Faculty exhibit showcases summer artwork

For the visual arts faculty, this summer meant painting, building, photographing, and experimenting with new ideas. The Faculty Art Show in Broyles showcased the works that the art teachers produced this summer. The show ran from August 24 to September 13, and exhibited a wide variety of artwork by Lower to Upper School faculty.

“I love having an opportunity to show work to the community here, I think it gives people a deeper understanding of what I do as an artist,” said visual arts chair Ben Steele. “When you walk into a well-lit, open space and see six of your paintings on the wall, it’s totally different from seeing them in your studio.”

Steele worked on a series of paintings named Impossible Things and used optical tricks with light and reflections to create bizarre, geometrical images.  To create the effect, he used cut-out mirrors and front projection, techniques used in old cinematography before digital technology existed. He then took photographs of these effects and used them as source material for his paintings.

“All those paintings are based on actual sculptures or installations that I create in my studio with raw objects like wood or broken pieces of plaster, and then I use projected imagery to create something,” said Steele. “So there’s kind of a stage for each one of classes that I teach there, that leads up to this final result that I don’t think you can arrive at any other way.”

AP art teacher Pamela Martinez also experimented with the idea of non-traditional art, but in religious contexts. She used art as a way exploring her journey as a Christian. Her drawings feature objects such as a woven seat and plants from her backyard, objects not typically found in historical Christian art.

“I actually fell away from God, so I became an atheist for a while, and it was that point at which I returned and began believing in God again,” said Martinez. “I thought that was such an interesting process.”

Not only do her drawings document that change, but they also help to deepen her understanding of herself and her spiritual identity.

“For me, as an artist, I wanted to replicate that in a visual form. I’ve been to so many churches, and I’ve seen so many cathedrals, and I love those historical Christian images but they don’t move me anymore. What I wanted to do was to make Christian imagery contemporary.”

These were the ideas behind her works Conversion: Portrait of MIK : KIM, EGROEG : GEORGE, and FLES : SELF, drawings that used plants and porcelain to imitate the transition from atheist to Christian. Her other drawings titled n i s : s i n, and n i s : s i n 02 explore the concept of sin through coaxial cables.

“The idea is that sin that prevents you from having a relationship with God, having a relationship with other people, even becoming your best self,” said Martinez. “Those coaxial cables are actually attached to a wall, so you’re tethered to this wall. When you are actively pursuing a sinful lifestyle, you are tethered to it.”

Artmaking comes in many forms, not just painting and drawing. Photography and graphic design teacher Michael Reese created a new world with his photographs Inches Above Earth, where toy airplanes flew through streets. Inspired by his passion in aviation, he made planes the main subject of the work, which was exhibited at Atlanta Celebrates Photography. The challenge of the exhibit was to find an alternative, non-traditional landscape.

“So I thought to myself, it would be interesting to understand landscape in this really defined space, just inches above earth,” said Reese. “And I thought, what about an imaginary world inches above earth where planes are flying around, but no one’s really paying attention because we’re a couple of feet above?”

To make the toy planes come alive, he created contraptions to hold the planes in place and picked backgrounds that would contrast with them.

“I love work that immediately creates a question,” said Reese. “I tried to find backgrounds that are somewhat familiar, but you wouldn’t expect a toy plane to be flying around there. I didn’t want to do it in a child’s room full of toys.”

Some teachers based their works on specific inspirations. Jen Marie Wentzel, the Upper School ceramics teacher, took shapes from an elaborate paper lamp and incorporated them into a tile design grid, a blueprint for tile work.

“Right away, I could see the tessellating shapes,” said Wentzel. “And so for me, a lot of the tile work are tessellating because they all have to fit together in that grid.”

She was commissioned to create tiles for the Ngyuen Fireplace Design and a kitchen backsplash. For the backsplash Art Deco, she took inspiration from her hometown Detroit, which is home to the art-deco based Guardian Building.

“Detroit has a lot of beautiful buildings that were art deco,” she said. “I actually did some of my training at a place called Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, which really did handmade tiles.”

Not all works in the exhibit are finished products. Wentzel believes in the importance of showing work in progress. In the show, she displayed the different steps she took leading to her finished pieces, such as the two-dimensional grids and molds of the tiles.

“Sometimes teachers are putting up stuff that they’re just playing around with and experimenting with,” she said. “Which is nice, I think, educationally to show students that it’s not always about this amazing finished product, it’s also about that process of experimentation.”

Many teachers hope that the wide varieties of art in the exhibit will inspire and teach students how to express themselves as unique artists.

“I think they can learn a lot about how to develop a voice as an artist,” said Steele. “There’s kind of a consistent voice in between works; you’ll be able to recognize if a person’s done it by just analyzing what is it that distinguishes one person’s voice from another. It also shows that there are lots of different ways to approach artmaking that I hope would be inspiring.”

As a new faculty, this art show was especially important to Reese. It gave him an opportunity to let students and other faculty become acquainted with who he is not only as a teacher, but as a photographer and a professional in his field.

“I think it’s a wonderful invitation and introduction to the larger Westminster community, that yes I’m a teacher here and this is what I do, but here’s how I got here,” said Reese. “I think that any artist putting up work on a wall, it’s autobiographical.”

In addition to new faculty, teachers hope to expand the art community at Westminster through future art shows.

“We’re pushing for next year to have a staff and faculty show, because there are so many people on our Westminster campus that aren’t a part of our arts department that are artists,” said Wentzel. “I think that students would love to see their work as well.”