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Marla McLeod

To hear Marla McLeod, ‘14, describe her passion for her former major, geographic information science (GIS), one can’t help but imagine her happily surveying the earth’s surface, gathering information and studying its infinite connections for years to come. But life had different plans for this artist, who was recently named by the Boston Globe as one of “5 Outstanding Art-School Grads for 2020.”

“I really loved geography,” McLeod says. “[With GIS] you can follow different veins and be creative and share perspective. The information builds, and you see how to build connections the more you bring in. It was the study of everything, everywhere.”

It wasn’t until she transferred from community college to Southern in 2012 and took a painting course that she found herself impassioned by the same principles — studying a subject, building up depths of color, sharing perspective – and started questioning her career path.

“I took an art class with Rachael Vaters-Carr, and in that class she told me I was really good at it. And when she told me that, I was a little skeptical,” McLeod says. “In Professor Thuan Vu’s painting course, I was trying to figure out how to paint! What kind of painting did I want to do? He suggested I try working from my own photography, and I took a picture of my friend in drag taking his makeup off, and I felt like, ‘Wow, I think I can paint!’ The colors came alive. And that’s how I got into it.”

After graduating from Southern with a degree in studio art, she took two years off to practice her technique. In 2018, she was accepted into the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (she graduates this August) and, in 2019, was the recipient of Tuft’s Tisch Library Research Grant, for which she spent the summer “researching Black identity in America and representation and combining the research with fashion found in the drag culture.”

The culmination of the research for her exhibition “RePresent” were her sculptures “Anonymous Woman” and “Baldwin,” which were presented at Black Portraitures 2019 at NYU. McLeod removed things from her sculptures  — skin, hair, features — that have to do with individuality and characteristics in culture and visual cues about who they are as an individual.

“Anonymous Woman”
By Marla MacLeod
Size: 84in (h) x 72in (w) x 72in (d)
Medium: Various textiles, acrylic paint, beads, wood, mannequin
Year: 2019

According to McLeod, “One sculpture represents the black woman in America, the visual references to negative imagery like the mammy are overlayed and altered with symbols and references to Black pride. The second sculpture represents the black man in America, the intimidating hooded figure is overlayed and altered down, adding lavish details that give the figure a sense of royalty.”

For her MFA thesis, McLeod continued her study of Black women from her undergraduate thesis at Southern.

“I began to understand how much I don’t understand about African American history,” McLeod says, “so I had to go back and research and learn and dig into the topic this time with five large portraits.”

In her oil paintings, backed with textiles inspired by Mali mud cloths to give a sense of African tribal patterning, McLeod asked herself: “You’re depicting black people, are you just putting them on display? Each woman, they’re only wearing black, and the viewer must decide what they’re putting on to that body. As I’m creating, the women are happy to be photographed, they are happy with something that’s being created of them, they’re proud. When I get done painting, I worry if I’m getting it right and then from there, it’s wondering if people will be satisfied. I feel like it’s extremely relevant at this point.”

“Ancrum.” From MacLeod’s MFA thesis project, 2020

The large-scale, realistic portraits were displayed this spring at the Tufts University Art Galleries.

As a Black artist, McLeod feels it is important to contribute to the conversation about race “because as I continue my studies it remains to be a considerable factor in what I read about African American history, and it continues to play a considerable factor in my own life. It is at the core of where we are socially in America at this moment. It’s important for me to contribute.”

Art Professor Vu agrees: “Marla is a great example of how committing to the process of art-making, self-investigation and hard work can really pay off. She learned not only the technical skills of drawing and painting, but, more importantly, she found the desire to go deeper and make work that was truly meaningful to her. By doing so, she is contributing her personal voice as a woman of color to a public audience that desperately needs to become more aware of stories from diverse perspectives. I am so happy for all her success and am so proud to have been able to assist her in her growth.”

Despite the accolades and recognition, is McLeod at peace with the fact that she left GIS for art?

“Art majors are for impractical people, either your art sells or it doesn’t,” she says. “For me, it’s been, ‘How much do I enjoy doing my work, will one person look at it?’ I had to get past that naysaying idea about an art career and once you go into it, you will find avenues that are extremely practical. There are teaching jobs, museum fields, and more. People don’t realize how much the artistic field affects every other field.”

As fate would have it, McLeod will bring her unique perspective back to Southern this fall as an adjunct professor, teaching Art 150 Introductory Drawing. In the position, she’ll be able to share her knowledge and perspective with students; as she puts it: “I had a great support system at Southern and hopefully now I’ll be doing what professors did for me.”

Marla McLeod’s work has been presented at Southern Connecticut State University; the School of the Museum of Fine Art; Ely House, CT; City Lights Gallery, CT; Dana Hall School, MA, and ESPN, amongst others. She was the 2014 recipient of the Robert EW Eisele Fine Arts award, and 2019 Will and Elena Barnet Painting Award.

When Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

[From left] The founders of sk.ArtSpace: Southern graduates Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone K. Wong.

It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another to implement it, especially when there are multiple people involved — three — and other responsibilities call — full-time jobs — and a physical space is needed — a bright, airy gallery would do nicely — and bills need to be paid — rent! — and there are only so many hours in the day — 24, to be exact. But when Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

The women, who have been friends for 14 years, met on the track and field team at Southern and, as they put it, “immediately connected.” They were in different academic programs at the university: Sutherland majored in studio art, Wong studied communication, and Mercer pursued a liberal studies degree. But alongside running, they also shared a love for the arts.

Members of the Class of 2009, (from left) Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone Wong became friends competing on Southern’s track and field team.

In 2015, after Sutherland and Wong headlined a two-woman show at VM Nation Studios, they began talking about having their own creative space, namely for black artists, to exhibit.

“Artists show art in places that don’t align with their vision, like in bars and coffee shops,” Sutherland says. “It takes away from the experience.”

“The main point isn’t the art,” adds Wong. “We needed a place that represented a space for artists.”

“We put the numbers together and said, ‘We can actually do this. Let’s do it,’” Mercer says.

By June 2016, sk.ArtSpace in Brooklyn was born. The two-level locale, which is bright and inviting, is one part gallery and one part event space, with a courtyard in the back. “It’s much more like a traditional gallery space, with white walls and lighting,” Wong says. “It’s a blank canvas.”

In addition to showcasing artists and musicians in the gallery, the women host product launches and wedding showers, and offer cost-friendly services to fellow creatives. The SK team also has launched successful events, including an annual Future Is Female exhibition, which features an all-women roster of artists from throughout New York City. Reaction to the show has exceeded the women’s expectations, creating a conclave of artists with close bonds.

The gallery showcases artists and performers in the community.

According to Sutherland: “Response has been quite amazing, sometimes overwhelming. People love and enjoy what we’re doing, and they think it’s something we really need, so they support us. There aren’t many galleries in our neighborhood that provide this platform.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been struggles. Before the women opened sk.ArtSpace they were working nine to five jobs as executive assistants in different industries. They still are: Mercer is with a wealth management firm; Wong and Sutherland at different marketing companies.

Says Mercer, “There are never enough hours in the day, but somehow the work always gets done.” The friends manage the workload by dividing and conquering. “We pick up each other’s slack. We all do whatever needs to be done, day-to-day,” says Mercer.

Finances, too, are a critical consideration. The gallery combines an event-space business model with a traditional gallery structure. The women receive commission for some collaboration packages as well as group exhibitions they curate, and they rent the gallery for private events.

They are continually looking for support to keep the momentum going.

“Support doesn’t always have to mean money,” Sutherland says. The gallery relies on interns, for example. Support could also mean assistance from a videographer to help with marketing. “We’re also trying to find sponsors and donors. We want to take the gallery and creative space to another level,” says Sutherland.

Based in Brooklyn, sk.ArtSpace has hosted more than 12 first-time solo shows for up-and-coming visual artists as well as more than 25 free art exhibitions for the community.

She continues: “One of our top priorities that we look forward to is offering services for beginning and emerging artists, like workshops on how to write an artist bio, and being able to coordinate panel discussions on how to become gallery artists, and the steps it takes to get there. We would love to connect with successful artists in the community and create spaces for artist talks.”

Networking and building a community for black creatives — a place they can call home — was the impetus behind the gallery’s creation. It will always take center stage. “We have a huge list of initiatives that would help with expanding the depth and knowledge of black artists,” Sutherland says. “We are working on building a larger creative network where people are able to connect, collaborate, and expose each other to new opportunities.”

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, but Sutherland, Mercer, and Wong all hope to parlay their work at the gallery into full-time positions. “That’s our ultimate hope, that we can make our own schedules and deep-dive into this,” Wong says. “We think about it every day. Our conversations as friends have always been, ‘How can we be our best selves and better ourselves and support each other and others?’” They’ve taken the first step by opening the gallery doors. ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Thuan Vu, Meredith Miller, and Terrence Lavin (Meredith Miller photo credit: Tanya Marcuse)

Three members of the Art Department faculty have received grants to support their work through the Artist Fellowship Program of the Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA). Art Professor Thuan Vu, a painter, received one of seven Artistic Excellence Awards, while Art Professor Terrence Lavin, Art Department chairman and a jewelry maker and metalsmith, and photographer Meredith Miller, an adjunct faculty member in the Art Department, won Artist Fellowship grants.

The Artist Fellowship Program provides competitive grants to encourage the continuing development of Connecticut artists. These grants provide support for artists to pursue new work and achieve specific creative and career goals.

There are three types of grant designations awarded under this program based on reviewer assessment. The Artistic Excellence grants are $5,000 each, while the Artist Fellowship grants are $3,000 each.
Emerging Recognition grants are $1,000.

The awards covers all arts disciplines including the visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, crafts, installation, illustration); music (music production, music composition, and opera); writing (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and Young Adult fiction); dance and choreography; and theater (playwriting, film, and writing).

Of the top seven recipients of Artistic Excellence grants, Vu is one of only two visual artists to receive this grant. Of the paintings he entered in the awards competition, Vu says, “The black and white painting of flowers are a meditation on creating meaning and beauty in a world of conflict, division, and loss. Conceptually, the flowers were painted in a grisaille palette to convey how joy and beauty feel tempered during this time in my life and in our nation’s history.”

Thuan Vu, “Kintsugi no. 2″/ Oil on linen/ 18” x 18”/ 2019; and “Kintsugi no. 1″/ Oil on canvas/ 60” x 40”/2019

Lavin, who teaches jewelry and metals, writes of his work, “My current research is focused on looking toward the creation of a body of creative work that will adapt emergent digital tools and industrial manufacturing processes to the traditional forms, materials and practices of metalsmithing & sculpture. I’ll be working with 3D modelling software and rapid prototyping to explore 3D-printed output in two specific areas:

  • direct casting of 3D printed forms into metal and glass (via lost-wax and/or sandcasting processes)
  • electrolytic deposition (electroforming) of copper on 3D printed models”

Lavin is one of 35 artists in the state who were chosen to receive a $3,000 award from the COA. The funding provides an opportunity for these artists to continue their artistic development and creation of new work.

Terrence Lavin, “Core Fragment” and “Prototype C”

Miller was also one of the 35 artists to receive a $3,000 award. She received an Artist Fellowship from the COA with her photographic series, “On Trail: Portraits on the A.T.” She began this project in July 2019 during an artist residency at Monson Arts in Monson, Maine, an official Appalachian Trail Community. She explains, “My studio was conveniently located across the street from a hostel for thru-hikers. I plan to continue this project and am applying to other artist residencies situated along the A.T throughout New England.”

Meredith Miller, “Fireball,” “Barefoot,” “Earbuds,” “Wild Jay-Horsepower-Sparkle Machine – and Sister Bunny,” and “Twinkle Toes”

 

Alumna jewelry designer takes the prize for artistry and entrepreneurship.

Jewelry designer Stephanie Howell wearing one of her creations.

Having spent six years traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, Stephanie Howell, ’11, has officially arrived as a business owner. In June 2019, she launched her first collection of jewelry through her namesake company S. Howell Studios — and within months was named a top five finalist in the Halstead Grant competition for emerging silver jewelry designers.

Applicants to the annual competition submit a portfolio of their work and answer 15 questions related to their businesses. “Applying for the Halstead Grant is essentially like creating a well-thought out business plan,” says Howell, who won a $500 grant and received national media exposure from the competition.

The recognition was a welcome confirmation for the entrepreneur, who traveled extensively after graduation. She financed her trips by working in restaurants while keeping future business plans in mind. “I set a goal to start turning one of my passions into a career by the time I turned 30,” says Howell. At 29, she decided to devote her career to jewelry design. “Once I was ready to settle down, it felt like a no brainer,” she says.

“I am profoundly inspired by botanical textures. By co-creating with the earth, I’m able to make carefully handcrafted silver fossils,” says Stephanie Howell.

The clues to Howell’s future career were certainly there. Years earlier, as an incoming freshman browsing through Middlesex Community College’s undergraduate catalog, she was immediately drawn to a course in metal and jewelry design. She earned an associate degree and transferred to Southern where she was a studio art major “from day one,” with a concentration in jewelry and metalsmithing.

She recalls a small, tight-knit group of classmates, and cites Professor of Art Terrence Lavin as being “invaluable” in terms of shaping her education. “He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell, who graduated magna cum laude.

She continues to design in metal, valued equally for its permanence and malleability. She uses the lost-wax casting process to create “silver fossils, preserving plants indefinitely.” Botanical details — the delicate veins of an aspen leaf or the floral whorls of lupine — embellish her handcrafted collection of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, often accented with gold and semiprecious stones.

“By featuring subtle beauty in my work, I encourage people to take a closer look at the world around them,” she says.

A model shows some of Howell's latest jewelry collection.
A model shows some of Howell’s latest collection. “Terry Lavin was my jewelry and metalsmithing teacher the entire time I was at Southern. He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell.

Chaz Guest, ’85, takes artistic expression to new heights, re-examining the history of slavery and launching a superhero in the process.

SCSU alumnus Chaz Guest, '85, standing in front of painted canvas.
Brian Bowen Smith Photo

Chaz Guest, ’85, may not be a household name, but his work has been embraced by many big ones. Herbie Hancock and Vanessa Williams collect his paintings. Former President Barack Obama hung his portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the Oval Office. Oprah Winfrey praised a portrait of Maya Angelou as a little girl that she had commissioned from Guest: “Saying the painting is beautiful is too mild of a word.”

Chaz Guest shaking hands with President Barak Obama
The artist shakes hands
with former President Barack Obama, who hung Guest’s portrait of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in the Oval Office.

Guest arrived at Southern as a gymnast on scholarship, not knowing what direction he wanted his life to take. He left after studying graphic design with an inkling he had become an artist. He credits David Levine, his art history professor, and the late Howard Fussiner [professor emeritus of art], the only painting teacher he ever had. “Those two put me on the path of the life I have now as a painter,” Guest says from his studio in Los Angeles, brush in hand, working on a portrait of the abolitionist John Brown while we speak. One of Fussiner’s landscapes hangs on the wall.

Levine introduced Guest to the history of art. Fussiner encouraged him to become part of it. The painter — who reminded Guest of Salvador Dali with his wild white hair, quirkiness, and energy — encouraged Guest by praising his work in front of the class. He also passed along commissions to paint watercolors of people’s homes. “He opened my eyes to the idea that I could paint something and actually earn some money,” Guest says.

Painting by Chaz Guest
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a brief stint illustrating fashion magazines in Paris, Guest devoted himself to his own painting. He sold his first work on the sidewalk outside his apartment in New York City. With that money, he bought a larger easel and more supplies and was on his way. Today, the artist is represented by the Los Angeles-based Patrick Painter Gallery. His work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris.

A devotee of Kyokushin karate, which his older brother taught him upon returning from the service in Okinawa, Japan, Guest has used the martial arts to open his mind and dedicate himself to his art. An aging hip prevents the 58-year-old from regularly practicing karate, but he still applies the mental principles. “Martial arts is a way of life,” he says. “I certainly have it in mind.”

His influences range from Fussiner to Balthus, from Dali to Picasso. Inspiration also comes from musicians — Pavarotti to Mahalia Jackson, but especially his beloved jazz. Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane. He has painted them and frequently plays their music in his studio while working. He’s also created paintings on stage inspired by live jazz performances. He starts without preconceived notions of what he is going to paint and improvises along with the musicians. “It’s best to have a blank mind, and flow to the vibrations and spirit of the music,” he says.

Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest
Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest. • ICONN MANN Photo

Guest works in a variety of mediums. His Geisha Series, created on Japanese zori sandals, was inspired by a trip to Japan, and his Cotton Series, portraits of enslaved men, women, and children, is done on cotton picked from Southern fields, where the subjects might have toiled.

After admiring Guest’s Cotton Series, Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Republic of Gambia, invited him to visit in 2010. Guest painted an oil portrait of Jammeh as a gift, which he presented upon his arrival. “It was a life-changing trip,” Guest says.

A stop at James Island in the Gambia River to see the remains of a fort used by British slave traders was particularly profound. Guest spent time alone in a holding cell. “I felt all of my nightmares as an African-American started in this one place,” he says. He wept. Anger and sadness washed through him. He emerged transformed. “Afterward, I felt new,” he says.

Guest suggested that the island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to honor the slaves who passed through. Jammeh agreed and the name was officially changed in 2011. For the occasion, Guest sculpted a Mandinka warrior rising out of one of the island’s many baobab trees and escaping the shackles of slavery. He called it Freedom. It was not installed as a 30-foot statue on the island as originally intended, as it lacked the support of the president who succeeded Jammeh.

But the bronze sculpture was chosen for the statuette of the ICON MANN Legacy Award, most recently presented to Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ruth E. Carter, winner of the 2019 Academy Award for costume design on the film, Black Panther. The Legacy Award honors those whose body of work has positively transformed the narrative and trajectory of black culture.

For all of his success as an artist, Guest is proudest of his role as a father. He has two sons, Xian, 16, and Zuhri, 25. He wears a bracelet made from a mold of their umbilical cords. “I enjoy being a father of two great boys,” he says.

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photos

Guest’s latest project is Buffalo Warrior, a graphic novel he wrote about a boy born into slavery in the 1800s who becomes a modern-day superhero. Guest illustrated the book in Japanese sumi ink on handmade paper — and also painted a series of the hero in oil and another related series entitled Buffalo Soldiers. He’s in discussions with movie studios to turn the story into a feature film.

He sums up his aesthetic, which is particularly apparent in the Cotton Series and Buffalo Warrior: “I wanted to start from the root of our American experience, which happens to be slavery. So I wanted to go back there in that time and paint with everything I have to convey dignity and love and [that] they’re people, not only slaves. If you want to make a good painting, you’ve got to paint what you love — and I love those people.”

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Southern sculpture students have collaborated on “Silence the Violence,” a three-dimensional work referencing the national debate about 3D printed guns. Their socially engaged work is being presented in the #Unload: Pick Up the Pieces exhibition at The Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven.

The work encompasses a human-shaped target with circular vignettes representing the different viewpoints of each of the artists. Each vignette becomes a point on the target that can be interpreted as either a bullet hole or as a lens detailing the student’s personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions about guns.

The individual vignettes are constructed as 3D prints to serve as a formal reference to the 3D printed gun debate. Guided by Professor Art Rachael Vaters-Carr, Southern’s student collaborators include: Karen Daye, Evan DiGiovanni, Danielle Fleuriot, Tyãnna Garner, Sammi Huang, Tyler Kopeck, Isabelle Louime, Duke Pierre, Amber Pindulic, and Jenna Reeser.

#Unload: Pick Up the Pieces, which runs through November 11, is an unjuried, inclusive, community-driven exhibition that explores issues surrounding gun control laws and the impact of guns on society. The exhibition aims to raise questions regarding violence, safety, gender, equality, and the influence of media on violence and mental health stigmas.

Artists from diverse backgrounds and working across media have created material-driven and conceptually-charged works either from decommissioned gun parts from a Hartford buy-back program or works inspired by the theme. The artworks reflect society’s divided attitudes towards gun control, gun safety, gun reform, the Constitutional right to bear arms, as well as recent events relating to gun use, ownership, safety, and violence.

The exhibition is a highlight of Artspace New Haven’s 21st annual City-Wide Open Studios festival  complemented by artist talks, panel discussions, presentations by political candidates and other community notables, and a voters’ registration table leading up to November 6 mid-term elections.

 

Rachael A. Vaters-Carr, professor of art, and Jeremy Chandler, associate professor of art, are participating in Further On, an art exhibition at the Hans Weiss Newspace Gallery on the campus of Manchester Community College (MCC). The gallery’s curator, Susan Classen-Sullivan, professor of visual fine art at MCC, invited Vaters-Carr and Chandler to take part in the exhibition of works by nine artists who are professors at institutional neighbors to MCC. The institutions being represented are: ECSU, CCSU, SCSU, UConn, and Hartford School of Art, all popular transfer destinations for MCC students. The exhibit, intended as an opportunity for MCC students to connect with faculty from those programs, runs through December 6.

Classen-Sullivan explains, “We have a vibration Fine Art Program at MCC, with over 100 fine art majors. Though many go on to specifically fine art institutions, some transfer to Connecticut four-year schools. The exhibition, along with bringing strong relevant contemporary art to the college and community, serves to acquaint MCC fine art students with the work of professors they may have as instructors in the future. Additionally the exhibition verifies that fine arts professors also have rigorous art making practices.”

snow-cave-mergedJeremy Chandler – “Snow Cave Merged”

Chandler, who teaches photography, says of his work, “My art practice continues to grow out of a desire to express my personal history, experiences and relationships, through a prolonged engagement with place and a process that emphasizes structured improvisation with those I photograph. I primarily engage with my audience through rich, open-ended narrative imagery, which subverts ritualized expressions of masculinity, while creating altered perceptions of space and place.”

vaters-carr_18_document_2017Rachael Vaters-Carr

Vaters-Carr says that her work “is intimately connected to survivorship. Themes of healing, destruction, protection and defense have consistently resonated throughout my work and have always served as the primary catalyst for my art practice. The forms and shapes found in this body of work are inspired by objects that have been altered to include reference points that hint at medical intervention, altercation, and trespass. Over the past few years, I have been obsessively reworking these forms into drawings, paintings, and sculptures that explore personal narrative with more universal implications.”

Learn more about the gallery and the exhibition.

 

Thuan Vu, art professor, exhibit

As a Vietnamese-American whose family came to the United States as refugees when he was very young, Art Professor Thuan Vu knows what it means to be an outsider looking in. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Vu settled with his family in New Orleans, La., when he was just two years old, and the thematic core of his work as an artist has always been the exploration of his identity.

“As a Vietnamese refugee, I grew up in New Orleans wanting to be a model American citizen,” he says, adding that his “misplaced strategy” as a teenager was to absorb all things Western and American. “I was the surely the only 15 year old who was thrilled to learn about the art of Currier and Ives and Thomas Cole . . . and who could happily sing the Great American Songbook by 17 years of age,” he says. His interest in the American canon, he says, reveals a love for tradition and its development, and he grew into his Vietnamese-American identity “through the acquisition of cultural knowledge: adopt the tradition, adapt it to my life, and use it to grow.”

Vu’s latest body of work – a series of paintings called “The New World” — is now on display at the New Haven Lawn Club, 193 Whitney Avenue, New Haven. The opening artist’s reception took place at the Lawn Club on Tuesday, November 15. The exhibit is on display and open to the public through December 21.

The recipient of numerous awards and grants, Vu exhibits and lectures nationally. His research has taken him to Vietnam and Paris, where he studies Vietnamese communities worldwide.

“My drawings and paintings document how I grew into my Vietnamese-American identity,” Vu explains. “In my work, I reflect on themes of growth, integration, and reconciliation. These paintings combine Eastern and Western traditions of depicting nature to describe a space that is as much emotional as it is physical. These spaces, created through a combination of memories, photographic references, and my own imagination, mirrors the refugee experience of re-creating a sense of home.”

The New World (American Hymn 3), charcoal on paper, 18" diameter, 2016
The New World (American Hymn 3), charcoal on paper, 18″ diameter, 2016

“The New World” is a series of paintings that he began in 2011 and is the latest manifestation of his life as an individual, an American, and an artist.

Vu explains that over his career, his art has traced his process of growth and integration, especially in the exploration of his ethnic heritage since he visited Vietnam for the first time in 2002, 27 years after his family fled the country. In the various series of his work, he has used different visual languages to express the specific thematic content. “I use the languages of the many cultural traditions that I studied in order to express how I navigate my identity,” he says.

With The New World series, Vu says, he hopes to evoke the feelings involved in building a new life in a young and innocent America. “Contemplative and hopeful, these paintings share the emotive ethos of early 19th century American painters who went out to discover this new land. I correlate the American experience with that of my parents: Coming to America with seven of their eight children, I imagine their sense of awe, confusion, and hope. I feel their search for a ways to adopt, adapt, and grow. I can picture their appreciation for the opportunity that America represents.”

Visually, the work combines Eastern and Western traditions of depicting nature. Elements of Romanticism and abstraction are mixed with an Asian sensibility to create an image meant for Zen-like contemplation.

“In this series,” Vu says, “I chose to use nature as the universal constant, the one thing that affects all people, that can create a sense of awe, and that can inspire the mind to contemplation.”

The series’ name, “The New World,” echoes the Vietnamese term for “new world” – “doi moi” — a term coined to describe a Vietnamese age of optimism and open trading in the mid-1980s after the Vietnam War.

“The term recognizes a turbulent history yet optimistically accepts change,” Vu says. “In this series, I depict overlapping natural elements in ambiguous perspectives to create an unexpected space. This space — which is as much emotional as it is physical — can be at once thunderous, ethereal, and peaceful. It is the visual expression of the complicated, and often confusing task of building a new life faced by many refugees. Nature is used to mirror this journey and is depicted in numerous ways, from the sublime to the minute, from the literal to the abstract. In its variety, it expresses the non-linear task faced by us all in building a sincere sense of self and a true sense of home.”

Thuan Vu painting, The New World (Fall 2)
The New World (Fall 2), oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″, 2016

View an online gallery of Thuan Vu’s work

Founder's Gate
Founder's Gate
From a unique outdoor classroom to one-of-a-kind works of art, here’s a look at a few quintessentially Southern locations. When you spy these views, you know you’re in Owl territory.

A tie to Southern’s past, Founders Gate is part of a newly instituted tradition: each fall, the incoming class enters campus through the gate following new student convocation. In the spring, graduating seniors will cross it again to mark the culmination of their undergraduate experience. The gate spans the area between Lyman Center and Engleman Hall, but originally stood on the school’s first campus on New Haven’s Howe Street. After being restored and moved to its current location, it was dedicated during Homecoming in 1987.

Geological Rock Garden
Geological Rock Garden

A unique outdoor classroom, the Geological Rock Garden includes 52 rocks that are indigenous to Connecticut. Numerous quarry operators in the area donated boulders for the display, which was created with the aid of Thomas Fleming, chairman of the Department of Earth Science. Some of the boulders are from Stony Creek Quarry, which provided stone for many iconic buildings and monuments, including the base of the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, and the Smithsonian Institution.

H2O: Liquid Zone
H2O: Liquid Zone

Set along a well-traveled path on the Fitch Street side of Engleman Hall, the stainless-steel sculpture, “H20: Liquid Zone,” was designed by award-winning international landscape architect Mikyoung Kim. Rain, snow, and ice collect on the sculpture, changing the view on an ongoing basis. The artist’s stunning portfolio includes the Crown Sky Garden in Chicago, the roof garden of the John Hancock Tower in Boston, and the ChonGae Canal Restoration Project — Source Point Park in Seoul, Korea.

Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

End of the Line/West Rock
End of the Line/West Rock

Nature lovers are invited to view West Rock in a whole new light, courtesy of the environmental sculpture, “End of the Line/West Rock,” which was installed in 1985 on the Farnham Avenue side of Brownell Hall residence hall. The sculpture was designed by Nancy Holt, a pioneer of the land-art movement, which began in the late 1960s in response to growing awareness of environmental issues and debates about what constituted “real” art. In this work, two rings frame views of West Rock, showcasing the geological formation as an art object. Holt, who died in 2014, said of her designs, “I am giving back to people through art what they already have in them.”

Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

Sculpture on top of Engleman Hall
Sculpture on top of Engleman Hall

Is it an Owl’s outstretched wings, an open book evoking the quest for knowledge, or perhaps both? Perched on top of Engleman Hall, this sculpture can be seen from much of Southern’s campus.

Rain Harvester
Rain Harvester

Every cloud has a silver lining, and, on campus, it’s the rain harvester located outside of the Academic Science and Laboratory Building. Named in recognition of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority for its leadership-level support, the rain harvester is ecologically sound as well as beautiful. Water drains into a 40,000-gallon underground collection system that is used to water surrounding greenery — reducing the need for irrigation of the area by 50 percent. An ultraviolet-purification system eliminates bacteria.

50-foot-tower sundial
50-foot-tower sundial

Incoming students are invited to learn many things during orientation, including how to tell time using the nearly 50-foot-tower sundial found on Engleman Hall. Built in 2005 of precast concrete and aluminum, the sundial is an award winner. The American Institute of Architects’ Connecticut chapter recognized it as the top design in the art/architecture category in 2006. The project’s architects are Howard Hebel (Herbert Newman & Partners) and Frederick Sawyer, who is a co-founder of the North American Sundial Society.

Hilton C. Buley Library clock
Hilton C. Buley Library clock

Those who haven’t mastered Southern’s sundial turn to the Hilton C. Buley Library clock. The bars light up in blue to show the hour, while the dots glow a golden hue for minutes. The clock was installed in 2015 as part of the renovation of the original section of the library. For a picturesque view of campus, go to the fourth floor of the library and look out of the clock’s transparent face.

Serie Metafisica XVIII
Serie Metafisica XVIII

Set on a hill overlooking the campus pond, the bronze sculpture, “Serie Metafisica XVIII,” was created by Herk Van Tongeren and installed on campus in 1983. In 1987 the New York Times fittingly described the late sculptor’s work: “The walls, columns, and steps of the theaters were mysterious and incomplete. They suggested Greek and Roman theaters, but it was unclear who would take their place on stage and what roles they would assume.” On sunny days, students are often found sitting on the sculpture, bringing Tongeren’s vision to life.

Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

Art for public good

The term “street art” might conjure images of graffiti splashed across the side of a building, but street art – works of art created in public spaces – actually encompasses many media and is often legal and permitted, says Noelle King, an adjunct professor of art. Many artists are doing street art now, says King – herself an artist — so she proposed a new course on street art to the Art Department, and it ran this semester as a beta, or experimental, course.

As a final project, after hearing from several invited guests on the topic of street art, King’s students completed two approved community service art projects: a large mural inside the Yale New Haven Hospital George Street Parking Garage, called “A Leaf History of New Haven,” and “A Friend for Life,” an image of dogs and cats painted on a door at the New Haven Animal Shelter, intended to encourage adoption of animals at the shelter.

Throughout the semester, leading up to these projects, King invited several guests to the class to discuss various aspects of street art. Detective Orlando Crespo of the New Haven Police Department, a specialist in gangs and graffiti, who explained to the students the nature of graffiti and the legal repercussions of street art that is done without permission.

Another guest, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is an artist based in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose “Stop Telling Women to Smile” campaign addresses gender-based street harassment. In 2015, Fazlalizadeh was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 40 Artists Under 40. In her project, she invites women to tell their stories of street harassment, does their portraits, and adds text from their stories to the portraits. She then pastes the portraits up on walls in public spaces. Fazlalizadeh’s project is universally lauded as being an important part of the dialogue concerning sexual harassment of women.

Other guest speakers in the class included artist and community organizer Alex White-Mazarella; Tina Re, curator of artists’ books and librarian in Buley Library; and Pairoj Pichetmetakul of The Positivity Scrolls Project in New York.

King describes the course as writing intensive, with writing assignments including everything from essays to poems, to letters to responses, and a project King calls indoor sky writing, that involved students writing messages with whipped cream.

Art for public good

To prepare for the mural they painted inside the Yale New Haven Hospital George Street Parking Garage, students researched plants native to the New Haven area from ancient days to the present and decided which leaves to depict. They then stenciled on the garage wall the mural of leaves, creating “a very calm and peaceful” feeling, says King.

Leaves depicted in the painting are from kelp, pin leaf cherry, tulip tree, birch, cinnamon fern, daimyo oak, fern, Franklin tree, white pine, sassafras, slippery elm, mulberry, chestnut oak, aquatic moss, red maple, willow, white oak, sycamore, northern red oak, apple, dandelion, white spruce, and two-leaf water fern.

Mural painted on door of New Haven Animal ShelterFor the animal shelter mural, the class responded to a request from the shelter. “A man from the shelter approached the Art Department about having someone come paint something to beautify the shelter,” says King. “They wanted to make the shelter feel more family-friendly and cheerful.” Students submitted designs for a painting, and student Traci Henri’s design, “A Friend for Life,” was chosen. The painted mural on an exterior door portrays a dog and cat and encourages adoption of animals.

King says she is proud of her students, who included Shannon Anderson, Ben Asbell, Nick DiDominicis, Alexis Dillon, Dannielle Gladu, Valerie Glibert, Tracy Henri, Ariel Herbert, Dan Holloway, DJ Johnson, Tessa Karmelowicz, Rahni Lawrence, Alexandra Marx, James Mastroni, Kelsey Page, Katie Pfeiffer, Rebecca Ramirez, Laura Salvatore, Jane Snaider, Nathan Tracy, Katie Verrastro, Roleen Bisaillon-Sheehan, Alyssa Fernandes, Kate O’Keefe, Melissa Urban, and Nina Zachary. King says, “They saw how they could make a relationship between themselves and the city of New Haven, and between the university and the city.” She wanted them to learn about doing street art for the public good, as, she says, “art has tremendous power and can change lives.”