Art department hosts new faculty exhibit in Andrews Gallery

"Octopus' Garden" by John Lee. MONA GARIMELLA / THE FLAT HAT

Thursday, Feb. 1, the College of William and Mary’s department of art and art history and Andrews Gallery hosted a reception celebrating the opening of a new art exhibition titled, “BIG WORLD: the 2024 Faculty Exhibition and Spring Semester Celebration.” The exhibition included art across various mediums, such as painting, photography, ceramics and sculpture. 

Patrick Harkin, who became the coordinator of the Andrews Gallery in November 2022, organized the event. Attendees also enjoyed live music by PROSPECT and Pile 3, two musical acts from Richmond. 

Prior to the Muscarelle Museum of Art going under construction, the art and art history department hosted a faculty show every other year at the museum.

Harkin wanted to continue that tradition regardless of the location and chose to curate this exhibition in Andrews Gallery. 

“I thought it would be a really cool idea to get students excited about seeing the work from their professors again,” Harkin said. “And trying to just add some extra programming into the busy gallery schedule for the year, we decided that this show would double as a faculty exhibition, but also as a spring celebration for the department.” 

“I thought it would be a really cool idea to get students excited about seeing the work from their professors again.”

The event included the work of 13 faculty members. The planning started off in late November 2023 with deciding what artwork the gallery should include. Harkin used the winter break as a time to collect the art pieces and organize the show, and enlisted the help of students interested in the installation process. 

Associate department chair and professor of art and art history Nikki Santiago explained the process behind her exhibited piece, “Lonely Places.” Santiago and Brian Kreydatus, also an art and art history professor at the College, run open model sessions every Thursday night at the Matoaka Art Studio from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m, where they also draw with the students. 

"Lonely Places" by Nikki Santiago. MONA GARIMELLA / THE FLAT HAT
“Lonely Places” by Nikki Santiago. MONA GARIMELLA / THE FLAT HAT

Some of the aspects of “Lonely Places” were inspired from these open model sessions Santiago hosted. 

“And then I sort of started to invent,” Santiago said. “I felt like there needed to be a window and that this figure was looking out the window, and I didn’t really know what it was about. But as I started to do this, this person seemed kind of lonely.” 

Santiago, who has been a part of over 150 exhibitions, does not generally title her pieces until she is ready to exhibit. 

“The making of the work none of it is from the verbal part of my brain, so sometimes it’s hard to describe what I’m doing in words,” Santiago said. “The title came out when I decided to frame it years after I made it. I think I made it a couple years ago.” 

Because Santiago started this piece at one of the open model sessions, the process of creating “Lonely Places” was quick. She hopes for the piece to create some sort of a mood rather than a literal interpretation.

“I hope that it makes the viewer ask questions and doesn’t really tell everything,” Santiago said.

Also exhibited at the gallery was associate professor of art John Lee’s piece “Octopus’s Garden.” Lee has been teaching at the College since 2008.

“I’ve been around art my whole life. My father teaches, so I kind of grew up around it,” Lee said. 

Lee’s studio in the Matoaka Building inspired his piece for the gallery. As he was in the studio, he turned his head and saw the scene now presented in “Octopus’s Garden.” 

“I see color everywhere, and I see light that I want to paint and I want to express,” Lee said. “As I’m working, I’m working on one painting, and I turn my head and notice another view. And so I have several paintings of that studio that are kind of prompted by just sort of looking around, not trying to find something to paint.”

Lee painted “Octopus’s Garden” while he was on sabbatical. He worked on the piece for six months, every day. 

“I was in and working on that, and I didn’t work on any other painting at the time. And so I pushed through with it, and that’s where it landed,” he said. 

Lee titled the piece, “Octopus’s Garden,” because of a documentary titled “My Octopus Teacher.” The documentary is about a marine biologist who swims without scuba gear, and he saw an octopus as he was exploring. 

“I saw it, and, after I thought about it, it related to painting and related to teaching for me,” Lee said. 

In the documentary, the biologist visited the octopus daily. “

They’re going below sea level, and it was kind of a murky feeling,” Lee said. 

According to Lee, he emanated this feeling in his painting because the light shining in his studio felt somewhat similar to an aquarium. 

“I kind of want the feeling of being able to swim like a fish through those table legs and get the atmospheric light and color into the painting. So, it’s really not about the octopus. It’s more about the space in the light of the lagoon, I suppose, that I’m seeing my studio as,” Lee said.

At the gallery’s reception, attendee Elizabeth Upright ’24 expressed enjoyment with the exhibition. 

“I wasn’t expecting as much of a mix between both paintings and 3D art, which I thought were really cool,” Upright said. “Especially the carvings from the reclaimed lumber – I thought were super interesting and very unexpected. And so I thought those were really cool to see here.” 

Harkin has many shows lined up for the remainder of the year. The 2024 Catron Scholars Exhibition is the next event the art department is hosting, Thursday, Feb. 22. 

“That is a student exhibition for [the] really talented, and they’re just an amazing group of artists who have been awarded this Catron grant,” Harkin said.

The grant allows students to spend a summer studying different art topics. 

“There will be a video exhibition and experimental short film exhibition that will coincide with the Ampersand Film Festival, so that’s coming up soon,” Harkin said. 

This event will host media from five to 10 video artists from around the world. 

“Later on in the semester, we’ll have the seniors exhibition, and we’ll have a non-major show as well. So we’re booked solid until the end of 2025,” Harkin said. 


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