By Adelle Brodbeck
Ha Le and Alex Michener, both seniors at Ohio Wesleyan, formally showcased their art exhibit “Windows” last Wednesday before leaving to attend the New York Arts Program for the rest of the fall semester.
Both students said they pride themselves in creating art that reflects their semi-surreal impression of their surroundings. Le and Michener said they based their art on real people in their lives, but allowed their creative insight to portray them in a completely unique way. Or as they wrote in their statement for the show, “their paintings and drawings are not just realistic copies of the real world, they are windows through which (the artists) see the world…”
Le said she took inspiration for most of her pieces in the show from the women in her life, particularly her mother.
“My mom is an endless source of inspiration because of her beauty, her strong soul, and her limitless love for the family,” she said.
“Jessica” and “Contemplating” are two of Le’s charcoal drawings that specifically reveal her view of strong women.
The former shows a nude woman from the waist up with a determined and tough expression. The latter depicts what appear to be three different women, but Le said it was actually the same model who she drew in different positions.
“All of the figures in the drawing are gazing towards one direction as if they’re waiting for something, or someone,” said Le. “All of the figures are naked women, causing the viewer to question: ‘Why? What’s going on? Who are they?’”
Le interested not only in portraying women in a thought provoking way, but also in illuminating the diversity of the different people in her life.
“I do find a lot of inspiration in people,” she said. “I appreciate all the similarities as well as differences. While similarities connect people, differences make us human, not mass-produced robots. Differences makes me question my own values and become more open-minded, which is really important for me as an artist.”
Like Le, Michener draws inspiration from real people; but he said he is concerned more with portraying his subjects as accurately as possible.
“I really enjoy the struggle to convey some sense of recognizability,” he said.
Michener’s artistic style is distinctive. He utilizes saturated colors and a technique involving Mylar transparency in the portraits of his friends.
“I developed the Mylar process based on some printmaking ideas of color layering,” he said.
By painting a transparent sheet and then layering it on top of an already vivid picture, Michener creates vibrant and imaginative portraits.
Michener’s two self-portraits—“selfies,” as he jokingly calls them—stand out among his other paintings. For these two pieces he did not use the same layering technique, but instead made them distinct through their drastic size differences.
“Big Selfie” was the largest display in the exhibit, as the canvas was made up of two large wooden doors. Directly across from “Big Selfie” is the accompanying “Little Selfie,” which, as its name implies, is much smaller in comparison.
“I like that they’re staring at each other because they’re opposites in a way,” Michener said. “The large painting was done in about a day and in one shot, meaning I jumped straight into the final image. I was much fussier with the smaller one.”
The placement of the portraits, in addition to the size difference, allows viewers to more easily compare and contrast the two.
“Windows” received positive feedback from OWU’s campus, as shown by thanks and compliments left by friends, family and staff in a notebook in the exhibit hall. One particular comment thanked the artists for inspiring her to become a better artist. This remark is one of the many signs of the strong support system in OWU’s artistic community.
“[The department] always encourages me a lot, gives me advice when I’m in need, helps me out in any situation,” Le said. “Without all that, I wouldn’t have become who I am today.”
Soon after opening night, Le and Michener left to attend OWU’s New York Arts Program. The program helps arrange internships that will help students experience what it’s like to pursue a career in the arts.
Le is working with Jean Shin, an artist who is internationally recognized for her extravagant public installments. Le said she hopes to get a more practical take on the art world, as well as experience the diverse environment of New York.
Michener, on the other hand, is interning as a studio assistant with artists Ellen Altfest and Alexi Worth. Michener said the experience so far is “an amazing opportunity to shadow working painters and learn what sorts of issues that they need to overcome.”
As a final piece of advice to others who wish to follow in the footsteps of the two aspiring artists, Le said, “Art is not a game you play in your free time, nor a journey that has a specific destination. It is limitless, so you’d better prepare yourself.”