Gas masks, paint, wooden houses, owls and more paint. If these images don’t immediately come to mind when you hear “Summer Heat,” the name of the Undergraduate Art Exhibition at the School of Art, the show may come as a surprise. Yet the surprise is exhilarating and pleasant — a viable alternative for vacationing in the Bahamas in October.
The exhibition, which runs through October 10, displays the artwork created by undergraduates over the summer at programs not connected to Yale.
One of the artists, Haley Fox ’08, said she was pleasantly surprised that the School of Art decided to display the exhibition. ‘It’s really nice that they are just willing to show student work not affiliated with Yale,” she said.
The largest part of the exhibition features the work of an intensive summer program called Studio Practice at Pont Aven, France. One of the participants, Noa Kaplan-Sears ’09, described Pont-Aven as a great experience.
“It was challenging… [It was] the best summer of my life,” Kaplan-Sears said. “We worked eighteen hours a day for four weeks and each day we completed thirty two paintings.”
However, the Pont-Aven paintings are not on display. Instead, the whole experience is represented through a large series of photographs. Featured in this photo-novel are pictures of a bus, of suitcases, of students carrying the suitcases, of students eating dinner, of students painting, of Nutella, of exhausted students sleeping on mattresses next to paintings. But the photos do more than simply recount a set of events. The diary of art-in-the-making has, in turn, become art. Color interrupts, or rather permeates, the set of events in the photos — paint is on faces, floors, walls, mixing pots, and brushes, and on canvases as well. There are several frames depicting half-complete or completed paintings. Daily life and paintings intermingle to such an extent that there are even oil paintings of vending machines with M&Ms and of empty potato chips wrappings.
“It’s beautiful,” says Hannah Burnett ’08 as she looks at the photos. “It also shows a lot of rigor.”
Beautiful and rigorous, yes, but there is no single theme that ties all the works to form a cohesive whole — the viewer must make a strong effort to find connections among the varied works of art.
Sharon Madanes ’08 focuses on streaks of bright color in desolate surroundings. One of her photographs depicts a wooden house and a backyard strewn with random items, including a dog kennel and an LPG cylinder. The only strikingly pretty thing in the photo is a single pink flower that has somehow managed to grow among the junk. In another photo, Madanes juxtaposes a decrepit, broken-seated Ferris wheel with human-size bright red strawberries, stripped of an unknown purpose in the absence of people. The azure sky is almost a mockery of the lonely scene below.
Similarly, another series of photos by Molly Dillon ’08 emphasize sparks of color among the mundane. Three plain white t-shirts contrast with the warm yellow and orange stripes of a beanie. Dillon’s next photo shows a girl with her face painted green and grass sticking out of her mouth. But the fragments of the extraordinary among daily scenes are not limited to colors. The routine task of a girl sweeping the floors with a broomstick is transfigured and given a magical dimension through the painting of an owl gazing at her from the wall.
In a group of paintings, Madanes shows shady figures wearing red headgear among stiflingly green trees and sky. The figures could either be fighting or making love. The prelapsarian garden-and-apple allusion is hard to ignore, except that the figures happen to be wearing gas masks. It is grotesque and powerful.
“It’s like something out of Tool,” says a viewer to his friend. It’s not hard to see why he would compare the work to a heavy metal band.