and other creative mediums.

“AI’s been something that I’ve been really thinking about and really scared about frankly … [the piece] was a way of reconciliation for me to be a little less scared for the future and the trajectory that AI is going on,” Di Giulio said. “And I wanted to beat the AI to some extent … maybe I didn’t [beat it] because it did what took me 60 hours in 15 seconds but that piece is not getting appreciated like mine is.” 

Engaging with this year’s submissions, Somoskey found that students are increasingly vulnerable and communicative with their pieces.

“I just remember having this feeling throughout the jurying process that students are really opening up very internal parts of their mind, putting it in their work and expressing it in a way that can be seen as really risky to do,” Somoskey said. “When you make a piece of art you never know how it’s going to be received or how others might respond to it and so I’m always both surprised and impressed with how students approach their artwork.”

Sidhu’s painting process was an unpredictable one. Using a lot of memories from her own childhood, Sidhu ended up with a collage inspired by “thinking of yourself as a mesh of experiences.”

“I had no clue how this painting was going to turn out … I started thinking about pieces of my childhood and little things that interest me visually that are tied to my childhood in some sort of way,” Sidhu said.

The construction of the exhibition, led by the Sheehan Gallery team, connected certain pieces and used certain interpretations to further understanding of other pieces.

“The Sheehan Gallery team is very intentional about how they curate the exhibition, so once the work is accepted, the Sheehan team puts a lot of effort into finding connections within the work so that it’s hung in a way that allows the work to resonate with each other and allows new connections are able to be formed,” Somoskey said.

The “Intro to Drawing” class was Di Giulio’s first official art course, and he described his experience as welcoming and supportive. 

“It was really rewarding to see the progression of [the piece] and to be encouraged by so many people who are watching my progress,” Di Giulio said.

Sidhu agreed with Di Giulio, describing her four years of experience in Whitman’s art department as overwhelmingly positive. 

“The professors really know their stuff and are eager to help their students, they’re a really great support system,” Sidhu said. “[The exhibition] gives students credit for their work but also highlights the professors for helping us through the process of making our work.”

While the jury is mostly made up of Whitman faculty, photographer Brianna Wray joined the team this year to diversify the judging pool.

“We’re able to get the perspective of someone who’s not an educator and someone who is actively engaged in the field of contemporary art in our region,” Somoskey said. 

The exhibition will continue to be on display until Feb. 12, concluding with a celebration held at Fouts Center for Visual Arts on Feb. 10 to honor the artists on display. The community will also have the opportunity to vote for their favorite pieces, speak to student artists and see the exhibition in person.

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