May 4, 2015
By Rachel Rogol
Darrow and Brathwaite in the art studio they share with Blackmore and Rothkopf in Fayerweather Hall
After a year spent sharing an art studio on the bottom floor of Fayerweather Hall, Natasha Blackmore, Shannon Brathwaite, María Darrow and Emma Rothkopf are slowly beginning to pack and clear the space for next year’s studio art seniors.
It’s here that they’ve collectively created more than 45 works of art—including collage-style paintings with sculptural elements (Blackmore); large and small abstract paintings (Brathwaite); sculptures made from welded steel and scraps of fabric (Darrow); and intimately rendered large-scale photographs (Rothkopf)—that are on display in this year’s Studio Honors Exhibition at the Eli Marsh Gallery through May 24.
Read on to learn more about their inspirations for the works on view and a bit about the artistic processes they’ve developed while at Amherst.
Shannon Brathwaite, Records of Entropy
Brathwaite says her senior thesis, a collection of 16 abstract paintings, was inspired by an exhibit she saw in her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kara Walker’s sphinx-shaped sugar sculpture exhibited in an old sugar factory.
“I was actually inspired by the building itself, which was super-rusty, super-grungy and painfully smelled like sugar,” Brathwaite says. “It was terrible, but it looked really cool, so I took a bunch of pictures of the walls and decided to do paintings of them.”
Constructed with canvas, ink, acrylic paint, wood and scraps of paper, her paintings are a mix of “squares like [Piet] Mondrian’s,” “Jackson Pollock-y drips,” and “the feeling of gravity, decay, rust, aging and things falling apart but still being beautiful,” she says.
Though she dabbled in art in high school, Brathwaite says she didn’t actually come to Amherst to be an artist. In her first year, she says she was on the med-school track and didn’t take a single art class: “I was miserable!” So she signed up for an art class, decided to take on an art major in addition to her pre-med classes, and never looked back.
Emma Rothkopf, Bathrooms and Bedrooms
Inspired by her friends at Amherst and at home in Harvard, Mass., Rothkopf’s senior thesis is a series of 14 photographs depicting intimate scenes of young women ages 14–26. “They’re psychological in a way,” she explains. “You enter into the psyche of a young woman.”
Her thesis title, Bathrooms and Bedrooms, refers to where she took the photos, in spaces most people consider private. This allowed her to capture what she calls “moments that you don’t normally see photographed.”
Before coming to Amherst, Rothkopf considered herself a painter. It wasn’t until her sophomore year, in Professor Justin Kimball’s intro photography course, that she tried her hand at photography. “I love painting, but when I took photography, I felt like for the first time I was forced to really think about what I was making, not just how I was making.” And that new line of thinking is what inspired her to choose photography over painting for her senior thesis.
Rothkopf says photography has given her a new way to make work that she finds more flexible than painting: “It’s a way for me to make the things I’m interested in, and if it doesn’t work out, I can try it again, and tweak it slightly, and it’s a faster process in that way than any other medium that I’ve ever done.”
Natasha Blackmore, Transcendence and Affliction
Working in large-scale collage with paper pieces and watered-down acrylic, Blackmore created five paintings for her thesis that she says are like “imprints” of her body. “I work on the floor,” she explains, and instead of using paintbrushes, “I use my hands,” she says while moving her hand to mimic the circular shape that appears in most of her paintings.
Inspired by Zen Buddhist philosophy, many of Blackmore’s paintings incorporate the ensō, a hand-drawn circle used to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. In addition to being inspired by the universal elements the ensō embodies, Blackmore says her work is about dualities: “It’s about the private and the public, lightness and heaviness, earth and sky.”
Her paintings are also simultaneously personal and collaborative. For instance, Circle of Thoughts is an interactive painting installed on the floor of Eli Marsh Gallery and accompanied by paper, pens and an invitation to the viewer to add “any thought or burden, wish, hope, secret, etc.” The idea in adding a small piece of paper to the larger work, says Blackmore, is that “the sum is literally greater than its parts.”
María Darrow, Winds of Change/Freak Flags/Onward
Darrow’s thesis features six sculptures on view in Amherst’s newly renovated Powerhouse, dozens of email printouts haphazardly stapled to a wall in the Eli Marsh Gallery and five paintings that hang in the stairwells of the social dorms.
Inspired by the college’s ongoing conversations about sexual assault and the representation of women on campus, Darrow says her senior thesis subtly encourages viewers to talk about issues of gender in a public setting.
Her sculptures, designed to hang in front of the Powerhouse windows, incorporate translucent fabric that includes bits of her own clothing and some donated from friends. “I wanted them to be personal and have belonged to someone,” she says. Darrow worked with gender-specific clothing, such as bras and men’s underwear, and purposefully deconstructed them so that at first glance their gender specificities are hardly noticeable.
In thinking about the representation of women on campus and wanting to make work that sparks conversation, Darrow says, “I think a big part of it is just taking women more seriously.”
See their collective works in the Studio Honors Exhibition, on view in the Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall through Sunday, May 24.
Eli Marsh Gallery Hours: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Special Hours for Commencement: Saturday, May 23, & Sunday, May 24, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.