Three RISD Artists Exhibiting Together

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All Is Dvasha new show that just opened last weekend at Sienna Patti in North Adams, MA, presents over-the-top gold-plated jewelry by Israeli-born artist Ruta Reifen MFA 11 JMDvash is Hebrew for honey – perhaps a reference to nectar – the hope and potential abundance contained within each of Reifen’s finely hand-sculpted flowers.

Continuing through August 17, Reifen’s show is one of three RISD-related exhibitions at Sienna Patti this summer. The gallery is also displaying jewelry by recent alumna Mallory Weston MFA 13 JM and installations (pictured below) by Jewelry + Metalsmithing Critic Lauren Fensterstock.

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Inspired by nature, Fensterstock’s work (on view through August 24) incorporates meticulously cut and curled paper, charcoal and Plexiglass. It makes reference to French and English garden design of the 1500s through the1700s, the 18th-century practice of quilling (sculpting paper by wrapping it around a quill) as well as 20th-century American artist Robert Smithson.

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“My task is to weave together these disparate histories,” Fensterstock says. “Making becomes my way of manifesting the ideas I read about, bringing my own logic, allowing me to touch – with my own hands – an interpretation of times and people past.”

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Weston, whose jewelry is on view through August 3, leaves the past behind to explore graphic icons made popular in current “tween” culture: peace signs, hearts and smiley faces. “My recent work references and finds a home in the world of alternative DIY comic books, cartoons and illustrations,” she says. “I admire these publications because they are humorous, uninhibited, vulgar, sexual, dysfunctional, youthful and absurd” – all characteristics that she says she hopes to convey through her work.

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Fabricating Flora

With a load of steel and a fair amount of pluck, Nikolas Bentel 16 ID and Michela Bentel 17 ID are building a small forest made of metal. The Brown/RISD Dual Degree students – who are twins and siblings of Lukas Bentel 15 FD – have won a commission to install a series of sculptures in the gardens at IconBay, a beachfront residential tower in Miami.

While still in high school, the twins were chosen by the National YoungArts Foundation to participate in a highly selective program that links exceptional creatives with mentorship programs and access to significant scholarships. As YoungArts alumni, they were invited to compete in this site-specific project sponsored by real estate developer Related Group, which awarded them $5,000 to make the large-scale piece.

The public artwork consists of a group of seven-feet-tall steel pylons bearing distinctive patterns inspired by the foliage that once lined Florida’s shores. Also studying Engineering at Brown, Michela will rig the totems with solar-powered LED fixtures so that they’re illuminated after dark.

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“We want to encourage visitors to be more aware of Miami’s native species,” explains Nikolas, who’s majoring in Modern Culture and Media at Brown. “Most of the indigenous greenery has been overrun by invasive plants – like the iconic palm tree and other exotic species.”

The brother-sister team will weld together sections of sheet steel punched with leaf-shaped cut-outs (see rendering above). In the fall, they’ll travel to Miami to anchor the sculptures on site using concrete blocks.

“I find it interesting that visitors to the garden will be surrounded by imported flora and fabricated flowers,” notes Nikolas. “As an artist, I like to play with the concept of artificiality.”

Harty to Head CCS Glass Program

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Good news for artist and educator Kim Harty 06 GL, who has been named head of the glass program at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, MI (originally the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts). “We are fortunate to have such an accomplished artist and up-and-coming scholar joining not only the CCS community, but the Detroit cultural community as well,” says CCS President Richard L. Rogers.

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Human Factors examined the tension between personal expression and efficiency in the studio.

Harty has taught a wide range of art classes at Ox-Bow, the School of the Art Institute Chicago (where she earned her MFA), Penland School of Crafts and the Pilchuck Glass School. After serving as a resident artist in the Chicago Artists Coalition’s BOLT program, she exhibited the resulting work in Human Factors, a solo show that just closed last month. Harty also serves on the board of the Glass Art Society and edits the organization’s quarterly publication GASNews.

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Harty performing in The One Best Way to Do Work (2013).

Help RISD Students Win!

RISD students are keeping their fingers crossed as they wait for the results of LG Electronics’ Art of the Pixel competition, which runs through this Thursday, July 31. LG invited creatives from nine of the country’s top art schools to submit artworks that show off the capabilities of the company’s powerful, high-contrast monitors. Rising to the challenge, dozens of artists have entered whimsical animations and arresting images that make the most of these digital canvasses.

Click here to review the student submissions and vote for your favorite entries. But hurry. Voting ends this Thursday.

 

Westerberg Lets Go

A woman in a beige trenchcoat paints a bright pink line on a wall using her pubic hair as a brush. Another woman gnaws furiously on a pile of logs, building a tiny home for herself – much like a beaver would.

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Videos like these by Swedish artist Sissi Westerberg, a RISD faculty member in Jewelry + Metalsmithing, are among the work on view in Sissi Westerberg: Becominga solo show that questions how to be more – or different – than you thought you were; how to expand, regress, merge and let go. 

Featuring sculptures,  installations, photographs and videos documenting Westerberg’s performances, Becoming continues through August 3 at Rooster Gallery in NYC.

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Harnessing the Wind

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People participating in last month’s Renewable Energy Islands International Forum sponsored by UNESCO were invited to imagine a colorful forest of small-scale wind turbines that would create enough renewable energy to power thousands of homes. Dubbed The Whirlers, the project is the brainchild of Eduardo Benamor Duarte and Caterina Tiazzoldi, RISD faculty members in Interior Architecture. Their inventive idea would make use of 10,000 Darrieus turbines – each about 10 to 15 feet tall ­– creating an enhanced, human-friendly landscape.

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Tiazzoldi traveled to the Canary Islands (off the coast of Spain) to present The Whirlers at UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve, where an international group of engineers, politicians and landscape preservation experts gathered to explore renewable energy sources that would mitigate climate change.

“It’s a fun project,” says Duarte. “The idea is to construct a new environment that wouldn’t detract from the human experience – to make a clear cultural connection with the production of energy.”

Industrious Activity

This summer Blake Hiltunen MFA 14 SC is as busy as the southern honeybees he’s raising in northern Maine. After discovering that two of his colonies had lost their precious queen, the sculptor turned to Erin MacGregor-Forbes, a founder of the all-natural beekeeping operation Overland Apiaries, where he’s interning as a 2014 Maharam STEAM Fellow in Applied Art and Design.

Heeding her advice on how best to intervene, Hiltunen introduced hearty Vermont-raised insects to the hive.“The new queens will be able to handle the drastic temperature changes that occur up here,” he explains. “They’re now laying new generations of larvae with genes suited for our geographical location.”

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The environmentally-minded graduate student is tending to the honey-makers as part of an “observational hive” that encourages visitors to Overland to peer into their carefully constructed combs. But before creating the new educational exhibit, Hiltunen needed to eradicate unwanted larvae that might jeopardize the colonies’ health.

“Removing these cells – which contain incubating larvae – is quite intense,” he explains. “They burst and ooze white liquid when scraped from the frame [of the hive]. Killing infant bees is messy.”

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Keep up-to-date on all the STEAM-related internships going on this summer by perusing the 2014 Maharam Fellows’ blog!

Alums Discuss Design + Process

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Illustration faculty member Antoine Revoy 99 FAV recently interviewed fellow alum Charles Tsunashima 97 ID/MFA 00 TX, a Tokyo-based interior architect and furniture and product designer, for the online creative culture magazine SHIFT. Tsunashima runs an interesting design studio called genereight and teaches at Tama Art University in Tokyo. He also frequently gravitates towards working with bamboo.

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“My first year at RISD was a significant moment and still influences my decisions today,” Tsunashima says in the interview. “As a relatively over-confident high school graduate, I thought I was the next Picasso but quickly realized I was surrounded by equally talented people. To this day, I question stereotypes and my own biases, as those are the elements that limit my imagination.”

You can read the full interview here.

Painting in the Wild

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As a summer artist in residence, Kathy Hodge 79 PT* is once again heading west (from East Providence) to experience America’s wilderness. This time she’ll visit the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska for a weeklong adventure that involves kayaking, camping, glaciers and – of course – painting.

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The US Forest Service has modified its Voices of the Wilderness (VOW) program this year by pairing artists with forest rangers, thus providing them with firsthand experience as stewards of America’s public lands. Hodge will have the opportunity to “kayak calm fjords and camp on glacier-carved shores,” to see with her own eyes “a bear foraging among intertidal mussels or seals hauled out on the ice.” She’ll follow up her Alaskan adventure with a series of talks and gallery exhibitions that help spread the word about the value of land preservation.

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Hodge’s Under the Shore (2012, oil on canvas, 30x40”) captures the movement of glaciers in Prince William Sound.

In the last decade, Hodge has served as artist in residence in 10 National Parks – from Cape Cod to the Badlands of South Dakota to the Grand Canyon. In 2011, when she kayaked through Prince William Sound with the VOW program, she wrote: “I pull out my watercolor kit and place within arm’s reach my canteen, binoculars, marine radio and bear spray. From the beach I hear the thundering of glaciers calving.”

Winning Show Earns a Dandy Prize

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Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, the catalogue accompanying last year’s exhibition by the same name at the RISD Museum, captured the top prize in the New England Museum Association’s 2014 Publication Awards competition. 

Edited by RISD Museum Costume and Textiles curators Kate Irvin and Laurie Ann BrewerArtist/Rebel/Dandy (Yale University Press) includes lively essays by punk/rock icon and award-winning writer Patti Smith, Rolling Stone’s Glenn O’Brien and RISD Museum educator Horace D. Ballard, Jr., among others. The book offers readers “fresh insights into the power of fashion and textiles as a male pursuit,” say Irvin and Brewer.

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Seven Separate Stories Stand Tall

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Hope, in the Guest Bedroom by Frances F. Denny MFA 14 PH

Earlier this week the digital magazine Musée published a very favorable review of Seven Stories Tall, a group show that wraps up on Saturday (the 19th) at ClampArt in NYC.

imageThe exhibition features a remarkable range of work by the seven 2014 grads of RISD’s MFA program in Photography, including the piece above (and others) by Julie Gautier-Downes MFA 14 PH.

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Ida Mae by RaMell Ross MFA 14 PH

“As a group, the artists included in Seven Stories Tall show great promise,” Musée concludes. No argument there.

Thirty-eight RISD students are keeping their fingers crossed as they wait for the results of LG Electronics’ Art of the Pixel competition, which runs through July 31. LG invited creatives from nine of the country’s top art schools to submit artworks that show off the capabilities of the company’s powerful, high-contrast monitors. Rising to the challenge, dozens of artists have entered whimsical animations and arresting images that make the most of these digital canvasses.

Earlier in the month, actor Neil Patrick Harris, who’s serving as LG’s spokesman for the competition, hosted a Google Hangout to talk about contemporary art and its relationship to technology with students from RISD, Pratt, CalArts and the other colleges invited to participate.

When Oscar Henri Robert 15 GD asked the celebrity the best way for aspiring artists to break into the gallery scene, the actor warmly advised him to forge influential relationships with respected curators and educators. Robert has submitted Grumble, a dark-toned digital collage (middle left photo) he made Foundation year by layering webcam images with differing pixel values. He says the piece investigates the seemingly small changes that occur as humans move forward in life.

“It’s wonderful to see my work on such a brilliant screen,” Robert adds. “Technology will always have an influential role in the art world.”

One finalist from each of the nine schools will receive a $5,000 cash prize, plus a trip to a gala event in New York City. The top winner will receive an additional $5,000.

You can peruse the student submissions and vote for your favorite entries. But do it soon! Voting ends on July 31.

It’s Gallery Night in Providence!

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This evening promises to be blissfully rain-free and pleasant for the July Gallery Night Providence event. Visitors are welcome to tour participating galleries on foot or to take advantage of free guided bus tours that run every 20 minutes (from One Regency Plaza) beginning at 5:20 pm.

Material & Meaning, a special exhibition featuring recent work by students in RISD’s Textiles department (photo above), is  on view at Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery, where an opening reception runs from 5–9 pm. Among other highlights, contemporary fiber artist and Furniture Design Critic Debra Folz is presenting her hand-stitched objects at the Bert Gallery.   

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Nuclear History

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When a representative from Exelon gave Maharam Fellow Gabriela Epstein 16 IL a tour of Three Mile Island – the nuclear power plant famous for a partial meltdown in 1979 – the illustrator was shocked at what she learned. At the time of the accident, a team of operators were expected to master a confusing control panel that regulated the reactor’s core temperature. It was later discovered that human error largely triggered the tragic blunder.

“So many buttons and levers were part of the plant’s system. It was easy to see how people can screw up if not trained properly,” explains Epstein. “But even years of instruction can’t prevent a mechanical malfunction from happening. There can be disastrous consequences.”

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The Harrisburg native recently visited the plant as part of a research project funded by her Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design. In addition to understanding the finer details of nuclear power, Epstein has been interviewing locals who were directly affected by the disaster. “I can only imagine the magnitude of confusion, panic and utter disillusionment that must have ensued from the day of the accident,” she explains.

Epstein is now in the process of developing a web comic based on those enlightening conversations, which touch on health studies conducted in the area that indicate significant spikes in the rates of cancer and infant mortality due to radiation poisoning. And locals still discover odd flower species warped from the atomic seepage (pictured above)

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“It’s worthwhile to take note of the individual stories of those affected by the [Three Mile Island] fallout,” Epstein says. “Ultimately, when we start building nuclear facilities, we need to take the public into consideration.”

To keep tabs on this project and others supported by Maharam this summer, follow the 2014 Maharam Fellows’ blog.

Comfort with Characters

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Freelance illustrator and character designer Nicholas Kole 09 IL says he’s got “a passion for honest design and storytelling that spans a variety of mediums and styles.” His sketchbook watercolors reveal a lot about his approach to capturing the essence of a character.

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The Massachusetts-based illustrator is currently working on the Dawngate Chroniclesa tie-in with the computer game. 

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And timed for the release of the Disney summer spectacle Maleficent, Kole spent a good part of the past year working with Disney Publishing illustrating a related chapter book called The Curse of Maleficent

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Before landing the commission, he devoted a good amount of time to sketching and exploring key characters. “It’s been my experience that almost all the hardest, most important work is done in the thumbnails and the color study,” Kole writes on his blog. “Everything after that is icing.”

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“The composition, storytelling and basic design are all in the sketches and thumbs,” he continues – “and (again, just my approach) they are best when detail is left entirely to the side.”

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“I actually blunt my pencils on purpose, and draw only half-an-inch high to start. It helps me to forget all the unnecessary detail and focus on the whole: What is the bigger composition communicating? How can I tell the story just through light, dark, shape and pose?”

In the end, Kole is pleased with how his work evolved during the course of the Maleficent project – especially since he admits that drawing female characters had “not traditionally been a strong suit for me.”

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