To me the purpose of art is to produce something alive…but with a separate, and of course one hopes, with an everlasting life of its own. ~Henry Green
With all the graduation parties and celebrations going on, it brings back a memory of my own. How many graduations have I had? Well, there was my sixth grade graduation, which wasn’t a graduation as per say but Sacred Heart did have a ceremony for us acknowledging our next milestone. Then, there was my high school graduation from Greater Latrobe High School. Yep, I wore my cap and gown as I walked across the stage to collect my high school diploma.
On a side note, I was really sick and didn’t even want to go. I actually had walking phenomena and had a hard time breathing. I was just plain miserable, although collecting that diploma was a very good feeling!
Then, there was the first time I graduated from Seton Hill University, at the time it was still the college. That’s when I received my Bachelors of Arts in Marketing Management. Only a few short years later, I received another degree, this time a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, again from Seton Hill University.
I guess this story is about the later, my second degree. Going through the business program and then the art program, I quickly realized how completely different they were. Besides the obvious of the different personalities of the students and the teachers, but the atmosphere, the assignments, the approach to assignments, the stress, all totally different. I didn’t enjoy one degree over the other, for they were of equal importance to me. Now looking back on it, exactly equal importance, I use them both in tandem on a daily basis.
Kyle may not have remembered, but he was there at my senior show. Granted, he was a little munchkin, but as with all important moments in my life, Kyle was there.
Graduating from the art program, we were required to have a senior show. It was a big deal! Not only to the students who were displaying there very best work, but to those students and facility who perused the gallery shows upon the conclusion of every year. Not to mention friends and family of said students. Yes, it truly was very exciting, especially since that was my first and last art exhibit, ever.
Please note, all my references to the senior art show was from way back in my day. I’m sure the requirements have changed since my days at Seton Hill.
We were allowed to request a solo show, whereas the student had the entire gallery as well as the back room to display their work. This was usually reserved for those who majored in painting or drawing and over the years compiled enough artwork for an entire gallery. Some students had the option for a partial solo show, whereas they were given the back section of the gallery to themselves. I believe with both requests, they had to be submitted in advance to be reviewed by the facility, either approved or disapproved.
The most popular senior show consisted of three or four seniors, usually of like disciplines, combining forces to create one big gallery show. That’s the option I chose. I was very blessed with my group, for I had three great guys join forces with me: Mike Sloskey, a graphic design major; Josh Simon another graphic design major; and Albert Nimley a studio arts major (or something along those lines). All wonderful and very talented gentlemen!
How did I get so lucky? We were standing in the gallery during class with our professor Carol Brode, she simply asked for us to pick our senior show group. I was standing in close proximity to Mike and Josh, who I had many a classes with, being graphic designers. Somehow Albert, who I believe was friends with the guys, joined forces with us. The rest was sheer awesomeness.
When you decide to partake in a show with someone, you not only need great art pieces for the presentation, but you really need good communication skills; the ability to compromise and work with different personalities; a shared vision of the show; and a respect for one another. It’s not just hanging pictures on the wall, there’s so much more to it.
First, as an individual, you have to pick out your best artwork from the course of four years. Usually, these pieces were completed within recent times. The artwork could be one or a mixture of paintings, drawings, ceramics, video, photography, 3-D pieces and websites, etc. Some students would create pieces or perform a theatrical display specific for their show. The professors at Seton Hill were wonderful about assisting in this process, giving suggestions and guidance the entire way.
Even before combining forces with your fellow show exhibitioners, the group collectively needed to agree upon a theme or a title for the show. Ours? ARTsylum. Yes, our theme was CRAZY. We felt we had such an eclectic assortment of pieces and talents it was like a mad house, or because we loved art so much. I can’t remember the reasoning, but together we loved the idea, which I think was Josh’s. Going above and beyond to carry the theme down to the tiny details, we even called around different hospitals looking for a real straight jacket! Our plan was to be photographed wearing the jacket for our marketing materials, posters and such.
Did I really call the hospitals and ask to borrow a straight jacket? You bet I did! Alas, I was told that I was insensitive to those suffering with mental illness. Needless to say, we were denied! Clearly they didn’t see our vision, for we were not making fun of others, but celebrating our own group and our passion for art.
Which brings me to my next item, the pre-show set up. You just can’t walk into the gallery and decide to start setting up. Nope! We had to pick our dates (shows lasted for a week) and our reception, either opening or closing. We chose a closing reception.
There are many, many requirements involved in a show. We had to construct a press release (which I can’t find) and actually have it sent to the local papers alerting the interested public. I wrote ours with the help of the guys, and yes it was published, however I don’t believe I ever kept the newspaper clipping. We also had to create posters and flyers advertising the event. All four of us plastered Seton Hill with our ARTsylum faces! I believe it was a mixture of Josh and Mike who designed the posters and flyers. I know Josh was the one who photoshoped us in our straight jackets. Yes we found a solution to our vision! Photoshop!
Keeping with the theme, we each made our own postcards, naturally with us in our straightjackets. These were to be sent to anyone we wanted to personally invite. It was exciting talking to friends and family upon receiving the invites. It started to make it real.
Now the even harder part, hauling all the art into the gallery and organizing it into some sort of show, with everyone represented equally. There are many, many ways to do this, we chose to categorize by medium i.e. paintings, clay, photography, graphics etc. With each category, at least three of us were represented, except ceramics. I was the only one who had clay pieces and books. They were placed on pedestals in the middle of the gallery. On the same token, I was the only one who wasn’t represented in the paintings section. I had nothing that I cared to display, clay was more my passion.
We started on a Saturday night to get a jump start, deciding to work all day Sunday for our opening on Monday. Quickly we agreed how things were going to be set up and we started to organize the sections, allowing enough room to house all the pieces. Believe it or not, that was really tricky, deciding what was to be seen first as someone walks in, and making the space in some sort of logical fashion, within each section. We did get creative by hanging things from the ceiling since we had so many pieces. It also helped to pull the eye around the room and fill in the space.
Seton Hill was very open and encouraging toward the artists with respect to what was permitted in the gallery. If we wanted to paint the walls fuchsia for our theme, we could have. The only requirement was the gallery had to be returned to its original state for the next group upon tearing down.
During the process, I decided to make a video documentary with the four of us. My logic? It certainly wasn’t to give myself more work with my already full schedule, but simply to create a single piece representing each individual that was collectively ours. Anyway, that was the idea behind the documentary. Throughout our senior show, I tried to capture all aspects including the final show. To give it some personality, I had each of us read our artist statements, which was another class requirement. The guys were encouraged to help me by picking up the video camera and shooting at anything and joining in on the screen. Albert made the music track for the background. Sister Mary Kay was wonderful at helping me export the video.
After putting in a long night on Saturday, it was agreed upon by all parties to call it a wrap and come back fresh in the morning to finish setting up.
To deviate slightly, that night I received a call as I was leaving, that Kyle was in the Latrobe emergency room. He was really sick and even later into the night, he was life flighted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. I’ll tell that tale later, for it was purely exhausting, mostly mentally.
I did finally get back to the gallery sometime late Sunday night, after Kyle was taken out of ICU. My group was wonderful, they took it upon themselves to continue setting up as they saw fit. They did a great job! Unfortunately, at the time my cell phone was dead so I had no communication with them and they had no idea what happened to me, for it was totally out of my character to be late, and really late at that, and not to communicate my absence. Yes, all night long I was sitting with a little boy of three years old in the ICU. Not getting a wink of sleep, I went straight to the gallery after returning from Pittsburgh to join ARTsylum crew. Naturally, I owed them all a big explanation and an apology. They were very understanding!
During the final hours, it was a race to the finish, even getting into the gallery early Monday morning for the final touches. Everyone was responsible for printing labels for each piece of artwork, having the pieces matted and or framed or mounted, that sort of thing. Believe it or not, that’s an undertaking in itself, naming the art piece, outlining the medium and any other information desired for the public to read, plus having the piece prepped and ready for display.
Now some details about the show. We used mismatched large and small nails to hang the photography pieces, which were placed at odd angles and bent haphazardly, keeping with the asylum theme. I purchased large white sheets and hung them in the windows looking into the gallery, giving it a feeling of confinement. We also ripped up a sheet and tied the strips into one long strand with huge knots. It was to represent the stereotypical someone trying to escape a hospital. It started at our easel, which displayed the ARTsylum poster promoting the show, and ran all the way outside down the sidewalk, to greet anyone entering the gallery and lead them in. I took the same fabric and created a cover to our sign-in book. That same torn fabric was also used to hang items from the ceiling and to set the stage with the mannequins. I was very impressed with the details we added to the show!
We did it! The doors opened to a line of friends, family and facility excited to see what we put together and what each artist created over the years at Seton Hill, and naturally how it was displayed. I enjoyed every stressful and fun moment, especially with my group! They truly made it something special and not a burden. It was well worth it, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to go through that again.
We did have a closing reception as I mentioned before. Mike’s parents bought us a cake complete with images of us in our straight jackets, keeping the theme going! Seton Hill supplied some of the appetizers. My entire family came that Sunday to see what I’ve been working on. My sister even flew in for the occasion. Even my little man, who was fresh out of the hospital and on the road to recovery, made his brief appearance. I couldn’t have had my gallery show without him there. After all, he was my muse for all my black and white photography!
Unfortunately, I don’t do art anymore and I’m kind of out of the art loop. Yes, I do graphics, but that’s more commercial. Maybe one day I’ll get back into throwing clay. Until then, I have taken up another creative outlet, writing! Not only do I keep up with my blog, but I’ve also written a book and started the second. Perhaps I will get it published one day.
Please view my documentary piece, included are some bloopers as well as the beginning of the art show and the final exhibit. I wish I had the raw files to re-edit it, for I could do a much better job, but it served its purpose of documenting us. What a great time! Enjoy!