Painting a pandemic: studio art majors finish strong

By Yardena Carmi

Courtesy of Jenny Tan

The advanced studio seminar’s end-of-semester exhibition, which opens with limited capacity on May 19, features the work of six student artists across a wide range of mediums. 

For nearly three months, students have been working in and outside the classroom on their exhibition pieces. Critiques and workshops are crucial to the thesis class, as is examining the work of other artists. On-campus students have had access to individual studios due to the pandemic this year. Visiting Assistant Professor of Studio Art Estefania Puerta, who teaches the class, said that while Covid-19 has changed a lot of aspects of life, not everything depends on physical proximity to others, especially when it comes to art.

“I think that artists tend to be hermetic people, anyhow, so I don’t think it’s been that wild of a shift,” Puerta said. 

Due to travel restrictions, one student remained in China for the semester and is completing their project remotely. According to Puerta, this inspired the department to branch into their first-ever online exhibition. Everyone’s work will be displayed online, along with their artist statement and information about what their project is exploring. 

Although the Studio Art Department pivoted to Zoom classes during the pandemic, it proved to be a great medium for guest artists’ talks. Puerta said that using the digital platform has allowed the department to invite artists from all around the world to speak, regardless of geographic location or travel restrictions that predate Covid-19. 

Jenny Tan ’21, a student taking the advanced studio seminar, has been working on a project centered around nostalgia and reflecting on her personal growth and transformation over the past four years as she approaches graduation.

“Nostalgia in itself is very contentious. You’re not necessarily wanting to go back to being a teenager, but you just feel like you’re growing up a little too fast and maybe everything is moving too fast, and I think graduating is a pretty big transition,” she said. “I want to capture that in my work.”

Tan’s work for the exhibition is mixed media, combining graphic design, printmaking, painting and other materials. Tan is an IPE major and a Chinese minor and, while she has exhibited her artwork in the past with Middlebury Womxn of Color and M Gallery, she is very excited to participate for the first time in a Studio Art Department show. Tan said the independence and flexibility of her thesis project is exciting, but she has also faced difficulties balancing her time to get work done. Covid-19 has not complicated her work, thanks to the individual studios students are given.

“You have a lot of space to yourself and because you’re in the studio alone, Covid doesn’t feel like it’s intruding on that,” Tan said.

Liv Weisel ’22, also spoke about the balancing act of maintaining a long-term artistic practice. For her, the biggest challenge with completing this project at the college has been budgeting her time in order to let her creative self unfold and find time in the studio, amid the hustle and bustle of college life. She has been working this semester on an 18-by-10 inch “party in a bowl.” The ceramics project examines joy, surprise and close observation.

Courtesy of Olivia Weisel

“I am both in challenge and awe of the radically slow process that this medium demands,” she said. In some ways, Covid-19 has allowed her to maintain a more disciplined practice, but the increased isolation has its costs. “I source much of my creative energy from togetherness,” Weisel said. 

The seminar is the first chance for many students to work independently on art projects in an academic setting, and the end-of-semester exhibition is an important component of that experience. “The thesis exhibition is a really good snapshot of their developing art practice, and where they got to from basically starting from zero,” Puerta said. She also commented that a semester is a very short time frame for developing a project, especially one started from scratch with studies and experiments.

“They all do such an amazing job at trying to sort things out and trying to create a project that feels feasible and resolved,” she said.

The online exhibition will be available for viewing here starting May 21. Seminar students’ projects will be displayed in the Johnson Memorial Building May 19–23.