Artists showcase newfound identity:

SPU gallery offers unlikely portraits

By Dusty Henry, Features Editor

The Falcon, October 7, 2009


The phrase 'self-absorbed' is one that typically draws negative connotations. However, when Kate Kresser, professor of art history and gallery director, chose to name the art gallery's new exhibition after such a crass word, she prompted people with the anecdote, "you can be vain and self-absorbed, or absorbed in something bigger."


Oct. 2 marked the opening of the SPU Art Center's self-portrait exhibition. The portraits that are showcased do not depict a person's typical outer appearance. Instead, they delve deeper into the artists' expression and current state.


On a white wall in the gallery, the words "Constructing Identity in the 21st Century" are neatly painted below the title of the exhibition. The modern and immaculate setting helps to bring the art to life with intense contrast.


Discussion between faculty, students and members of the community hummed throughout the gallery. Crackers, cheese, desserts and glasses of Perrier sat at the entrance table. The atmosphere and setting was on par with that of the Seattle Art Museum: tres chic, sophisticated but welcoming.


Kresser, who was appointed the position of gallery director last spring, conceptualized the idea for a self-portrait exhibition almost last minute due to her late appointment as director.


"Self-portraits seem so relatable to me," she said. "Introspection is universal.


"Combined with a knowledge of portrait artists who may be interested in the event and advertisements in numerous northwest publications, Kresser was able to gather artists from around the world. She said that the majority of the artists on display at the gallery are not even from the Pacific Northwest, one notably from England.


The mediums which the artists use are as vast as their creativity. All of their creations are taken with a completely different approach, whether it be paint, clay or video.


Pieces such as "At Loose Ends" by Michigan artist Susan Mulder gathered particular interest for being an unconventional display of self-identity. A dress hanging from the ceiling might seem obscure enough given the theme, but after taking a closer look and reading the description, the dress becomes anything but ordinary. The garb was made from old tea bags, dryer sheets and insect wings. This is definitely not the "American Gothic" most might be expecting.


Kresser confided that, the dress is a representation of Mulder's daily life as a housewife. The materials used were those she engages with on a day-to-day basis. "This is how she lives her life," Kresser said.


In the corner of the room sat a brown wooden chair. The unoccupied chair was encircled with knitting needles and a red scarf several yards long, draping off its side. The piece, titled "Knitting Meditation" by former SPU Assistant Professor of Art Christen Mattix offered an interpretation of self-identity without any likeness of a human figure displayed.


Mattix created the scarf during meditation, which began on September 11 of this year and continued until Peace One Day on September 21. She spent three hours a day for 10 days to create the vibrant red apparel. Mattix explained that, the scarf and needles resting on the chair is "a portrait of my absence." She also noted the piece's implication that she may sit down and continue knitting at any moment."It's great to have so many different methods here," said SPU alumna and featured gallery artist Anelecia Hannah.


Some works that seemed to fit the criteria for traditional self-portrait at first glance actually featured some of the most thought provoking themes. Case in point, "Studio dello Maestro" by SPU alumna Anelecia Hannah. At a casual glance, the painting seems to be a straightforward shot of Hannah in some sort of art studio. Yet, there are subtle nuances and artistic decisions that make it so much more.


In the portrait, a strap on Hannah's shoulder is falling off. This is more than just an interpretation of what she's wearing, but a commentary on art history and also the Christian community's problem with nudity and icons. The strap pays homage to the painting "Madame X" by John Sargent, which caused controversy for portraying a woman with a strap draping off of her shoulder. Sargent would later go on to repaint the strap in its proper place.


Hannah wished to capture the feeling of controversy and scandal in her piece. Her personal controversy is not so much sexual, but about the controversy of choosing to become an artist rather than a "conventional" doctor or a lawyer.


The exhibit runs until Nov. 9 and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students still have plenty of time to drop by after or between classes and become absorbed in the new definition of self-identity.