Campus galleries exhibit scholarship recipients’ artwork

For many prospective students, money is the deciding factor for attending school. Lacking funds, some turn away from the idea of higher education completely, fearful of debt. But when given a helping hand, students are empowered to create. And with that freedom comes confidence.

That is the message of the Portland State Art and Design Scholarship Show, which celebrates the work of PSU scholarship recipients by collecting and publicly displaying their artistic works.

The scholarship show is being exhibited in the AB Lobby Gallery and the MK Gallery, both of which are located in the Art Building on Southwest Fifth Avenue. The show will run until Oct. 31 and admission is free.

“All students who received any of the various scholarships offered by the School of Art and Design were invited to submit one piece,” said Travis Nikolai, the exhibition preparator for the show.

Nikolai said of the roughly 35 students who were invited to have their work featured in the show, 30 applied and were approved. Other than size, there were no limitations to the types of artwork students could submit. The show includes examples of pa
inting, illustration, photography, sculpture, time arts and more.

Amounts awarded to students via scholarships varied, ranging from hundreds to several thousands of dollars.

“It’s what really allowed me to come here,” said Kensey Anderson, a first year Master of Fine Arts student. Anderson was awarded the Simon Benson scholarship as a first-generation college student.

Anderson said she had considered several graduate schools before receiving a call from a professor, offering her the scholarship.

“It pushed me over the edge,” Anderson said. “I was right on the cusp and, that phone call and being able to get this, it really did make me come here.”

Anderson’s piece “Eros of Urbano,” which depicts the cherubic latex Greek god of love reclining on a crocheted bed, was inspired by the famous painting “Venus of Urbino.” Anderson sewed the cherub together by hand, stuffing it with gel beads to give the piece a realistic skin tone and a fleshy jiggle.

The opening reception, held on Oct. 6, attracted people from all throughout the community to contemplate the works, displayed on the minimalist walls of the two galleries.

Shep Austad, a sophomore engineering student, was particularly drawn to the portrait “Mike Nesmith,” which depicts the eponymous band member from The Monkees clad in a stitched hat. The artist, Natassia Haas, a senior pursuing a double major in both psychology and art, defied 2D conventions by adding physical cloth texture to the woolly hat.

“When you walk up at first I was like, ‘wow she’s really good at her texturing from just the visual effects.’ But she even went all that much further and made it physically textured,” Austad said. “This is blood, sweat and tears you’re looking at right here.”

Haas, who was awarded the School of Art and Design general scholarship, said receiving the scholarship was a confidence boost. Knowing that there are people who took interest in her work was important, but it also meant being able to pay for tools like paint.

Maggie Heath, a fine arts student in her last year, said she understands the importance of a school willingly giving recognition to those pursuing a life in fine arts.

“It’s more about the professors and shows, people that saw the work, and knowing people thought it was good enough,” Heath said. “To know that this school stands behind my work, as opposed to the money—I’m not really thinking about it in terms of the money. People have told me that I should continue to pursue what I’m doing, and that’s what really matters to me.”

Unlike many of the canvases that received recognition, Heath’s Richard Muller award-winning piece “If I Only Had (Unravel)” is more of a performance, and includes an elegant round coffee table, a music box, a motor and ball of string.

“It’s activated by a motor that I hook up. I put a ball of thread in my mouth and attach it to the brass tubing between the motor and the music box, and then as I allow string to come out of my mouth you slowly start to understand what the music box is playing, which is ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ from The Wizard of Oz,” Heath said.

Heath made the table and motor herself, explaining that the physical act of creating something was extremely important, and a driving inspiration in all of her projects. She usually works with strings and textiles, believing it stems from an informed feminist critique.

“I wanted to use materials that weren’t classically or traditionally male used. I mean painting and sculpting from metal, all of that’s been done enough and I think there are materials out there that people haven’t explored,” Heath said. She said sewing and textiles are traditionally viewed as practices of craft and women’s work, rather than materials of the fine arts realm.

Edward Ershbock, a senior graduating with a double major in philosophy with honors and a Bachelor of Fine Arts, also chose to submit something slightly different that earned him the Simon Benson scholarship. The scholarship will allow him to finish school at PSU. He will be the first person in his family to graduate.

A fan of aerial videography and thinking about contradictions within humans, Ershbock created his short film “Birth of Tragedy,” which explores such notes of fascism and following governmental control. In the film, a group of dancers weed out the member that chooses to follow their own path.

“I think about those things a lot, in terms of communities I’ve lived in and seeing changes happen that I don’t understand. I want to know why people do what they do,” Ershbock said.

Watch the video for a closer look at Kensey Anderson’s “Eros of Urbano” and an interview with Travis Nikolai: