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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Professor of Landscape Architecture Elizabeth Dean Hermann and a team of students from RISD, Brown and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia are putting the finishing touches on the DESINE-Lab’s first summer design-build project in Central Falls, RI, with an opening celebration planned for 6 pm this evening (at 741 Dexter Street).

In less than six weeks, the team has transformed an empty urban lot into a public plaza with a pavilion, built-in seating, plantings and a tiled mosaic mural. Highlights of the design include the use of 16,000 donated bricks and a one-of-a-kind bench created with found lumber and fencing.

Neighbors have rallied around the project, providing electricity, ladders, water and lunch for the crew. And before the Colombian architecture students say goodbye to their new American friends, they’ll spend time visiting Yale University and New York City.

Click on the photos above for caption information.

Inside the Bermuda Triangle

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A new installation by Bermuda-based architect and artist John Gardner BArch 81 is stealing the show – the Bermuda Biennial 2014: A View from the Edge, that is – with ripple effects felt as far away as the offices of The New York Times.

His piece Triangle – a collaboration with dancer/choreographer Anna Clifford and spoken word poet Tiffany Paynter – features projections of Clifford inside a massive water-filled triangle and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the pulp magazine story that launched the island’s best-known bit of cultural lore: the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

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“During the past two decades alone, this sea mystery at our back door has claimed almost 1,000 lives,” the original Argosy article proclaimed. “In this series of disasters, not one body has ever been recovered… .”

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After scaling back his architectural practice a bit, Gardner has made space to make art again and says he designed Triangle for the biennial to “explore themes of place, explanation, culture and relationships, all within a mystical context.”

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Gardner’s proposed geo-markers would delineate the triangle’s corners.

In hopes of making the three points of the legendary triangle “a tripartite destination,” Gardner wants to place sculptural “geo-markers” in Bermuda, Miami and Puerto Rico and encourage these three “cultural communities” to “positively embrace their relationship as defined by the triangle, transcend its origins and redefine [it] as a modern construct based on mutual identity.”

Triangle remains on view through November 22 at the Bermuda National Gallery East in St. Georges.

Snapping Up Gold

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Momo and Snap are not friends – at least not at first. But the two storybook characters created by author/illustrator Airlie Anderson 00 IL bond during a close encounter with hungry lions.

Published last year, Anderson’s latest book recently won a gold medal for excellence in the Children’s Picture Books category at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in NYC. 

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“I start with pencil on printer paper to make the initial sketch,” says Anderson, who works out of her studio near Princeton, NJ. “Once I’m happy with that, I transfer the image onto smooth Hot Press watercolor paper using a light box. Then I go to color, using washes of gouache and layering until opaque. I love Holbein Acryla Gouache because it’s very forgiving – you can layer and layer, and it never gets muddy.

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Momo and Snap plush toys from Hearthsong round out the picture.

“I got a lot of support and advice from my RISD friends in publishing,” adds Anderson, who is now working on her second picture book for Child’s Play. “They’ve been the best sounding board anyone could ask for.” 

Green Turtle Back in Action!#?!

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Talented comic book artist and illustrator Sonny Liew 01 IL is in the spotlight this month for illustrating The Shadow Hero (First Second Books)a new graphic novel about the 1940s superhero known as the Green Turtle.

In a story on NPR today – part of its ongoing CodeSwitch series about race and ethnicity – reporter Hansi Lo Wang speaks with Liew’s collaborator, author Gene Luen Yang, about whether the Green Turtle was the first bona fide Asian-American superhero. In this video Yang explains the backstory:

Though the short-lived original series left the true ethnic identity of the hero largely unanswered, the new graphic novel “firmly establishes the Green Turtle as Asian-American, unmasking the superhero as a teenager named Hank Chu, the American-born son of Chinese immigrants living in the Chinatown of a fictional city on California’s coast in the 1930s.”

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With The Shadow Hero just officially released as of today, Publisher’s Weekly  picked it as one of the leading books out this week and Boing Boing pronounces it “a provocative, exciting adventure that lives up to the promise of a collaboration between Yang… and illustrator Sonny Liew.” 

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A reviewer for Estella’s Revenge calls Liew’s artwork “a seamless blend of nostalgia and 21st-century aesthetics.” Fanboy Comics says the book is “exceptional,” and it has already landed on Amazon’s lists of Best Comics + Graphic Novels and Best Teen + Young Adult Books of the Month.

Liew, previously best known as the creator of Malinky Robot, has long been based in Singapore, where he purportedly “sleeps with the fishes.”

When experimental apparel designer Jenny Lai 10 AP discovered the bold styles of Smarteez, a South African DIY fashion collective from Johannesburg, she was immediately drawn to their creative process and especially intrigued by striking millinery by Floyd Manotana, who makes reed safari hats and wide-brimmed felted bowlers in his backyard studio.

“As part of the first post-apartheid generation, these young men are creating what looks to be the first distinctly South African street fashion,” Lai writes on her blog. “There is a rawness to the style – a careless appropriation of anything and everything – that strikes me as totally fresh and exciting. Simply put, it’s nothing like anything I’m seeing in New York.”

For Lai it was clear that communicating with these stylish ingenues via email and Skype just wouldn’t cut it. So the designer contacted Chris Saunders, a photojournalist who has made a name for himself documenting the country’s fresh street ensembles, which can be described as equal parts grunge, punk and dandy. 

The two decided to start a cross-cultural collaborative project that would document Lai making avant-garde garments with noted South African designers such as Dennis Chuene and Macdonald MfoloThe final photographs and videos feature stunning visuals of hip hop dancer Manthe Ribane performing in the brilliant, one-of-a-kind clothing.

Much to their delight, the Manhattan gallery WALLPLAY has now promised to exhibit the results of their creative collaboration in August. To help offset the costs of the show, the artists have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000.