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Post-Baccalaureate exhibition abstract and innovative

By Noah Harper

Section: Arts

March 10, 2017

A new selection of thought-provoking pieces by Brandeis artists is now on display in the Dreitzer Gallery of Spingold Theater. The Post-Baccalaureate Program in Studio Art, which “provides students the space to grow as artists and develop a portfolio for graduate school admission or a studio practice,” opened its Painting and Sculpture Exhibition on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Art aficionados, faculty in the department and the artists themselves gathered to celebrate the exhibition’s opening. The show provides a unique opportunity to observe developing artists as they hone their craft and wrestle with contemporary issues.

The six program participants, Brenda Gonzalez, Nick Constantino, Carly Sheehan, Elena Batrice Babineau, Christine April and Katherine Gardener, are each given individual sections with which to display their work. As a whole, the exhibition allows for a brief foray into the world of contemporary young artists.  

Gonzalez, the first artist exhibited, primarily uses mixed media, a variety of formats such as watercolors, folded paper and thread to create vibrant, three-dimensional works that explore space and dimension. An aesthetically fascinating thread pattern spans an entire wall, composed of tightly-strung lengths in geometric arrangements. Gonzalez’s other pieces—all untitled—include a drypoint, its design reminiscent of a science fiction sketch (or the work of Rodrigo Corral), and a trio of three-dimensional paper constructions. The third work of this series is particularly engrossing: Papery, water-colored leaves grow into fiery blossoms, becoming an organic eruption frozen in time. This is Gonzalez’s strongest piece.

Constantino’s first creation, “Book of Bindings,” is a book whose pages are flowing outward. As the pages unfurl, they demonstrate different kinds of bindings: Japanese stab, coptic stitch and accordion fold. “Book of Bindings” is a cross-cultural exploration of the ways that words are held together, and how their recombination can lead to new ideas and interpretations.  

To the right of the book is another piece by Constantino, titled “White Picket Border Fence.” The largest work in the exhibition, it looms over its viewers. It is an opportunity to realize and reexamine the nature of barriers—particularly how exactly a border fence would dominate a landscape. But “Fence” is not intimidating in its color design. It is painted like a generic suburban yard fence—the artist is perhaps calling to attention political efforts to normalize the outlandish and absurd through superficial aesthetics. “Fence” provides an exploration of the conception of borders and whether their outward appearances can change their perceived function. This is the most explicitly political work in the exhibition, a worthwhile reflection of current events that affect us all.

Sheehan’s work is done in a variety of media, including collage, drypoint and oil on canvas. “Suspension” (oil on canvas), easily catches the eye. It is very much abstract and open to interpretation. The painting’s focal point is a hanging red dress full of jagged cuts. To its right is a similarly-pierced pink dress, floating over a turquoise bed. This piece is quiet and pensive without being obtuse. Sheehan’s work is a definite highlight of the show.

Some of Sheehan’s other work reflects this simple style, though betraying depth upon further examination. Her “Kansas” series is an investigation of space through object distortion. In “Kansas pt. IV,” warped buildings loom over one another. Windows, doorways and stairs are placed in the most inconvenient of locations. The painting bends reality without breaking it. It is M.C. Escher meets “The Scream.”

Babineau’s most striking pieces explore texture and earthiness. “Anxiety” (acrylic on canvas), is an apt, concise encapsulation of worry and dread. The painting is incredibly simple: a color gradient of dark red as it fades to black, textured like the earth. But it works: One cannot help feeling anxiety while looking at it, as it effectively communicates emotion in a very simple way. “Skimming the Surface,” a multimedia work, continues upon this dour, sparse theme. A white wooden canvas hangs from the ceiling, contained on either side by glass. Within it are two trees, drawn with house paint, that seem to be growing from actual soil at the piece’s base. Hidden to to the left, however, is a tiny green sprout—perhaps, a shred of hope. The physical nature of this piece is worth reflecting on as well. Because the canvas is suspended instead of mounted on the wall, the work gains an added dimensionality.

April works in a variety of mediums, from paper to steel to virtual reality. Her most captivating piece, “Tower Viewer,” exists solely in the digital realm—the only way to view it is by putting on a virtual-reality (VR) headset. This new perspective affords a different perception of scale: Big blocky creatures, that are probably very small in reality, tower above the viewer. VR, usually considered only in terms of entertainment value, should be used more as a medium for artistic expression. VR wholly encapsulates the viewer, fully immersing them in the piece, removing distracting self-awareness in the process. The other highlight of April’s art is “Wallpaper in B Minor,” a beautiful blue pattern that, upon further analysis, reveals itself to really be made out of faces.

Gardener, in her second year of residency in the program, has the final section of the exhibition. Her work might suffice as an effective summary of the art show: abstract, three-dimensional geometric patterns and a distinct use of color. Movement is a key aspect of her art. Each of her pieces feels alive; they’re like squirming, wriggling growths that might have been plucked from a radioactive swamp somewhere. “Around” (acrylic paint on cast plaster), is made out of five organic, fungal creations with coral-like texture, colored with orange-red and streaks of blue. “Journey” (oil on masonite), can best be described as a group of psychedelic lilly-pads.

The exhibition is on view until March 27. While particularly notable for those interested in geometric abstraction or new utilizations of position and scale, the show is an accessible opportunity for art lovers of all levels to experience a fascinating foray into the next generation of artists.  

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