Are you tired of dining under the watchful eyes of college masters past?
Then try dining or just visiting the Heyman Commons in the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale under the dreamy gaze of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel or the sparkling glance of Elizabeth Taylor.
Artist Mark Schneider, a sophomore in Davenport College, experiments with a variety of mediums to capture the lives and character of 30 American Jews from the past 350 years.
Though some art patrons may view the Slifka cafeteria as an unlikely exhibition hall, Schneider first discussed displaying his drawings with Rabbi James Ponet, the director of the Slifka Center, when he came to Bulldog Days as a prospective student two years ago. Throughout his freshman year, he worked on the portraits, which were hung last April.
“I got a huge sense of enjoyment at seeing the figures I admire come to life,” Schneider said.
The portraits, varying in size, cover the two wood-paneled walls of the commons. Utilizing an informal arrangement, the exhibit showcases different frames and paper nametags for each portrait. It is in a heavily trafficked space, filled with diners who are eager to enjoy student artwork.
The mediums used in Schneider’s portraits are as diverse as the accomplishments of the people depicted. The Marx Brothers’ painterly pastel portrait compliments the colorful personalities of the comedians; Einstein is caught in intense contemplation within the precise lines of a mechanical pencil; and Shel Silverstein flows rhythmically throughout a pen contour drawn similar to his own illustrations.
The majority of the people are household names, but Schneider includes his late “Grampa Jack,” pointing out that “you don’t have to be well known to be a great American Jew.”
With a vast spectrum of drawing styles, the exhibit is at first overwhelming. But when each portrait is seen separately, the character and accomplishments of the individual are clearly expressed. Schneider, who has contributed 45 illustrations to at least 10 on-campus publications, finds himself gravitating towards pastel drawings in which he can get a result similar to painting.
In his portrait of Marc Chagall, one of a handful of pastels in the exhibit, he captures Chagall’s surreal style with the blending and fluidity of the colors.
Student and non-student artwork is often exhibited in Heyman Commons, whose walls are adorned with portraits atypical to those we have come to ignore in the residential dining halls. Schneider’s diversity of style makes the stiff paintings of former academics seem interchangeable.