By Scott Nisley
They say artists don’t make a lot of bank for a reason.
Even if you have the talent, the ambition, the endurance, and the right connections, the odds of becoming the next Jackson Pollock are as slim as a canvass.
You’d have better luck playing the slots in Las Vegas then you would trying to curate an exhibition of your own work at a hip art gallery in New York City. But hey, if you’re able to pay off the rent on that little one-room studio apartment on the Lower East Side by selling your stuff, more power to you.
Truth is, the really great artists of this world aren’t in it for the money, the fame, or the recognition. The simple, yet honest pleasure that they take in expressing themselves is validation enough and the work they do that is recognized, the stuff that rings true to the most people, and ultimately makes its way into the museums and history books, is the work that is inspired directly from their own lives.
For the art majors in Professor Stephen Laub’s Senior Studio Class, that highly personal approach to creativity is the thing that gives the pieces in this year’s Senior Fine Art Exhibition a greater meaning.
Jessica Giao’s piece, a large-scale instillation titled: “Daniel and Sao,” is built from a variety of household items she arranged together in homage to both her parents and the working class. Giao took rags, cinderblocks, brooms, trash barrels, bottles of Clorox Bleach, and encased them each in a layer of plaster, elevating what would ordinarily be a bunch of items stashed behind the service entrance outside a local hardware store, into a statement about hard labor. “This whole semester I’ve been trying to find as much information as I could about how these people feel—laborers—the middle class to the working class,” Giao says. “Do they get respect? Do they get thank-yous everyday for doing these hard labor jobs? And you’d be surprised, most of them said ‘no.’ It’s really sad. That’s really what this whole idea in context is about.”
The items Giao picked for the project reflect the occupations of her parents. While she was growing up, her father worked as a stonemason and a carpenter, while her mother did housekeeping. “The work ethics that were instilled in me, were because of these objects and because of my parents,” Giao says. “It doesn’t have to be the best job in the world—making millions. It’s about your person and what you do with this job. You do it for your family.” The effect Giao projects to the viewer is stark and ghostly; a series of items taken straight from the toolbox or from the janitor’s closet at your local high school, all within a layer of white plaster, against a simple white backdrop.
Steve Simoes is another artist who like Giao, is no stranger to a hard day’s work. His contribution to the exhibit, a piece titled: “Espaco do trabalhador,” or “The Worker’s Space”, is made out of a few “random” sheets of plywood, arranged haphazardly against the wall, to mimic a sight Simoes knows from working in construction with his father: the end of the day. “At the end of a job, say I’m working with my father,” Simoes says. “We don’t want to put things away all tidy, we just lean it up against the wall.” Simoes, whose parents hail from Portugal used cement to paint images on the plywood; scenes from around Newark, and visions of “the old country.” The project proved to be a rare bonding experience with his father.
“When I started doing these last semester, I asked my father: ‘hey can you help me out and get some cement?’” Simoes remembers. “And he genuinely was interested in what I was doing. And that’s really weird because he has no clue what art is. So it was kind of like a bonding experience.”
Another notable piece in the exhibition is an instillation by Jermaine Yelverton, a piece titled “Game Boy.” The work is collection of the artist’s boyhood toys and collectables, displayed in a sandbox, and overflowing onto the floor around it.
Yelverton’s goal with the piece was to explore his sense of nostalgia for those childhood years he can never relive, but only remember from a distance.To create the effect, he collected K’nex gears, Pokémon and Yu Gi Oh! Memorabilia and some old Atari game cartridges. He then placed it all in a box letting the stuff scatter around the display.
“There was a time when all of this really mattered,” Yelverton says. “To me it will always matter because it’s a moment in that time I can always think back to.”
Karen Choi, the manager and educational coordinator of the Paul Robeson Galleries, said that the exhibition is nothing new. Every year, the
Fine Arts majors in the Senior Studio class display their work toward the end of the spring semester.
“The artists are asked to select some work that they think represents them well and represents what they’ve been working on while they’re here at Rutgers,” Choi said.
Maybe it’s the honesty in a piece of art that connects to a person’s soul—that ability to tap into a universal truth. So whether you work with oils or clay, plaster or plywood, or the occasional cinderblock, you can always find a way to express yourself—and if you’re lucky, make a few bucks on the side.
The exhibition will be on display in the Paul Robeson Campus Center till April 24th.