Self-Exposed

New VES faculty put themselves on display

Students entering the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts this semester, clamoring for a coveted spot in one of the VES department’s limited-enrollment courses, got to preview the work of six of their would-be teachers in the New Fall Faculty Exhibition. The exhibit includes an impressive range of work indicative of the diversity of the department.

Upon entering the gallery space, one is greeted by sculptor Tom Butter’s whimsical Hung With Grief (2002), a fiberglass cylinder with miniature steel girders for “legs” standing in an old pair of untied shoes. The sculpture resembles a man dressed in a barrel welcoming the viewer to the exhibition with its goofy sense of humor. Butter will be teaching “Three-Dimensional Artmaking” and “Sculpture I” this fall.

Stephen Ellis, who also teaches at Cooper Union, returns to Harvard this semester after a year-long hiatus and will be teaching two introductory classes, “Painting I” and “Color Theory and Practice.” Ellis enjoys teaching introductory classes, he says, because the students are “very fresh. The learning curve is extremely steep, so it’s fun to watch that.”

In his teaching, Ellis tries to emphasize the fact that “there’s both a contradiction and a sympathy between representing something as a symbol and perceiving it in the world.” His large, abstract paintings blend geometry with hints of natural form just beyond recognition. In an untitled work from 2000, Ellis plays with the colors and repetitive rectangles iconic of Piet Mondrian. Strict, opaque rectangles become wavy, transparent lines, black shows through beneath white, and the canvas retains brush strokes, paint drips and slips of the palette knife as a residue of the artist’s process. In an untitled 1993 composition of brilliant red, black and creamy white rectangles, Ellis leaves his mark behind on the canvas where forms—Eyes? A torso?—seem to emerge from the troweled-on rectangles.

Ellis is one of two artists with paintings in the New Faculty show. The other is Stuart Baron, who taught at Boston University for many years and served as the Director of the School for Visual Arts there. Baron is teaching “Two Dimensional Artmaking” and an intermediate figure drawing course, “Anatomy and the Figure.” Unlike Ellis’ works, which are far more visually disciplined, Baron’s paintings writhe before the viewer in red, black and the occasional touch of gray. In his two untitled works of 2001, Baron occasionally allows a vivid spurt of green or blue to peek through from beneath the painted surface.

Two new faculty photographers will be teaching upper-level classes this semester. Deborah Bright, who exhibits a series of outdoor photographs of stonewalls and wooded clearings, will be teaching a contemporary photography seminar. Joel Sternfeld’s images of the urban landscape of New York City will strike a nerve with anyone who has ever strolled through the city and been amazed by the beauty within the dull and dingy urban landscape. In Looking West on 29th Street on a September Evening (2000), it seems as though Monet painted a field of flowers beneath a milky skyline and gritty buildings. The images, which come from Sternfeld’s book Walking the High Line, chronicle a journey past Gap billboards and over abandoned railways strangely overgrown with plants and flowers. Sternfeld teaches “Landscape Photography” this semester.

Heddi Siebel, a painter and printmaker, is teaching “Printmaking I” this fall. She, too, enjoys teaching students who are new to the medium. “I like working with students who are making prints for the first time because they have lots of questions,” she says. “It makes you go back to the beginning of the process and really look at what can be gained from each technique.”

Siebel emphasizes that in uncertain times, she wants to help students find their artistic voice. “In a sort of Mad Max world, I want students to learn to use their voice visually whether or not they can find a venue to use it. I hope that if there were no galleries to show art that people would continue making it. The vitality of the art is that it comes from within, from a very authentic and real place.”

Siebel began her work Resurrection: Soon Darkness Will Give Way To Light (2002) in an attempt to get to know her grandfather, John Colin Vaughan, whom she never met. He took part in the failed 1903 Ziegler Expedition to the North Pole, which prior to Siebel’s efforts had never been researched. She reconstructed the journey from photos, drawings, film and her grandfather’s journal, and turned the story into a series of 16 etching and monoprint collages—eight of which hang in the Carpenter Center as a part of the New Faculty Exhibition.

Siebel’s grandfather’s journal entries, which Siebel has printed onto many of the collage panels, beg for visual representation, with references to such things as “the tantalizing water sky” and incredibly vivid passages: “Halfway to the polynia we came to some remarkably old ice. All about us was a chaos of piled up blocks, a great deal of it a dirty yellow which I fancied might easily be matched by mixing burnt sienna with charcoal gray.” These works show how the origins for art are in all of us.

The New Fall Faculty Exhibition is on view at The Carpenter Center through September 29. A showing of the work of resident faculty will begin in October.

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