After three young emerging Rochester artists, Anna Overmoyer, Krit Upra and Emily Bellinger, joined our visual conversation, the Corn Hill Festival’s Emerging Artist Expo was a must-see.
At the Expo, 21 artists — ages 16 – 25 chosen by audition — displayed handmade paper, paintings, drawings, pottery, ceramic, mixed media, photography and printmaking. Many were grads of Nazareth, Alfred and RIT with high schools represented by Victor and Harley.
Holding a BFA from Alfred, with a minor in Women’s Studies, and a Master’s in Art Education from Nazareth, Emily Patton describes herself as a “research artist.” Emily’s work is self-consciously informed by feminist art theory and visual cultural studies. Having written her thesis at Alfred on representations of lingerie and burlesque, Emily’s project is to see how the “male gaze” — a termed popularized by Laura Mulvey in 1975 — can be re-imagined and embodied as a “female or feminist gaze.”
Emily says her display in the Expo is meant to “reclaim the classic American pin up” into a genre empowering and celebrating women’s presence and sexuality.At the entrance to Emily’s tent were two campy spoofs on the classic pin-up, two women offering gazers beer and not-so-come-hither smiles.
But inside and on the outside tent flap were 5 richly and luxuriantly rendered female subjects. As the women look outward and directly at the viewer, the full presence of the expressive figures is felt. In the classic pin-up tradition, women are normally rendered as objectified and passive sex kittens.
While the works stand on their own, Emily says the context of their production is fundamental to the overall message. Pushing back against the power dynamics within the pin-up tradition in which male producers (and by extension male consumers) direct the poses, appearance and countenances of the female models, Emily’s models exercised full control.
In the pre-painting photographs, the women — all Emily’s friends — chose their clothes, positional gestures, lighting, etc. The woman selected the photograph Emily would make into the paintings, providing input throughout the process .The premise Emily offered the women was to imagine the sensations, emotional and physical, they might feel after an uninterrupted weekend spent with their boyfriends.
Emily chose “boyfriend” because at the time all the women were in heterosexual relationships. But Emily says “lover” would have worked equally well, and perhaps better. The results convey the experience from the women’s perspectives — as subjects not objects.
Emily wants the display to push back against any hesitation viewers might have entering the tent with its potential undertones of a strip joint or even a brothel. Men especially need not feel prurient, like a voyeur or even a peeping tom. By contrast, in the re-imagined pinup montage, the subjects emanate a welcoming and inviting aura where viewers see not just bodies but full women.
If you want, Emily invites viewers to pick their favorite portrait. When doing so, I tried to put aside my Y chromosome and the male gaze of sexual objectification.
Now visually embracing the figures as full women. Each comely, complex and interesting in her own way. Perhaps imagining it was I who that weekend inspired the rosy glows and satisfied smiles born of closeness. On this relaxed and ambling perfect July day, I impressionistically chose the woman (return of the Y chromosome?) who seemed the most low maintenance. And — as gauged through Emily’s insider knowledge — I had.
Bearded, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, Ryan Martin embodies the kind of vivid, gritty urban art he makes. Raised in Rochester neighborhoods, Ryan lives near the Public Market and has a Railroad Street Studio.
In his tent were works and styles from multiple genres(instagram): hats, clothing, t-shirts and impressionistic semi-graffiti-like paintings. Designed to be worn or hung on a wall, each work is infused by the energy of urban life. Ryan’s eclectic tent mirrors his sense of rich community life in which artist, wearer and viewer are symbiotic.
Ryan explained why working and being in the city is important for him:
Living in my urban environment puts me in the heart of Rochester. I am able to see a side to the city many are afraid of, and don’t understand. My art reflects this kind of underground culture and the many anxieties/ attitudes of my surroundings.
I reflect the hard and “dirty” do it yourself type attitude of the real Rochester working class. Being self made in every way. Overall, the division in social classes is extremely prominent here in the city, much like Providence and the rest of the nation. I have no fear of exploring and meeting those around me, and try to in a way represent them, their struggle, and their attitude thru my work.
Interestingly, both Ryan and I lived in Providence, Rhode Island: Ryan received his BFA from Providence College and I was in the city during its so-called renaissance in the mid to late 90s. Both Ryan and I noted similarities. Rochester and Providence are similar in size and both have thriving college and university art communities. Here, the UofR, RIT and Nazareth; there, Brown, PC and RISD.
But, as we agreed, Providence is overshadowed by Boston just up the road, often absorbing or sucking up Providence’s creative energy. On the other hand, Rochester benefits from being a regional center in which Buffalo and Syracuse are not at all overbearing presences.
At the same time, Ryan does feels the seductive pull of New York City as the place where art happens. He says at about 25 or 26 many Rochester artists have to decide: should I stay or should I go? At 24, Ryan can see the decision in the horizon. But Ryan relishes the history, tradition and vibrancy of the Rochester art scene. He likes living near the Public Market, making his urban art enjoying the art of others in the community. I hope he stays.
Like several of the exhibitors (including Emily), Kayleigh Olive is also an art educator. Having received both a B.S. in Art Education and a Master of Science in Education, Art Education from Nazareth, Kayleigh had trained and worked in watercolor, oil, and acrylic paintings, three dimensionally with clay and digital collage and story telling.
For Kayleigh, teaching and making art are inseparable. Kayleigh says students see her and their own work differently when they know after school she passionately practices her craft, often exploring new mediums she can then bring into the classroom.
In Kayleigh’s tent were many finely-crafted watercolors and well-wrought sculptures. While Kayleigh likes working in genres that might be considered decorative, she relishes following her own personal artistic vision, painting, as she says, “what I see” — and what is most meaningful for her.
For example, she is holding a precocious self-portrait done at twenty. In her war painting, she captures the cycle of violent death passed on from generation to generation.
From Long Island — in that shadow of NYC — in her seven years in Rochester Kayleigh has seen the art community grow and thrive. Although she calls herself a “traveling artist,” Kayleigh is happy to call Rochester home.
Like many of the artists, Rebecca Boone would love to make her passions a full time occupation. An RIT grad majoring in Journalism, last taking an art class 2 1/2 years ago, Rebecca’s creativity was dormant.
Then one day last spring, Rebecca’s urge to make art re-emerged when she drew a sketch of her cat. Since then Rebecca has been on a roll, and was thrilled to be chosen for the expo. Rebecca’s dream is to leave her current job and pursue her art full-time. Rebecca also wants to WWOOF around the world, drawing and drawing inspiration.