Williams Club features artist alums

“Movement is non-verbal; it is visual, sensual, pleasurable and universal,” Beverly Acha ’09 writes about her online gallery. “With words often engulfing us in rationality, the sensorial loses its influence over our lives.”

Though the words are from Acha, the idea of emphasizing sensory aspects of art undeniably carries over into the work of Sofia Torres ’09 and Omar Mendez ’10, whose works are all on display at the Williams Club art gallery. The exhibition, titled “CHARGE!” was organized by Natalie Diaz ’09, programs director at the Williams Club. The exhibition will run from Feb. 19 to March 16.

The pieces Acha displays are collagraphs, prints made from inking collages pasted onto boards. Her works, which appear amorphous at first sight, gradually reveal their twisting and turning forms. “I’m inspired by movement, and by bodies,” Acha said. “Forces in the world pressure each other in a way that causes other movements.” The three-dimensional nature of Acha’s work makes the prints of collages with sharp, or rough, surfaces appear as if they emerge from the flat plane. The effect is a powerful gravitation toward the work in order to feel the surface. “I like feeling materials and touching things,” Acha said. “It’s about the tactility of my materials.”

Acha herself is struggling to deal with current forces on her own life. “It’s been really tough,” she says. “I’ve applied to so many jobs. I’ve been trying to work either with a museum or with a non-profit arts organization. Even though I know I’m pretty sure I want to pursue art as an artist, I feel like I really need to have some sort of experience with the organizations that run the art world … I started applying for jobs [this past summer] but still haven’t found anything.” She plans on abandoning her job search and attending an art graduate school this fall.

Despite the difficult economic situation, Acha has found creative ways of solving her technical difficulties, auditing classes at a community college and setting up a studio in her backyard. Her advice to current art studio students is to study contemporary work outside of what the College offers. “It’s important to know who works the way you work and whose ideas, or conscience behind their ideas, inspire you,” she said.

In addition, Acha will be attending a month-long studio residency program for painting at the Vermont Studio Center this April. Once there, her goal is to “articulate my inspirations and know why I make art. The way the contemporary art world is today, it’s really theory-based and there’s a lot of challenging work being done. The viewer’s relationship [with artwork] is not as simple as it used to be.”

Torres, who will be attending the same residency program as Acha for sculpture, sees this as an opportunity to expand upon her work under the critical eye of her peers and the visiting professional artists. “I’m excited to make some new work and get feedback,” she said. “I think a residency in particular is a great environment to make work in. I think it will be an accomplishment if I manage to let go of all other responsibilities and just focus on art.”

Though two of her works on display are graphic designs, her online gallery exhibits only photography. Of the three artists, Torres’ artwork most directly concerns human figures and body shapes. A photograph called “Truth,” taken this year, shows a person’s left hand delicately pinching the glowing outline of a miniscule spider. Pastel shades of green and red fade together in the background, heightening the ephemeral feeling already suggested by the tiny scale of the spider. “I shoot photos because I like to simplify things,” wrote Torres on the “rooooof!” blog at rooooof.tumblr.com. “Photography to me is all about point of view, it’s about taking a tool and editing a moment, along with countless different variables, down to a single, specific image.”

Mendez, having finished his last term this fall semester, is the most recent graduate of the three. His artwork focuses on the everyday structures of New York City life – a staircase, a manhole, mailboxes – isolated from the rest of the world by a watery off-white shade. The structures stand alone off to either side of the small 12-by-7 inch paintings. Mendez noted that his works feature mostly solitary objects. “It’s an intimate sort [of work], because you can’t see it from sitting [far away],” he said. “You have to get close to see that blue line start to emerge, and that peach or creamy color to really take shape.”

Mendez examines issues of architecture and society through his art. “My artwork is a lot about how we live, in cities in particular. I’m from New York City, so coming here was a huge jump … When you’re in New York, you don’t make eye contact with people, you walk as fast as you can, you’re stacked one on top of another, maybe you don’t know your neighbors, maybe you do, maybe [you only know them] because you’re making a noise complaint,” he said. “I guess I’m trying to figure out how natural that is, how much of that is dictated by our structures.”

Though he will be teaching math in New Orleans through Teach for America for the next year, Mendez hopes to attend graduate school for architecture and eventually address social needs through “architectural activism.” For future art students, he stressed the importance of practical, hands-on experience. “One thing Williams kind of sells you on is the fact that you’ll have all these really good skills in terms of analyzing and thinking. But a lot of time, people don’t necessarily want that … They want the hard skills; they want to make sure the job will get done,” he said. “I was applying to a couple of design positions, working at magazines and such, but you need a portfolio, the skill set and experience working on layouts.”

Mendez expressed his frustration at the lack of so-called “trade” skills in the art department. “Computer graphics is in the computer science department and not in the art department because it might be seen as just a trade or a skill, but that’s something that could really get you a job in the art field … When you’re a studio art major and what you want to do is create art, you’re on your own to look for other ways to support that.”

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