Four artists, one exhibition and an astonishing array of mediums. This year’s batch of studio art graduates showcase their talents and hard work in the annual senior juried exhibition, fittingly titled “Material Navigations.” With a collection of artwork that boasts everything from photography and ceramics to graphic design and intricate watercolors, Tavia VanZuilen, Danielle Moler, LaVina Branscomb and Anna Rosenthal demonstrate just what heights the St. Kate’s studio art and art history programs can help their students achieve.
Those unfamiliar with the St. Kate’s arts programs may not realize exactly what rigors it holds for students, even during the acceptance process. Aspiring studio arts majors first take a series of foundational classes, and then must present their work to the entire ranked faculty, who assess it and give feedback to the artist on her strengths and weaknesses in all the different areas—from history to graphic design. In total, studio art graduates will have passed two faculty-evaluated portfolio reviews.
What do St. Kate’s art faculty expect from students wishing to be accepted into the studio art program? No paint-by-number kit is going to cut it here: “Mastery of skill, but also personal creative vision,” says Carol Chase, department chair and associate professor. “Something distinctive that the student is trying to say — not just satisfying an assignment. Having investment in the work, personal investment.”
Chase and the four seniors agree unanimously that the studio art program provides more than a degree and an impressive body of work over the course of four years—it’s “the whole deal,” as Chase puts it. “You have something you love, you know how to create it, and it’s going to feed you, which is more than some people have going for themselves in their lives.” According to Chase, the hope of the department is that its students leave with “confidence, skills, and the brains gained from a liberal arts education.”
The four seniors took time to sit down and answer a Q&A about their work, experiences as artists at St. Kate’s, and plans for the future, which you can read below.
The Juried Senior Exhibition, “Material Navigation,” is open at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery through May 22.
A ceramic piece by Tavia VanZuilen '16.
Artist and chosen medium(s):
Tavia VanZuilen: ceramics
Danielle Moler: photography, book art
LaVina Branscomb: graphic design, drawing
Anna Rosenthal: botanical illustrations in watercolor painting, graphite, ink
How have you grown as an artist during your time here at St. Kate’s?
TV: At first I didn’t know I was going to be a ceramic artist — I came in to do more 3D stuff and metalwork, and I went over to ceramics. I had the ability to test and see, and figure out what I liked, and that’s how I got to where I am now, by testing, not being afraid to experiment and to fail.
DM: The most noticeable difference was that for years I was making art just for assignments. Over the past year and a half, I’m now making art that actually feels like myself. Even if it’s for an assignment, it matches my general artistic vision. That’s huge.
LB: My time here has helped me evolve and understand what I want to create, and how to connect my voice to what I am creating. The guidance, support and encouragement to express who I am through my graphic design work has felt empowering, and it’s helped me develop as a graphic designer.
AR: The skills I’ve gained from coming to St. Kate’s have been exploring different mediums, and learning more the technological side of things, and doing graphic design, doing photography—how I can incorporate those skills into being a freelance artist, as a scientific illustrator and botanical artist.
Have you had any specific experiences that have brought you to where you are now as an artist?
AR: I did an internship when I was in high school with the U of M. I worked with a professor who was working on a project with the Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica. They flew me down to work with biologists there and create 47 illustrations of the deciduous leaves of the forest. It was very influential — it was the first time I got to work with a biologist one-on-one. I’ve always known that I want to do art, but I didn’t know if it could be a full-time career until I had that experience.
DM: I went to the Women’s Art Institute program here last year. The program itself is incredibly rewarding. You have a lot of time in fellowship with other female artists, so you automatically have that sense of community. Even though I was the youngest at 21 and the oldest was 77, you learn to love these women. It’s an awesome jumping-off point: whether you’re established in your career or you’re an art baby, you can get something rewarding out of it. Author’s note: Moler’s exhibited work Lust Lost, a handmade book with cyanotypes, is a product of her time in the Women’s Art Institute Summer Studio Intensive course.
What is it that draws you to the medium(s) that you work with in your art?
TV: I really like hands-on stuff. Ceramics is tactile, I can touch it and I’m in control of how thin I want the piece, I can trim it down with the piece. I was like, “What will happen if I put nails in my pieces?” I love the way that it melts and erodes and combines metal and ceramics.
DM: I’m really interested in how knowledge is transmitted and how we know what we know. We always trust books to have some type of knowledge in them, and we also assume that books are full of truth. Photography is also all about truth; we think we can believe something because there is a photograph of it. So a lot of my work recently has been about subverting that truthful nature, challenging traditional narratives of truths that are presented to us in society.
LB: With graphic design, I can always just restart or reinvent. In those terms, graphic design has allowed me to be creative and let my mind wander, but then I can take all that stuff off and just say it, because I’ve already thought through what I wanted to create.
AR: I was drawn to watercolor botanical art because of my love for nature and my love for art. It’s a very long process—it takes a lot of patience and time. And I love it. I love building up the different layers and seeing the colors come through, and finding the little details.
Self-portrait by LaVina Branscomb '16 was purchased by St. Kate's and will remain on campus.
What is your art in this exhibit about?
AR: What I was trying to capture was how plants actually appear. Scientific illustration can be used as an educational resource, and so what you’re focusing on nature is its structure and its scientific aspects.
DM: Subject(ed) came about as a twofold process. One of them was me working with a new medium, which is this experimental, photography-chemistry thing called chemigrams. This was also happening at the same time that I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I was feeling like a science experiment all the time. It got me thinking, if everyone wants to speculate so much about how I’m feeling when I do A, B, and C, why don’t I make illustrations of it? So basically the little circles are a fictitious image of what was happening in my head when I did a certain thing. They’re autobiographical.
LB: I was the vice president of the Black Student Association last year, and I created a button. I used the fist as a symbol of the fight you go through being African American; the circle symbolizes the connection we had, that we’re all coming together to fight for causes we feel are important and injustices we face. We have these things that we encounter, and we’re all fighting for something, but that doesn’t mean that we should cross people out. We should allow people to engage in our struggles. And in my three posters, I used color and text to evoke emotion. I was part of a nonprofit organization in high school. The three women in each of those posters co-founded the organization with me, and I asked them to give a word that expresses the impact that they made, or how they felt the organization affected them, and I used a color to express the emotion or feeling. I was trying to convey that we did something that was really powerful.
VanZuilen plans on moving to Colorado, where she hopes to find a studio of her own and process her own clay for her ceramics art.
Moler will take a gap year before applying for PhD programs in Art History. In pursuit of becoming an art history professor, her plans for the near future include venturing to Berlin to scope out a university for grad school.
Branscomb may extend her current internship at Courageous HeArts, an open arts studio for youth in south Minneapolis where she does social media and marketing materials. She is also interested in pursuing spoken word and, ultimately, hopes to have her own graphic design company.
Rosenthal will start teaching this summer at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art as a program instructor and coordinator for the school’s children’s courses. She will also sell prints and mailing cards of her art.