New Upper Commons artwork benefits not only students, but artists as well

Emma Bartlett, Arts and Culture Editor

One of the most rewarding parts of having an art department on a college campus is getting to see student work on display in the university’s buildings.

At RWU, there are several spaces where young artists’ work can be spotted, such as Upper Commons. At the end of the fall 2019 semester, nine new art pieces replaced the older installations. These can be seen along the staircase leading to Commons as well as inside of the dining hall. 

This new work came from a 200-level visual arts oil painting class taught by Associate Professor of Art Anne Tait. For four hours each week, students studied the roots of oil painting up to its contemporary uses and learned how to manage the new materials. Individuals in the course researched various artists whose work would hopefully influence or inspire their own. 

During the first week of classes was, students learned their final project would involve completing a work of art using oil paint, which would eventually hang in Upper Commons. Tait encouraged her students to visit the dining area early in the semester to find a space where each would like their work to hang. Part of this was done to help students visualize the size of their artwork for the space. 

Tait worked with Upper Commons Manager Josh Hennessy and General Manager James Gubata on putting student art up in the dining hall. Hennessy and Gubata hosted a dinner for Tait’s students and talked about the project with them. From that point on, students proposed their final project ideas to Tait. The project was very open-ended, but students had to tie in an artist who inspired them during the semester. 

Junior Olivia Estner, whose painting hangs on the east wing of Upper Commons by East Private Dining, was thrilled to find out how open-ended the project. This allowed her to have a lot of fun with her project. 

“I was inspired by the work of Helen Frankenthaler. I liked her soak staining technique, how she pours fluid paint and pigments onto an unprimed canvas, so I used the same technique on my piece,” Estner said.

Estner used high flow acrylic paint on an unprimed canvas, moving the paint around with her hands and paper towels to create her piece.

Junior Kaitlyn Minichiello, whose painting is hung along the staircase going up to Upper Commons, was inspired by an artist who wove strips of canvas together before painting his piece.

“I wanted to try to replicate this technique because it’s a technique I’ve never seen used before. Weaving canvas together can get difficult when it comes to deciding how tight to stretch and I saw it as a challenge I wanted to take on,” Minichiello said. 

Putting out artwork for everyone to see can also bring a variety of feelings. 

“It feels weird that my painting is up for everyone to see, but I think it’s good they allow students to put their work up. It gives students something to look at and shows the school is engaged in the art department,” said junior Stephanie Duzy.

Minichiello also commented on the feeling.

“It feels really awesome,” Minichiello said. “I never thought something I enjoy doing as a hobby would be viewed by my peers on campus, but now that it is it makes me more proud of the artwork I produced. It makes the challenge so much more worth it.”