As an incoming Vassar freshman who has been spending a lot more time drawing and painting, I have been eager to meet other students in my year with a passion for art. My wish was granted when I recently stumbled upon the @vassar2024arts Instagram account, which features amazing first-year artists and their mid-quarantine and pre-pandemic creations. After getting in contact with some of them, I was absolutely blown away at the ideas and inspirations behind their unique pieces. Here are five artists who were eager to share their artistic stories and excitement for art at Vassar.
Catherine Borthwick ’24 used rich shades of orange, blue and violet throughout her oil paintings, and they immediately drew my attention. Her inspiration came from the colors and patterns of marine art: “Even though I’m from New York City, I am captivated by seascapes and wanted to portray them with unconventional colors and light,” she explained. The bright whites, rich oranges and cool grays she used to portray light beautifully contrasted some of the darker tones on the outsides of the paintings. At first glance, her set of four pieces appear to be standard painting sizes, but actually vary largely when it comes to scale. One of them, a mountainous landscape of oranges and violets mixed in with understated pale blues and greens, was of a scale that did justice to the sublime subject matter. I was shocked to hear her explain, “[It] became a public art project because the canvas was so big (around 6 feet by 5 feet) that it wouldn’t fit in my art classroom!”
Like Catherine, Skylar Huebner ’24 also incorporates orange and blue color schemes into her art. For Mother’s Day, she wanted to make a beautiful piece for her mother with that combination. A monarch butterfly inspired by a picture frame in her mother’s dining room and painted on a serene, cyan background was perfect! Continuing her liquitex acrylic paint style, she decided to make her next piece on a canvas tote that she hadn’t used in a while. She drew her inspiration for the fun, colorful creation from some of indie band Summer Salt’s music. Quickly deciding it would have “happy camper” written on it, she explained, “I landed on ‘happy camper’ because it referenced their song of the same name, while still being a common phrase with a positive connotation that I enjoyed.” I loved how the phrase so perfectly complemented the bubbly letters and flowers she chose to accent the cute tote bag. I was happy to hear that her tote bag was now in full use, and she had even given another one to her friend as a birthday gift!
Over the past few months, Abby Bettencourt ’24 has been doing oil paintings, acrylics, photography and stage makeup with inspiration from a variety of places. Two of her monochromatic painting pieces—purple and pink—were inspired by the word “forge.” She explained, “For that word I wanted to focus on the forging of relationships, specifically LGBTQ+ relationships.” While maintaining this theme throughout, Abby was also able to contrast the two pieces, concentrating on the connection between two different faces in the first, while keeping the focus on a single body in the second. The exploration of different types of relationships through these pieces made them a very special combination. Some of Abby’s stage make-up (which is totally art!), were inspired by fairy-elf creatures for her school’s production of Lois Lowry’s Gossamer. The dreamy, yet poignant play incorporated both fantasy and realism, blending elements of a young boy’s abusive childhood with a dream-giver’s chance to heal him and his family. This made for unique contrasts of light and joyful colors with gloomy, frightening ones—Abby’s stage makeup accented them even more. She described some more of her creativity in the fairy-elf creatures, saying, “I wanted to show age by hair length/lightness and by the pigmentation of the makeup.”
Luna Schiller ’24 draws with pen and pencil, a style that comes naturally to her. Recently, she found a love for a new technique that I had never heard of before: blind contour. The style challenges an artist to create a drawing without looking and without lifting their pen from the page. I was absolutely floored. “With practice I’ve gotten more accurate in the placement of all the features,” Luna said, “but it still creates a really interesting, distorted look. I’m also really interested in folds and shadows; I love diving deep into a really detailed drawing for hours at a time.” Luna is also interested in capturing the essence of the people and objects she places into her pieces. She says that sometimes this means drawing realistically, but other times it’s “one expressive mark that really brings it home.”
Maeve Shelby ’24 loves using acrylic on canvas and pastels on brown paper. Her first inspiration was the Tyler the Creator lyric, “find some time.” She morphed this idea into a uniquely shaped clock, substituting the numbers around the perimeter for the twelve letters of the lyric. The contrasting, orange butterfly in the center, accented with the minute and second hands, brought the piece together. For Maeve’s next piece, she found inspiration in “the persistence of memory” of Rue and Jules from the HBO series Euphoria. The rich oranges and pinks of Jules’ penciled-in face contrasted the greens and blues of Rue’s, but the consistency of the pastels throughout emphasized the deep connection between the characters. The intense gaze between the two immediately draws the viewer in, as well as the single, bold strand of Jules’ hair— maybe a hint of what’s to come in their relationship. Maeve’s work with pastels, which she just began experimenting with during the coronavirus lockdown, also extends to an image of a woman’s side profile on a bold, blue background. The blending of similar shades of pink in the woman’s skin tone, lips, earring and shirt brought the piece together and beautifully accentuated her dark hair and powerful, unrelenting gaze.
The five amazing artists I spoke to have so much talent, and I am so glad I was able to get to know them through their work. As an incoming freshman also interested in art, I was excited to see artists with similar styles and others with vastly different sensibilities. Art can take so many different forms, and I am excited to be surrounded by such incredibly passionate artists at Vassar. With only a couple of weeks to go, the Class of 2024 is ready to put the “arts” in the liberal arts!