Artists are Adaptable


Richard Paige — I’ve wrestled for a while with the idea of properly recognizing the 2020 senior art majors.

At the time of the semester where each of these eight guys – Cameron Coates, Marlon Lewis, Devan Luckey, Zach McMann, David Ortega, Bill Polen, Jonathon Stephens, and John Wallace – was most likely gearing up for that final creative push to an exhibition that traditionally opens in mid-April, the COVID-19 pandemic reached our campus and made the real virtual.

To think about the normal disruptions most of us faced was enough, but what about this group? Not only were they trying to finish academic careers, but also preparing for the first large and public display of their work.

Your first gallery show is a memorable one. Those stark white walls are often as inspirational as they are intimidating, and kudos to this group for the perseverance and resiliency to finish their collections under unanticipated circumstances. All did so away from campus.

“I have great empathy for our students and this unprecedented situation they experienced this past spring,” said Annie Strader, Associate Professor of Art. “Their show was just three weeks away when we went virtual. Most of the actual work was close to finished, but those last few weeks are critical when finalizing the work.”

The first words I saw from an artist in this group were from Lewis. “Still total trash” is what he wrote. Honestly, I wasn’t supposed to see the words that were struck through in an editing bubble as he tried to find the right phrase for his artist statement.

Then it hits me as I see the exchanges back and forth while he tried ideas and asked a lot of questions of himself. It couldn’t have been easy to answer those questions when so much chaos swirled outside of their newfound work spaces.

“Artists are adaptable,” said Strader, “and creative problem solving is part of our curriculum. Our students did adapt and demonstrated outstanding resilience and patience during what was undoubtedly a tough time to pivot to new and unexpected ways of working. Navigating such tricky terrain, (fellow art professor) Dr. Weedman and I have continued to work with the students for the last few months to prepare for a physical exhibit and the expected celebration of their work.”

We keep our fingers crossed that at some point this Fall the 2020 Senior Art Exhibition can open for the entire campus to enjoy. Until then, here is a quick look at each art major, a snippet of their artist statement, and a thumbnail of their work.

Cameron Coates:  Rust embodies the passage of time and the toll of nature. I use macrophotography to capture how rust transforms otherwise common, mundane objects into fields of captivatingly rich colors and textures. I use the lens of my camera to magnify the way man made materials are completely taken over by nature as they fade into neglect. I look for a focus that might relate to a human, animal, face, or relatable object. The intent is to find aesthetic minutiae that go unnoticed.

Marlon Lewis:  I work with environments to challenge the perception of the realities being witnessed and referenced. I create experiences. I create environment. I create art. I have two desires whose roots I can trace to my earliest memories. The first seeks the knowledge and understanding of this world. The second is to aid a clearer understanding about what is discoverable and possible. My interest in Bronze is its relationship to the earth and nature as in an inorganic material. My interest in dried orange peels are their organic nature. My interest in 3-D prints is the maker capabilities the machine grants to each owner almost immediately.

Devan Luckey: I enjoy making things with my own hands. Things that have a form in the 3-dimensional world are more interesting for me to create than those limited to two dimensions. Right now, I make hands. It’s developed into an obsession. It stems from the idea that hands are, in some way, the embodiment of what we do. Many of our activities are carried out by our hands, both the good and the bad, whether it is healing or stealing, fixing or destroying, hands are at the forefront of our actions.

Zach McMann: Dreams are a way to access the subconscious mind and communicate with it. The succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that our minds conjure during sleep have complex meanings that I record and use to create my work. This photo series explores my anxieties and how they manifest in dreams and the subconscious. As I was avoiding the ghostly figure, I tried to understand who it was I was avoiding. Although I could not figure out who, I realized that I was running away from something, not someone. Something like the anxiety I had from school, work, and my own pressure to be better.

David Ortega:  My work uses and disrupts symbols and signs to question the ways they can be used to disguise and mask emotions. In photographs I use paper bags painted with self-created symbols to evoke the tension and the mechanicalness that societal expectations/norms impose. Specific color pallets and symbols are selected to communicate emotions without relying on facial or verbal cues. I urge an anxiety to develop within the color schemes that will translate into the viewers subconscious. The implicit reactions to the different color schemes are more important than understanding the images’ message.

Bill Polen:  I use the camera to capture the world’s underlying psychological phenomena through my eyes. More specifically, I use the camera to investigate conformity. I believe that new approaches, such as this piece, must be used in order to create perception that could lead to a better understanding of why we do the things we do as a society. I think of my artwork as an experiment. I choose to take my photographs in high traffic areas where I know people will be present in order to participate in my investigation; areas such as workout centers, cafeterias, and fraternities.

Jonathon Stephens: I like to make things with my hands because it’s like meditation for me. I’m able to take time out of my day and stop thinking about everything that is going on and just create and block all of that out. Making something you pictured in your head, creating it from the ground up with your hands, is nothing like any other subject or field of study or work. There’s no other field that you can do what you want, and not be wrong or mess something up. Art is whatever you can imagine and execute.

John Wallace: I collect knick-knacks and old household objects. The objects intuitively interest me and exude inspiration for artistic ideas. Once I bring them to the studio, it is not until I begin manipulating and arranging these found objects that I find their purpose and place in my work. The creation of these wooden structures always begins with a loose concept of what I wish to build, building the structure I have in mind with new or scrap wood immediately at my disposal, and accepting the errors I make along the way. This process is based in my acceptance of chance errors and successes as being integral parts of the final product.