By Connie Thwaite
We live in a time when purchasing a novel involves little more than a few clicks on a tablet or Kindle. There is no need to travel to a book store, no browsing through stacks of volumes, no sensory connection with the weight of books in our hands or the aroma of fresh ink on crisp pages. And there certainly is no stimulation of our visual creativity.
For all of these reasons, the Portland, Tennessee Student Book Project in SKyPAC’s Children’s Gallery is a surprising and compelling visual experience. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Tiffany Brown, a former exhibiting artist in SKyPAC’s main gallery, the Portland students created works of art using acrylic on books as their primary media.
In their technique, the students’ art brings to mind Henri Matisse’s collages—a form the artist called “painting with scissors.” While scissors may not have been a primary tool in Brett Vanatta’s “Country Boy,” Brett’s strong image juxtaposed against flowing fabric-like shades of blue and yellow could very well have been inspired by a Matisse interior scene. And Shelby Weatherbee’s “For the First Time in Forever,” with its color blocks of blue, yellow and brown, has a collage quality reminiscent of the art produced by Matisse during the latter years of his life.
In their form and structure, the students’ works also evoke cubism. This artistic direction, which most often is associated with Pablo Picasso, reduced natural, three-dimensional images into two-dimensional shapes. This technique is evident in Julie Murphy’s “The Tenth Doctor,” in which the subject’s features are cut into geometric shapes and fitted back together like puzzle pieces slightly askew. In Devon Moore’s “Arnold,” it is the background books that take on a two-dimensional geometric format. The same can be said of “Mom” by Victoria Enfinger.
As I moved through the exhibit, I was struck by the choice of bold color in the students’ works and especially moved by the way in which the students’ outer images evoked their interior spirit. If I had time and space, I would discuss every piece in the exhibit because I do believe they all are spectacular. Instead, I will simply say that I hope all of the young artists will continue to pursue their talent—if not in visual art, then another art form of their choosing, because the greatest tool of an artist is his or her spirit and unique vision of beauty—whether sweet or harsh—in the world around them.
And, to return to where I began, with the sensory impact that books deliver—even as technology assumes an increasing role in the way we are exposed to art—I will conclude with “You’re A Tree” by Elle. In her Artist’s Statement, Elle says, “When I was young, I was told that what you read makes you grow. The more you read, the more you grow. ‘You’re A Tree’ is a representation of the stories I was told, of how the written word makes you grow into a strong tree.”