Student art shines in Palmer

The Palmer Exhibit in the College Center will feature student work from the Studio Art department from now until the end of the spring semester. / Photo by Andrea Yang

As students roam the College Center, they’ll pass the exhibition in the Palmer Gallery featuring works by Vassar’s own Studio Art Department. The annual series highlights the fruits of various courses on drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and computer animation video, and will remain on view at the Palmer until the end of the semester.

Currently, the exhibit features the vibrant colors of ART 203 Painting I. There’s an open notebook for visitors to leave their comments and encouragements.

Adjunct Assistant Professors of Art Gina Ruggeri and Christina Tenaglia were in charge of putting up the drawings. Students personally chose two of their favorites, then professors picked the drawings that best represent the variety and most compelling set of images.

Students discuss the process involved in creating the works exhibited in the Palmer
Gallery, as well as their goals in terms of what they’re both striving to achieve and convey. / Photo by Andrea Yang

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art Patrick McElnea reflected on his yearlong course, ART 103 Drawing I: Visual Language, saying, “This semester is devoted to figuration, drawing of the body, as opposed to last semester, which is perspective and still life. Each assignment tends to approach a different medium for one or two weeks. We focus on both the body as a whole and in fragments like separate limbs, down to the structure of fingers and all the way to the overall stance and weight distribution, which includes study in contrapposto and pivot points. We explore what the gaze does when there are multiple people looking in different directions and how that speaks to composition, also the body in relation to its architectural context, negative and positive space.”

McElnea then went on to discuss the importance of drawing as an art form, “Drawing is like the oldest documented history there is. I think it’s antecedent to any form of critical thinking. No matter what field you go into, any observational drawing forces us to look at the world in an accurate way. So I think drawing is helpful even for people who don’t pursue art. For example, someone in the field of medicine needs to learn to look at x-rays accurately and know how to slowly and carefully look into an image in a way that speaks to what it is.”

When asked what, in his opinion, makes a good drawing, McElnea responded, “It varies from student to student. But I look for some kind of progress throughout the semester and that progress is based on accuracy in the portrayal of light and dark (showing where the light source is coming from) or in terms of anatomic proportion. I’m trying to explore in my class some of the most important ways in which we could translate the observed world into two-dimensions. But that space of translation is also one of the experimentation because there’s no one way to draw a body. We try to portray the likeness, meaning how we can capture the state of mind of the model, their personality, their attitude at the given moment and the narrative, the setting of the scene that suggests what’s before and after.”

In order to achieve all of this in each work of art, students must strike a balance between concentration to detail and imagination. Austin Han ’19 described his creative process, “I usually have a pencil sketch first. Now I’m using Vassar related things like the Alumni magazine and the Misc to piece together a student. I’m trying to combine the pieces to reflect the whole. I want to best represent the person, but focusing too much on detail can be also detrimental to creativity.”

Elinor Qiao ’20 shared, “We use a variety of materials like ink, charcoal, conte crayon and graphite. We have drawn an x-ray look of a person or built the skeleton with blocks. My drawing on display practiced planar analysis, a geometry way of interpreting figure. It took me three nights to finish because I have to break down every pleat of the clothes into planes and dimensions. The process of drawing can sometimes be frustrating too but that’s exactly the point— struggling through pain and eventually getting your point across.”

She continued speaking of her love for drawing, “I believe artistic creation is all about self-expression. Our individual experiences factors into to our thoughts and designs. I expressed sadness in my drawings during the time of creation. I love this course because it gives me a new perspective of looking and appreciating beauty in the world. It pushes me to think differently and influences my aesthetic appreciation. Now I see lights falling on the shape of things in different ways.”

Maggie Chen ’20 said of her experience in Drawing I, “The work I had at the show was an assignment that draws hands interacting with or manipulating face. I had a friend pose for me. I sketched it out with pencil first then used ink wash, decided it looked flat and wanted to try something new so used charcoal on top of that for shadows. The technicality aspect of this class provides ample practice for drawing skills. It’s cool to see our works up.”

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art Patrick McElnea told the Miscellany that a good
painting, to him, is one that accurately portrays light and dark and is well-proportioned. / Photo by Andrea Yang

The artists and their teachers aren’t the only individuals involved in producing this artwork. Models from Vassar and the surrounding Hudson Valley communities also play an important role and are, in turn, invested in the results. Diego Encarnacion ’18 said of the project, “Seeing the drawings of the students reminds me of the vast and diverse talent that my fellow classmates possess, and has even inspired me to spend more time creating art myself…Modeling for art classes for the past couple of years has inspired me to start drawing myself. I can confidently say that I’m happy I’ve started to, and I find it therapeutic to do in my free time.”

Unfortunately, due to limited time, many students didn’t get to see their work on display. Each course only has one week in the gallery given the exhibit’s dedication to showcasing the breadth and diversity of each art form. McElnea acknowledged that each aspect of the exhibit has its distinct trajectory and the works deserve to be up there longer. To compensate for the lack of time, he expects there will be another show in the fall to look forward to.

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