Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taking up space

The last time I was in Casa Rosado, the old house of our family artists on the northern coast of PR, I found myself mesmerized by the giant canvases, leaning immobile against the patio wall as a strong seaside gust pressed past the sofa and chair set. Puertorriqueño art commissioned by local governments, for fairs, events, holidays. Art for tourists and nostalgia. The style, the colors, the enormity impressed me. Huge oil portraits in maroons and violets, sandwiched between city scenes and large-as-life landscapes. It was my first time seeing them in real life: in my bedroom, I had a small framed print of the rainforest peak of El Yunque: in the kitchen, another of abstracted Los Reyes Magos parading up some San Juan avenue. So, so much smaller than the real thing— those canvases as tall as me.
Some of the smaller canvases inside the house.

An echo of that feeling came to me at the start of this class. In my family, I’m known for good attention to detail, which manifests in good lab prep/barista/paper editing skills. Even among my friend groups, I’m the small, short, energetic one, rushing to keep up with the strides of the rest of the group. (One high school graduation note from a tall friend sardonically urged me to walk slower.) Yes, I’m also someone who rushes, probably too much. It’s hard to have patience in this world of Duke, when everything is deadlines, often sacrificing quality for quantity as we overload or social group or extracurricular ourselves to sleep-deprived exhaustion.

The sheer size of our assignment paper was initially overwhelming to me. Filling the page, taking up space—not something I’d ever done before. In my brief stint at Durham School of the Arts many years ago, I’d taken one 2D art class, which focused on mixed media and operated on a more micro level, physically. I knew how to mess around in different media and try new things, as long as it wasn’t bigger than a piece of notebook paper. So, as much as I’ve learned about shading and line weights and negative space in this class, I have to say that the best thing I’ll take away is that my art can, and should, take up space, and fill it out compositionally--and that it's important to have patience to take the time to do so. It’s easy for someone with my personality to be fixed on details and perfectionism, but sometimes it’s more important to adapt to the unfamiliar and make it work for you. I’m glad that as the semester has progressed, my art has also increased in size. My first assignments lay in the dead center of the page, never venturing to the margins—content to stay contained in the lines. When I compare it to the later assignments, I’m glad to note that my art takes up the entire page, inviting the viewer into a space that bleeds past the window of the paper. In Nasher, seeing the giant art hanging in the basement reminded me of the family art studio house back in PR, and made me recall why I was so impressed with the canvases lying in the sun. All my previous art had been struggling to imitate life, rather than allowing room to grow and experiment: it’s fine to allow yourself to grow artistically, and step outside of your comfort zone, even if it’s just to make things big.

-Alexandra Premont

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