Arts & Events

‘Art Students Annual’ in Kittredge Gallery showcases student talent and social commentary

Andriana Cunningham’s “The Affect of Togetherness” — Photo credit to Augusta Grassl
Janelle Sopko’s “3rd Floor Window” — Photo credit to Augusta Grassl

“I am always inspired, challenged, and enlightened viewing art. This collection of pieces was no exception. I saw whimsey and beauty, tough contemporary topics and age old issues, plus a lot of talent.” So read Juror Heather Joy’s emphatic statement regarding the 2019 Art Students Annual exhibition. It is indeed a fitting description of the extraordinary student artwork on display in Kittredge Gallery.

The 2019 Art Students Annual opened Jan. 25 and closes March 2. The Exhibition displays student work from the 2017–18 academic year. Out of over 100 submissions, 47 special artists were selected to represent the best of what Puget Sound’s art department has to offer.

The exhibition features a myriad of styles and techniques, from pottery to abstract sculpture to oil paintings and even one multimedia video collage. But what united all of the pieces, according to Joy, was their shared “bright, whimsical and personal threads.”

Whimsey and play were certainly common themes. Senior Sophia Munic’s soft sculptures “Let’s Play Dress Up, Royal Dreamland” and “Play Time” are fun, eye-catching and tactile, with signs encouraging guests to touch and even try on some of the pieces.

Other fantastical works include Genevieve Caskey’s sculpture “There Was an Old Lady,” as well as Jill LaFetra’s cut-paper collage piece, “Escape.” Both pieces share a certain fairy-tale quality. Caskey’s papier-mâché Dr. Marten boot with doors around the sides is a new urban take on a classic nursery rhyme, while LaFetra’s depicts a lively dreamscape outside a shilotted window with dream-like figures emerging from a cloud of billowing gray smoke.

But it isn’t all fun and games at the Exhibition. Several pieces interrogate serious societal issues, such as Mali Matthews’ “Ill Advised,” which offers a stunning visual critique of America’s complacency in mass school shootings, and Janelle Sopko’s video collage, which splices together beauty tutorials, makeup advertisements and plastic surgery operations as a means of exposing the harmful manipulation and marketing tactics of the beauty industry.

Several pieces also played with light and figure, such as Andriana Cunningham’s “The Affect of Togetherness” and Janelle Sopko’s “3rd Floor Window.” Sopko’s sculpture consists of two silhouetted figures dancing behind a backlit screen of vibrant colors that almost resemble stained glass. Cunningham’s pen-and-ink illustration echoes a similar sense of intimacy, but rather than being in shadow, the figures are rendered in stunning detail and outlined in a shimmering gold. Behind them, a running river is projected onto the wall, adding yet another dimension of light and movement.

When asked about the inspiration behind the projection element, Cunningham said, “I’m fascinated by water and how it moves and what patterns it makes. I find that water has a certain kind of divine harmony that we don’t really understand.”

Cunningham, a sculpture major, had another piece in the exhibition that had an entirely different but equally engaging aesthetic. Entitled “An Exciting Infection,” Cunningham’s sculpture has a both otherworldly and organic feel, like a rock formation from an alien ecosystem. “I’m interested in creating my own kind of world, essentially,” Cunningham said. “I’m interested in the divine harmony that exists in nature, and I’m curious as to how to make something that looks like it belongs to a different world but still has that organic quality.”

Now a senior, Cunningham has participated in the Art Student Annual all four years of her academic career, and her favorite part has always been the way the event strengthens the sense of community and support within the Art Department.

“I find it really fun because everyone has such different styles, and it’s super exciting to just see everybody together, ranging from freshman to seniors,” she said.

In this way, the Art Students Annual is more than just a collection of art. In many ways, art can provide a window into what it’s like to be alive in a specific sociohistorical moment. And if you peer into the window provided by Kittredge Gallery this month, you’ll find reflected the sometimes-silly, sometimes-frightening, always-beautiful world of the artists of Puget Sound.