Don’t expect the adage “Those who can’t do, teach” to apply to the Visual Arts Center’s current exhibition, “Combined: Department of Art and Art History Faculty Exhibition.”
The exhibit gives students and the public a glimpse at the painstaking work of the faculty that have spent much of their career shaping the works of their students.
“The faculty show is a chance for the students to get to see what the faculty does and how they do it,” said Jade Walker, senior program coordinator of the Visual Arts Center. “I know a lot of the students have commented and came up to me and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know so-and-so made work like that’ or ‘I haven’t seen more work from that artist in a long time.’”
During the middle of the summer, the faculty were asked to contribute a piece of their choosing. Eventually, 35 pieces made their way to the center.
Although the University has held numerous faculty art exhibits in the past, “Combined” features its longest list of faculty artists and is the first one to be housed at the Mezzanine and East Galleries. The new location’s expansive space has given the exhibit some breathing room to place the works throughout the more than 10,000 square feet of floor space. Having an open floor emphasizes the diversity of the faculty’s art, with multimedia placed next to a sculpture and a painting next to a video installment, granting visitors insight into many of the creative and diverse minds that drive the College of Fine Arts.
“Our faculty is really diverse,” said Sarah Canright, a studio art senior lecturer. “Our department has made an effort to hire people with very different taste, because the art world is very pluralistic right now, so it would be a disservice to the student to have a monotheistic voice. The value of the student for the exhibit is they can gravitate to the people that best serve their interests and their intuitive aesthetic inclinations.”
After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Canright spent her early career exhibiting her largely abstract style before beginning to teach studio art throughout the country and joining the faculty at UT in 1982. In the years before coming to Austin, Canright created the paintings “The Moon” and “The Sun” and exhibited them at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago.
Once the show ended, the paintings were wrapped up and placed beneath stacks of other paintings at her New York studio. This past summer, after closing up her studio, she rediscovered them. Upon seeing both of the paintings’ fresco color schemes and lined bars, she knew then she wanted to show them to the public again. “Combined” offered Canright the opportunity to do so and imbue the exhibit with her abstract style.
“I felt that [the paintings] related to my concerns now, which have a real image, and that it would be good for the students to see,” Canright said. “It has a history, and I think it was an interesting thing to do for my faculty who have never seen these paintings — and for the students.”
For Moyosore Okediji, an associate professor in art history, the exhibit also lent him the chance to bring an entirely different aesthetic with “Ogunlagbede Onilero,” moving from Cartright’s abstract to the imagery-based. Originally made by a commission for The Smithsonian Institute, the work covers the wall with its massive 144-by-122-inch canvas and depicts in brown tones the progression of technology, science, medicine and art through images of the gods of West Africa and ancient Greece.
Beyond its mammoth size, Okejii’s technique used in the creation of Ogunlagbede Onilero is startling because although the work’s style can trace its origins to the teachings of Okejii’s classes on Diaspora and African art, he painted solely with soil, a primal yet progressive method that buoys the work’s message of the far-reaching capacity of the human mind. More than simply being a way to save money on material, the soil-based pigments allowed Okejii to explore his research on sustainable art.
“As we know, the world is facing issues of environmental abuse, and I really believe that the artist should contribute a sense of leadership in showing creativity that promotes and explores ideas of sustainability and green and the survival of our planet,” Okejii said.
Even though environmentally friendly art is still a niche in the art world, Okejii hopes students will be encouraged to move in alternative directions.
“There is a relationship between the material you use and the result that you get,” Okejii said. “When you use alternative, environmentally friendly materials, it begins to open new images, new visions and new ideas that you can definitely not achieve with traditional materials. It’s not just an issue of material but a different opportunity to aesthetic experience.”