Atmosphere: A Covenant Alumni Art Show

Visitors to the Kresge gallery view a piece in the  Atmosphere  show. Photo by Lydia Holt.

Visitors to the Kresge gallery view a piece in the Atmosphere show. Photo by Lydia Holt.

Let’s face it, we all have a love/hate relationship with social media, especially when it comes to sharing our art — whether it be paintings, songs, or poetry — but what if I told you that sharing your work could actually be inspiring other people to create things? That’s exactly what inspired Dr. Elissa Weichbrodt to curate the show Atmosphere, currently on display in Kresge Library.

During the round table discussion with the three featured artists on January 18, Dr. Weichbrodt remarked, “This show came to me through Instagram.” While she chooses not to follow current students, Weichbrodt follows her graduated students with great interest. She explained that she noticed three artists, all alumni of Covenant, who were using different mediums to explore similar themes of atmosphere and landscape. Alicia Zanoni, Hannah White, and Caleb Stoltzfus all graduated in 2015, and each had a different story to tell about their work — from subject matter, to process, to inspiration.

The work of all of these artists, as described by Dr. Weichbrodt, is interested in “what hangs between you as the viewer and what you’re looking at.” In Zanoni’s paintings, fog is featured prominently, while White’s watercolor squares record light at a given point in the day, with the result morphing into a cloudlike shape. In Stoltzfus’ paintings, “light becomes very material,” with the colors hovering over the subject.

Dr. Weichbrodt kicked off the discussion by asking, “Why landscape?” Zanoni answered first, saying, “Landscape is full of posture.” According to Zanoni, posture describes how we’re feeling even more so than words can. She described her thought process as “pushing past the boundary of what we can put into words.”

White had a different reason and talked about how after graduation there was a lot of moving around and rapid change. “[I spent] a lot of time waiting; waiting for things to get better, waiting for inspiration. Landscape became a way for me to watch time pass by, to watch the waiting pass by.”

Lastly, Stoltzfus answered by saying he has always been interested in the relationship between religion and art and in “representing spiritual things with physical paint.” His paintings are “immediate and guttural reactions to the landscape.” He went looking for challenges and for things that mystified him at first, attempting to transfer the image he saw to his canvas.

Process was the next question Dr. Weichbrodt had for the panelists. White talked about how she has loved to make graph paper for a long time, being drawn to math, systems, and imperfections. “Imperfections in math are why I went into art,” she said with a laugh. White’s pieces feature thousands of squares, each one a documented moment of the sky. “Each square is a sky that I’ve witnessed, and each painting is a collection of skies.”

Zanoni had a totally different approach to process, saying her work is mainly created through a “back and forth of addition and subtraction,” using Q-tips to pull back layers of paint instead of continually layering the paint on top of itself. To her, the process “reflects how life feels. We receive things and lose things, and we’re not used to having one without the other.” Her painting “Overlook Sunrise” was inspired by a photo on President Halvorson’s Instagram. (See, you never know how your Instagram posts might inspire others.)

Shifting the conversation a bit, Professor Jeffrey Morton brought up the idea that landscape painting makes both the artist and the viewer small, and he asked each of the artists why that was important in relation to their work. White immediately answered, “It’s hugely humbling. There’s a lot of doubt in making art. Artists have always wanted to be original: ‘No one else does this, or no one else can.’ But it’s dangerous to think of ourselves as Creators — with a capital C — as Christians. Landscapes are the original art. We are creators, but we are more imitators and creatures.”

Continuing the conversation, Prof. Morton then asked, “What do you believe about painting?” Stoltzfus replied by saying he has always been interested in the figure because it was created in God’s image. Studying the figure tells the viewer more about the One who created it, and landscape does the same. “The way you look at the world tells you more about God,” he said. Zanoni agreed, referencing an earlier conversation with Prof. Morton, where he said, “We read books because they give us language [for things] we don’t know or even things we don’t know how to think about.” To her, painting is just that. Some things don’t need words in order to be described or pondered.

Dr. Weichbrodt wrapped up the conversation by talking about how her six-year-old son saw Stoltzfus’ painting and didn’t understand why he would paint a stump. Dr. Weichbrodt then asked him what color he usually thought a stump was, and he replied, “Brown.” Dr. Weichbrodt then lifted him up to look at the painting up close and then asked what colors he saw. He was amazed by how many colors a single stump could have. “You paint the stump so that you can see the stump,” Dr. Weichbrodt said to those attending the reception. “Sometimes we think of seeing as objective. [But] if you think of light as a material thing, then we’re actually touching it with our eyeballs all the time. Atmosphere is the stuff that binds us all together.”

In conclusion, let this be an encouragement to all of you creative people out there. Don’t be afraid to share your work. It might just inspire someone.