Four Senior Artists Debut Work in Studio Honors Thesis Show
Issue   |   Wed, 04/29/2015 - 01:00
Emma Rothkopf '15
The Senior honors theses of seniors Natasha Blackmore, Shannon Brathwaite, Maria Darrow and Emma Rothkopf are currently on display in the Eli Marsh Gallery.

The studio art honors theses of seniors Natasha Blackmore, Shannon Brathwaite, Maria Darrow and Emma Rothkopf are currently on display in Fayerweather’s Eli Marsh Gallery.

Blackmore’s “Circle of Thoughts” succeeds at symbolically reflecting the relationship between liberating and burdening forces through a series of drawings and collage pieces. The relationship between various dualities such as what Blackmore refers to in her exhibit description as “the disparity of things that seem so far apart, and yet depend on each other in surprising ways.” Blackmore encourages visitors to contribute their own physical marks to the exhibit in the same way she has by creating each piece. Visitors are permitted to write notes, finally placing them amidst the already established work of art.

Darrow’s focus on public art lent itself to the culmination of two projects that live beyond the walls of the exhibition. “The Woman in the Stairwell” is a collaborative mural series located in the stairwells of the social dorms, featuring portraits of five Amherst College women and represents their stories and experiences of alienation in these respective living spaces. The second body of work, “Winds of Change,” is a sculptural installation in the Powerhouse that represents a collaboration between college staff, administrators and faculty.

Rothkopf’s photography exhibition “Bathrooms & Bedrooms” hones in on the complexities associated with a woman’s transition from adolescene to adulthood. Primarily taken in bathrooms and bedrooms, the pictures are intimate and personal. The photographs work to tell of the multi-dimensional female experience, neglecting the often-used oversimplified view of women in art. The exhibit “attempts to depict the woman as the subject rather than the object,” Rothkopf states in her exhibit description.

Brathwaite’s “Records of Entropy” explores the state of disorder the world naturally heads towards. The paintings reflect the inevitable decay of things, working to convey the “heaviness and weight associated with decomposition, with rust, with corrosion,” the work’s description reads. The paintings also reflect the “unavoidable pull of gravity” — downward movement masters each piece. The intricate exhibit also includes a progression from one painting to the next, each “toward a looser, less regular composition.”

I was able to sit down with two of the thesis artsists, Brathwaite and Rothkopf, for an extended look into the studio honors theses process and their own projects on display in the Eli Marsh Gallery.

The seniors shared similar experiences about the beginning stages of the process, looking back on initial ideas that barely resemble their final bodies of work. While Brathwaite originally aimed her thesis to reflect the theme of the natural versus the manmade through transitional drawings and paintings, her final work turned out to be a series of abstract paintings exploring feelings of rust, decay and corrosion.

“I was looking at my source photos from New York city and realized I took over 100 photos at this Kara Walker’s exhibition, ‘A Subtlety,’” she recalled. “It was in an abandoned Domino’s Sugar refinery that hadn’t been used in 60 years. The building was being held up just enough so that it wouldn’t collapse on the people coming to see the artwork. I thought to myself, ‘It’s decaying and still looks beautiful.’ I wanted to create something that reflected the concept. I ran with the idea and ended up exploring the theme of entropy.”

Braithwaite aimed not only to encompass the theme of her project in the actual art itself, but also through the way she produced the art.

“I wanted to combine the idea of involuntary decay with involuntary painting,” she said.

She employed the technique of splatter paint and haphazard motion, occasionally supplementing the results of these techniques with a particular movement — such as painting a purposeful vertical line — to strengthen the idea of falling in gravity.

“The series of paintings deal a lot with gravity and things falling, like the natural order of things,” she said. “I tried to mimic the concept in the makings of my work.”

Similar to Brathwaite’s process, Rothkopf’s experience at a photography workshop in Colorado over the summer shed light on the project she had envisioned in the preliminary stages of her thesis, which would culminate in a series of multimedia installations. Her final product showcased in the gallery is a series of photographs titled “Bathrooms and Bedrooms.” The collection depicts young women in personal moments during the transitional stage between adolescence and adulthood.

“It just so happened that these two settings were where all the photos took place. One day someone jokingly suggested I call the body of work ‘Bathrooms and Bedrooms,’ which was awesome and totally worked,” Rothkopf told me. “The thesis is all about small intimate moments, and you’re usually alone or with just a few people in the bathroom and bedroom.”

Rothkopf described the transformative experience of studying art at Amherst, attributing much of the joy she has found in the artistic experience to the role that Amherst professors have played all along the way — from her first-year photography professor to her three thesis advisers.

“If I ever want to do something slightly different than the assignment, my professors are generally totally supportive and just happy that I was so passionate about doing it,” she said.

She described the significance of the shift she made from focusing on technique to focusing on capturing meaning and intention, and what this meant for her interest in the art of photography.

“When I took photo the basic skills I needed to learn were quicker — how to use a camera, develop film, and print,” she said. “In my experience with photo, the emphasis has been placed on what you’re making your art about and why you are making it. That changed everything for me. I was thinking more about what I was making rather than how I was making it, and that made me obsessed with photography.”

Elements of the photography she had been doing since her first year at Amherst persisted in Rothkopf’s thesis work.

“I had been photographing a lot of self portraits and pictures of my friends about a lot of the similar themes in the thesis,” she said. “About growing up and transitioning from living at home to living away from home, with friends versus with family, and where to find that same level of comfort I had at home.”

With the help of insights from professors and classmates, Rothkopf began to come up with a theme.

“I would take bits and pieces of what my professors and classmates would see, and make it my own by pushing the ideas further to convey the true meaning behind the photographs,” she said.

The four thesis projects will be displayed in Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall through May 24.

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