It’s not hard to experience art on Bethel’s campus. Between music concerts, theatre performances and other opportunities, there are plenty of ways to absorb some culture between classes.
But even if you’re not willing to shell out some cash for a ticket, Bethel has always had a way to get some culture on your walk to class, and you don’t even have to spend more than 15 minutes if you don’t want to.
The Weaver Art Gallery in the great hall of the Everest-Rohrer auditorium is usually host to some exhibit by art students. Be it photography, painting, ceramics or some combination of media, there’s usually something interesting on display at the Weaver Gallery.
But right now, there’s a new exhibit, and it’s not a student exhibition.
Two art faculty members, Chad Jay and Kari Black, have taken selections of their work and are currently exhibiting them for the entire Bethel community in the Weaver Gallery. I talked with Black, ceramics professor here at Bethel for two years, a bit about her history with ceramics and this particular showing.
Black said that her artistic background begins when she was three years old. She started with ceramics as she started painting.
“Painting was kind of more one side of my personality and thinking process and ceramics was the other side, and they just kind of complemented each other, and I’ve just kind of always done both,” she said.
Black and Jay’s exhibit was commissioned by Bethel, so Black said there wasn’t a theme per se when they were planning the exhibit.
“There’s probably not really a theme in there so much as just my explorations of a lot of genre and art materials and I guess just the central theme is just seeing the world and the beauty in it.”
Black said that her original idea to announce the showing was to read Exodus 35:4-35 in chapel. This passage details God’s calling of the various craftsmen in Israel to build the Tabernacle.
Black’s work is an eclectic blend of ceramics work, oil paintings and drawings, and a collection of different styles, from still life to landscape to impressionistic. Jay’s work is more avant-garde; a selection of 3-D pictures, complete with red-cyan viewing goggles, and textures on small squares hanging in the great hall on the way to the gallery.
Black shared a few stories behind some of the pieces. One, a large still life entitled “The Ovulation of Stars According to the Phases of the Moon,” is a pencil drawing of a collection of objects Black collected on her table. Her process behind setting out the objects to draw is rather interesting: the theme took shape as she found more objects to set out.
“These were all things that I just picked out because of their shapes and because of how those shapes interact with each other,” said Black. “And the interesting thing was…that as I put them together, they started to kind of tell a story.”
The objects include an old portable television, an old coffee urn, some Christmas decorations, a banana and orange hung from strings from the ceiling, a clothes iron (which resembles a rocket,) and old wooden figure. As she set out objects, Black realized that the image was beginning to resemble space. The wooden figure resembled Galileo, and she’d drawn some stars to fill out space. That’s what inspired her to hang an orange and banana from the ceiling, to simulate the full and crescent moons.
Other pieces include a portrait of her father at 90, three impressionistic paintings of Grand Haven, Mich., a few landscapes of Highway 1 in California and some self-portraits.
True to her title, Black has also created some ceramic pieces. One is styled after Chinese porcelain, and another fashioned vaguely after the Space Needle in Seattle, where her middle son lives. Both of these particular vases are made with the same glaze, but with a slight alteration in the way they are fired, they produce vastly different results.
Black said that one of the biggest challenges in setting up the show was filling out the space. Another was tying them together thematically.
“Even though all these works were not created for one show, you have to make it look as if it’s one coherent exhibition,” she said.
To achieve this, she’s structured her works to have a certain flow. One wall is all portraits of people, while the colors of her ceramics line up with the colors of the paintings around them. The three impressions of Grand Haven are placed around the gallery in ways that coordinate with their surroundings.
As for what she hopes to achieve with this exhibit, Black said that she hopes that students will have “an idea about what their art faculty is able to accomplish, and to have an appreciation of a lot of different mediums, and to ask themselves ‘why would this person make all of these different kinds of things?”
I asked her a bit about the differences between a faculty showing and a student showing.
“A faculty showing should represent…a level of expertise and accomplishment that students are striving for,” she said. “This should be setting the bar…setting it up there and saying this is what can be accomplished.”
As for similarities, Black said, “I think whenever an artist makes a work, it’s a very personal thing. It’s taking what’s in your heart and mind and soul and putting it into something visible. And that’s absolutely true, whether it’s a three-year-old playing with their fingers in paint or somebody who’s been painting for 60 years. It’s our attempts to express those things that we really find meaningful.”
I asked Black if there is a message she wants to communicate through this collection of pieces.
“I would say just the incredible depth and span of beauty in our world and in creation, and how something like a still life is really an investigation of very simple little things, and the beauty that is contained in an apple or orange or even a piece of rotten wood or a shell, and sunsets and the beautiful power of the ocean,” she said. “it’s almost a form of worship, really, and it’s an homage and a respect to what we see in our natural world, whether it’s the pounding ocean and the hills or it’s an image of a mother and children.”
In closing, Black had this to say: “I think every piece is a little bit of a prayer, especially when…whether you’re painting a person or you’re painting something outdoors or you’re just painting objects, it’s just…there’s a communication between yourself and that thing and there’s also a real spiritual connection in how it all comes together under the umbrella of God and creation.”