Last week’s opening of “19 Degrees of Being” at the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery turned out to be a busy, crowded and joyous event. Graduating seniors from the Department of Art and Design gathered with faculty members and dozens of supporters. In a lighthearted ceremony, Chairman Jay Dougan and senior faculty members Amy Wendland and Paul Booth looped gray cords around each senior to whoops, whistles and applause. People lingered to view works that warrant more than a glance.
The Department of Art and Design, as it is now called, has come a long way from its so-called fine art beginnings. Today, students may pursue studio art concentrations, but more and more students major in communication design, updating technological skills and commercial-world demands. The shift is going on all over the country as old-school fine art turns to what’s now generally referred to as visual communication. Yes, it’s a sea change in art education.
Not long ago, FLC painting majors wanted to be the next Stanton Englehart, the solo founder of FLC’s art department. Southwest landscapes used to dominate senior shows, along with hyper-realistic watercolors and pristine ceramics. Satirical works were rare, inspired by faculty outlier Gerry Wells. He was the first to encourage exploiting cultural anomalies with digital imagery. His ironic prints pointed toward a more unsettled future for the country and for art education. That’s where we are now.
If you go
WHAT: “19 Degrees of Being: Graduating Senior Communication Design and Studio Art Majors Exhibition.”
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, plus May 6, closing day.
WHERE: Fort Lewis College Art Gallery, 1000 Rim Drive.
MORE INFORMATION: Call 247-7379 or visit https://www.fortlewis.edu/art-gallery.
Take your time in the 2023 exhibit to consider how today’s visual artists update or subvert conventions. Portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, book arts, ceramics and sculpture will be found. So will video and fabric design. Then take a second look, circle back, and reconsider what you see. You may find unexpected twists. Today’s students have absorbed and stretched conventions to comment on the world we live in.
Sloane Kelley’s mixed media installation seems pretty direct. Titled “Earth Day: Celebrate While You Can” combines a poster showing planet Earth half dead and half alive plus two jars of suspicious-looking liquids. Kelley asks: “Would you drink this?”
Paige Brown’s enigmatic “This is She” follows centuries-old portrait conventions with a twist. The female subject sits at a slight angle, looks to the side, and is painted in a traditional realistic manner – standard fare from the Renaissance forward. But “she” has a jaguar head, subverting all the conventions of Western humanistic portraiture. The idea may not be new, but Brown has updated it for the #MeToo era.
“Indigo is the color of my memories,” Marina Galasso’s unusual self-portrait, takes an entirely different approach. Suspended from three steel rods, diaphanous panels of cyanotype images float against the wall. Her inventive memory gathering is both beautiful and provocative. She has stretched the conventions of self-portraiture through photography and dipped into the land of artist’s books.
Laurel Grimes’ box of pamphlets, “Assorted Zines,” could also be considered a self-portrait in the form of an artist’s book. Grimes has filled a wooden box with small books, each with different bindings and illustrations, and each with a different story to tell.
Jean-Luc Stamp’s three bowls elegantly sit on small circles of dirt. At first glance, the unglazed objects seem all too simple and basic. Titled “Wild Clay,” the bowls speak of the very origin of ceramics, something useful created out of soil, planet Earth’s fundamental material. Stamp tells us where he found his source material – Horsetooth, Lemon Lake and Cortez – all in Colorado. No fancy glazes, no abstract or figurative imagery, just basic matter. The twin ideas of place and origin are embodied in this supremely simple presentation. Think about that the next time you have a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug.
Korrin A. Williams’ video installation, “Nagini the Snake,” is a surprise inclusion. A shelf of supplies and patterns supports a film showing the development of a snake-like design and its application to a human arm. Tattoo art has a deep human history as well as an evolving, culture-specific aesthetic.
So, congratulations to FLC for including this new/old media and its methods. Kudos to a department which continues to explore contemporary visual culture.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.