For those who are not professional artists, the busyness of everyday life often leaves little time for creative endeavors. The Palmer Gallery’s second Flip Side exhibition, which commenced with an opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 24 from 5-7 p.m., provided an opportunity for members of the Vassar community to display their artistic abilities. The 10 featured artists hold varied positions on campus, including administrative assistants, faculty family members and web designers.
Associate Director of the Palmer Gallery Monica Church articulated the purpose of the event and the meaning behind the title: “The idea was to feature people who work on campus, whether they’re faculty, staff or administration, who have a studio practice or have an art practice that people may not know about,” Church said. “So, the reason the title is the ‘Flip Side’ is that you see this person as a dean or a faculty member, and you may not know that they paint or take photographs.”
Church stated that the first Flip Side, which took place in 2013 and featured five artists, proved immensely successful, and inspired her to expand the exhibit. This time, the gallery displayed the work of ten local artists: Chad E. Fust, Karen Gallagher, Pamela Hall, Emilie Houssart, Stephen Kenney, Amy D. Laughlin, George Laws, Jeff Macaluso, Chris Silverman and Angela Smith. Church found the second iteration to be similarly worthwhile: “I’m really thrilled about the turnout and the quality of the work, and it was wonderful to work with everybody. It was really a great experience to be able to do this.”
One of the featured community members is Academic Computing Consultant Amy D. Laughlin. A lifelong artist, Laughlin displayed her portraits “Daredevil,” “Couple with Hats” and “Amelia With a Tie.” She explained her experience and influences: “I have a background in photography and video but I’ve alway enjoyed drawing and painting. Lately I’m devoting most of my time to painting,” she stated. “I have always been interested in the idea of gender as performance, specifically as it relates female masculinity and other non-binary presentations of gender. When I’m working on a portrait, I’m really thinking about it through that lens. I’m inspired by so many artists and writers, such as Catherine Opie, Claude Cahun, Sadie Benning, Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, to name a few.”
Laughlin was grateful for the opportunity: “I had a wonderful experience participating in Flip Side. Monica Church deserves all the credit. It was so great to work with her. The hard work and dedication she puts into running the Palmer Gallery really brings out the best in artists that show work there.” She also expressed that Flip Side allowed her to further involve herself in Vassar life. “I think it’s really valuable to learn about other members of the Vassar community who are engaged in art making,” she stated. “We tend to see our co-workers in terms of their positions here and it’s important to remember people have this whole other side to their lives with an entirely different set of interests and talents.”
Former Main Building House Fellow Stephen Kenney produced three works for the exhibit: “Circle of Curvature for y=3,” “Nine-Point Circle with Integer Cordinates” and “Acute and Obtuse Triangles with a Common Nine-Point Circle.” A retired high school math teacher, Kenney began drawing as a way to elucidate abstract theorems and make them more appealing. His work is created by first drawing the theorems, then using colored pencils to bring out the patterns—a process that Kenney found to be rewarding, but not exactly art.
Kenney explained that participating in the exhibit helped him recognize his own artistry. He explained, “I realized that a lot of people can do art. They say ‘Oh, I’m not an artist,’ like I did. Doing this stuff, I never considered it art…I just wanted to do it; I never labeled it. In fact, the voice in me would sometimes ridicule me — ‘Here you are, you’re 68 years old and you’re coloring.’ There was part of me that thought that this wasn’t practical.”
Similarly, Administrative Assistant to the Dean of First Year Students Pamela Hall viewed the event as an opportunity to practice her art pragmatically. She stated, “I was an art major in college, years ago … I still love art, but I don’t really have time for it.” Flip Side allowed Hall to practice her stifled interest in art, as she revisited and updated two of her old works for the exhibit: “Untitled” and “Family Portrait.” She also found that Flip Side allowed her to better connect to her co-workers: “Vassar’s such a big community, and we all know each other from office to office, but we don’t really know each other as well on a personal level.”
The exhibit will be on display through March 6. Church reflected on the future of Flip Side, stating, “We plan to do them every five years, but it’s ideally a way to get people to come into our gallery to reinforce our sense of community here—to show that people are very multidimensional; they may have a side that you don’t know anything about.”