Visiting artists mentor UA students

By: Maggie Duff

Image by Sean Morrissey

Last week, the Myers School of Art was visited by not one, but two professional artists.

Sean Morrissey recently received his MFA in studio art from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is now continuing his printmaking work in Pittsburgh, Pa. Jen Davis, a photographer, received her MFA from Yale University in 2008, and now is continuing her professional fine art photography career in Brooklyn, New York City.

Morrissey uses methods such as screen-printing, inkjet prints and painting to create clean, minimalistic prints.

His lecture took place in the Folk Hall Auditorium on Oct. 11 and was followed by a demo on the chine-collé process, which involves pasting cut out paper onto a piece of artwork using a rice paste. It is no wonder that students in the printmaking program are suddenly using chine-collé in their own work.

Morrissey was brought to the Myers School of Art through thinkInkeditions. This program brings two visiting printmakers to Folk Hall every year. The first, in the fall, is always an artist who, like Morrissey, has recently graduated with his or her MFA and is beginning to establish him or herself in the art world. This artist gives a lecture to the students followed by a demo on a printmaking method.

Photo by Jen Davis

Hearing from an emerging artist pushes advanced students to begin thinking about what they will do after they graduate with their BFA and, ultimately, to help them decide how to choose a graduate school.

“It was great to meet one-on-one with printmaking students to talk about their artwork and to have continuing discussions about my graduate school experience,” Morrissey said. “I hope that through our dialogue and by working alongside each other they can see that being a practicing studio artist is a viable option.”

The second artist that thinkInkeditions brings into Folk is always an established printmaker. This artist stays at Folk in the spring for a residency, during which he or she gives a lecture and creates a series of prints that are sent to thinkInkeditions members. This artist helps educate students on what life as a full-time, established artist is like.

Students are also able to watch the artist’s entire printmaking process in the Folk Hall printmaking room, which is an informative, inspiring and thought-provoking experience.

“We’re getting different viewpoints on the printmaking world,” Charles Beneke, printmaking professor at the Myers School of Art, said. “Students have the opportunity to work and learn from established artists, and get new ideas from them. They also get the opportunity to talk about the graduate school experience.” Getting these different viewpoints is helpful to students, who are oftentimes isolated in their educational experience.

Jen Davis was brought to Akron through the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Photography Series. She gave a free lecture at the Akron Art Museum last Wednesday. Many students, photography majors as well as other art and even non-art majors, attended this lecture. There was also a large number of faculty members there. Davis showed her portrait and self-portrait series that she has been working on for the past nine years.

Davis was born in Akron, but spent most of her adolescence in Chicago. She received her BA in 2002 from Columbia College. She has exhibited extensively in major cities around the world such as New York, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Toronto, Venice, Budapest and Barcelona, and has received an enormous number of grants and awards for her art.

Her portfolio consists largely of self-portraits, which reveal the realities of being an overweight woman in the modern world. Davis’s photographs deal with issues of beauty, identity, body image and sexuality.

While generally expressing her struggles, her self-portraits are prolific in their ability to showcase the beauty of bigger women. She also photographs other women, addressing her relationships with them. Perhaps some of her most moving portraits are those of men she has met or with whom she has interacted. They showcase the male gaze and seem to highlight the physical and psychological relationships between her and these men.

“Her work shows a unique, inspirational view on body image,” Katie White, a University of Akron student, said. “This lecture was so personal that it draws you into thinking about your own sexuality and body image.”

Along with allowing students and faculty to learn from her by attending the Akron Art Museum lecture, Davis also came to Folk Hall to critique the work of photography students. Students could sign up for a session with her to receive feedback on their art, and many advanced and intermediate students were able to do so.

“It was very beneficial to have Jen Davis critique my work,” senior photography student Ashley Tolfo said. “It gave me insight from an artist who is currently making artwork. The advice is really invaluable.”

This invaluable information is critical for students, especially art students, as they try to evaluate where they stand as artists. The ability to hear firsthand how an artist moved through his or her undergraduate and graduate degrees and became a professional is an extremely beneficial experience. Also, the fact that visiting artists will oftentimes critique students’ work gives students a trusted, outsider’s perspective, which is oftentimes hard to find.

The next visiting artist will be Terry Winters, who is speaking for free at the Akron Art Museum on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. as a part of the Synapse lecture series. His paintings deal with biomimicry, or how nature informs design. The Synapse Series, Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Photography Series and thinkINKeditions are all programs that allow a real, firsthand dialogue between students, faculty and outside artists and enrich students’ education, art and lives.

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