Marla McLeod had never painted before she took an art class with Rachael Vaters-Carr in her first year at Southern. The senior painting major from California arrived at the university with the intention of majoring in geography, but when Vaters-Carr encouraged her to try more art classes, McLeod fell in love with studio art, and with painting in particular. Now, she is graduating in December, and her senior thesis exhibition, “Black,” was on display in Earl Hall recently, with a closing reception on Friday, Nov. 21.
The show featured five large-scale figure paintings; one is six feet across. McLeod explains that the show explored “the struggles that minority groups face as they attempt to free themselves from negative stereotypes. I paint the figures bound and emerging from darkness, fighting for freedom,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “This struggle is a metaphor for the task that each person faces in trying to become an individual. The enormity of this journey is reflected in the large scale of the paintings.”
McLeod says she wanted to express the show’s theme in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time showing that the figures are coming from a dark place. Although the show’s title ws “Black,” McLeod says she intended for the works to be “representative of everyone, because everyone is stereotyped in some way.” The title refers to the place of darkness from which each figure in the paintings is striving to emerge.
“So many people in our society are struggling to be who they are,” McLeod says. “I wanted the images to not just be pretty but also to speak to the viewer.”
McLeod’s thesis adviser, Art Professor Thuan Vu, is enthusiastic about her work. “Marla has been an exceptional student,” he says. “The rigor displayed in her impressive paintings reveals an active, searching mind combined with a deft hand and keen powers of observation. These are ambitious paintings that speak to how self-motivated, inspired, and diligent Marla is in pursuing her desired goals. She is a marvelous talent and a wonderful young lady. I am certain in her continued success and could not be more proud of her.”
McLeod’s post-graduation plans include working on her painting portfolio in preparation for applying to MFA programs in painting.