2015 Senior Exhibition – Lyme Academy of Fine Art

By Sharma Piersall Howard/Photos by A. Vincent Scarano

Stepping inside the entrance to Lyme Academy’s Chandler Center, one senses order and a classic aesthetic.To the left inside the foyer is a portrait of the Academy’s founder, Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, by Everett Raymond Kinstler. The expressive painting depicts Chandler at work in her studio, a tableau of a determined female artist whose steely strength never undermined a kind nature. Ahead is Chandler’s triumphant figurative sculpture, “Victory.”

But if one takes a walk to the senior studios, classicism and aesthetics meets a creative chaos that Chandler, now deceased, would approve of…students at work on their senior thesis projects. It is a hive of activity, with each senior occupying his own studio. White partitioned walls divvy up the spaces, but no doors shut each other out in this environment where cross-pollination is encouraged; not only amongst the artists, but also amongst disciplines. Many of the walls are covered with bits of inspiration or oddities, such as a close up of a sketched hand, a Capri Sun juice box, or inspirational quotes from the likes of Aristotle.

Earlier in April, twelve of this year’s graduating class were under the implacable nudge of deadline to finish a body of work that is now showcased in the Senior Studio Exhibition, on view at the Chauncey Stillman Gallery until May 18th. Senior Studio is a nine credit, year-long course for all graduating seniors at the Academy.

Throughout the year, the students meet with faculty advisors headed up by Randy Melick, chair of drawing at the Lyme Academy and an associate professor of drawing and anatomy. Melick is also chair of the Deane G. Keller chair of classical drawing. “Senior Studio,” said Melick, “is designed not just for the students to demonstrate technical proficiency, which by the time they are seniors they should have a grasp of, but for the students to think and explore for themselves.”

In 2011 the Academy changed the requirements of the process, making it less product-oriented and more open-ended. Previously, a thesis was developed by the students at the beginning of the year and needed faculty approval. Now, it is more free, with seniors working during the year to develop a body of work within their medium.

“Without moving away from the importance of proficiencies, we decided they needed to be integrated better with a creative capacity on the part of our students in framing artistic challenges  for themselves, rather than have artistic challenges framed for them by faculty,” said Melick.

Like others in his class, Kyle Caspers, a painting major, feels free to integrate ideas between mediums, taking animated stills as inspiration for a series of paintings and prints he created.

“They all lead back into another,” said Caspers of the body of work that he described as “cohesive and communicates with itself.” While his major was painting, Caspers possesses an equanimity about moving between the disciplines. “When I do prints, sculpture, animation, it’s all informed by my painting skills…there is no sense when you’re supposed to be exploring, to hem yourself in when you made the decision (choosing a major) two and a half years ago,” said Caspers.

In the exhibit, one of Caspers’ finished products is a graphite drawing titled “Rise and Fall.” In it, a precarious civilization is in a state of collapse, the perpendicular, jagged mountain twisting and crumbling. Stately columns are dislodged as nature seems to be in a state of revolt from its inhabitants-the human race-seemingly usurpers of the landscape, yet invisible. Their absence in this other-worldly landscape, said Caspers, is deliberate. “I learned a lot about artistic expression through painting and drawing the figure, but the art I’m making uses it in a non-figurative way,” Caspers said of his decision to avoid the placement of figures to overtly express the “angst and fragility” of the human condition.

Unlike Caspers’ absence of figures, fellow classmate Morteza Khakshoor, originally from Iran, deploys highly emotive humans to fill his prints… ones that are noisy and difficult to ignore. They can be slightly misshapen, with a gnarled foot dominating the edge of the print; or deliberately repulsive, with coarse hair bristling on a stomach. Their oddity is compelling; and heightening the unease, are mixed landscapes and cultures as well as sexual identity – such as a male figure with distinct breasts. “I’m collaging different objects, cultures, and times so you get a sense of discomfort. That’s how I see life… uncomfortable and bizarre,” said Khakshoor.

Khakshoor, who is a sculpture major, smiled when he said he was having difficulty adhering to a medium, enjoying the process of painting, prints, and sculpture. “ You want to explore, that is the whole purpose of being an artist,” said Khakshoor, whose own journey as an immigrant to the US has been filled with a similar amount of cultural discomfort his prints evoke. “Probing,” said Khakshoor, “the feeling of being a stranger.”

Familial imagery envelops the viewer in Samantha Amoroso’s colored pencil and acrylic paintings, which are autobiographical in nature and stem from her childhood in Long Island.

Yet at times the disjointed figures, sometimes isolated, although inhabiting the same domestic scene as other family members, creates a sense of wariness despite the intimacy.

“The environments are warped with uneven floors and walls, engulfing my disproportionate figures and making it impossible for them to leave,” writes Amoroso in her artist’s statement.

“I draw kitchen tiles, striped sweaters, and spotted blankets which obliterate the figures and environment. Everything is connected; the wall connects to my father’s head, which connects to his clothes and the floor. All of this creates feelings of anxiety, family dynamics, and childhood stress.”

The natural world is a source of inspiration for Kathleen Sheehan, whose large abstract paintings imbue the viewer in a dreamy, richly saturated landscape that the artist said she is making up and creating. “My work focuses on two visceral extremes of life and death, the simultaneous formation and decay of organic subject matter,” writes Sheehan in her artist’s statement.

Also responding to the beauty of nature is painting major Ashley Lockwood, whose detailed silverpoints of flowers is as painstaking as Sheehan’s is interpretative and guided by stream of consciousness. Noting that line drawing is her strength, Lockwood uses the exacting process of silverpoint, which will take on patina over time to render closeups of flowers that celebrate line, shape, and shadow. “I really enjoy recreating them in a delicate medium,” said Lockwood.

Even with a smaller class enjoying and toiling in the senior studios, there is still ample room for a share of ideas and camaraderie amongst the seniors, who instill a seemingly incongruous sense of calm amidst the creative space jammed with color, ideas, shapes, and themes.  “It is a journey. They work hard all year; and with the studio space, there is interesting cross-pollination,” said Melick of the senior process, which is out of the view from the rest of the student body. “It’s interesting to watch the freshmen. Their eyes pop open when they see where they can be in four years. They are involved in very technical type of work; they see where they can grow as artists.”

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