By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
Typically, artists display their work at the Mazmanian Art Gallery for family and friends to admire at the annual Student Juried Exhibition.
However, this past year has been especially difficult for artists on campus. Rather than spending late nights on the fourth Floor of May Hall, they found themselves transforming their bedrooms into art studios to create, learn, and share art.
This semester, artists and all those interested in the artistic creations coming out of Framingham State met via Zoom due to COVID-19.
The exhibition was hosted by Ellie Krakow, director of the Mazmanian Art Gallery, and the artwork was judged by guest juror Edwin González-Ojeda, who has judged art exhibitions all throughout New England.
Due to the wide array of skills among the 21 finalists, a variety of art forms were represented such as photography, acrylic and oil paintings, ceramics, and digital arts.
González-Ojeda judged the artwork and awarded McKenna Mancuso first place for her photo,
“MoonNight,” Nick Carlson second place for his digital illustration piece, “Tycoon Entity,” and Sam Coombs third place for her mosaic, “Self Portrait.”
Senior Communication Arts major McKenna Mancuso said her artistic “epiphany” happened in her sophomore year of college. Growing up, Mancuso believed you had to be good at art to be an artist. She said, “I didn’t consider myself to be very good.”
That all changed when she came to Framingham State.
“When I got into college and I started learning more about [art], I was like, ‘Oh, anybody can be an artist.’ We just need to have fun with it and get some passion into it,” she said.
Mancuso said her cousin was a huge inspiration throughout her life, as he graduated from art school. His artwork can be found hanging throughout Mancuso’s home.
She photographed her award-winning piece “MoonNight” in the spring of 2020, and said her process of capturing art through a lens allows the world itself to inspire her.
Mancuso said she took inspiration from the world around her – anything that visually or musically appealed to her served as a starting point for this project.
For “MoonNight,” Mancuso said her inspiration came to her while on a stroll with her boyfriend. She said, “We had these cool street lamps, and I saw the sky was super clear. I had the idea to just take a photo of the moon near the street lamp – and the rest is history.”
She explained how she used editing techniques that she picked up over the course of her time at Framingham State. She said her boyfriend served as a peer reviewer as well as a source of motivation.
Mancuso said she still can’t believe she received the award but is elated nonetheless.
She thanked her parents, as well as her boyfriend for their support throughout her schooling. “Those are my greatest cheerleaders and I love them so much,” she said.
Senior Studio Art Major Nick Carlson said art has always been a prominent part of his life, as he would watch his father and uncle draw.
“He [Carlson’s father] could draw sharks really well – from his memory – I didn’t know how he did it. So, I was practicing in my books. Eventually, I started to get good at it,” he said.
His uncle, who is only three years older than Carlson, would draw graffiti on paper, and Carlson thought “it was the coolest thing ever.” His uncle left a lasting impression on him, and he started to emulate his style.
Carlson’s digital illustration piece, “Tycoon Entity,” explores greed and what that may look like if it were to take a physical form.
“I was looking at people like Jeb Bezos [CEO of Amazon] – these people that get all the way to the top and have all the money in the world. They can retire, but they just keep going. I don’t know why they don’t hang up the boots. They just seem to like making money,” he said.
Carlson’s process involved sketching his original design in his notebook then scanning the page to upload the image into Adobe Photoshop. Once the images were on his computer, Carlson said he was able to add features to the design he had not originally intended.
The pistons and light bulb protruding from the head were both added as an “afterthought” as Carlson’s monstrous piece was always evolving throughout his work.
Carlson believes art is always surrounding us, and he would like others to recognize art even when it may not seem obvious.
He said, “I would just say, ‘Create if you can create,’” stating that creating is what the human experience is all about.
Sophomore Studio Art Major Sam Coombs said she felt a love for art from a young age, but it wasn’t until junior year of high school that she developed a love for ceramics.
“I started thinking of art differently,” Coombs said, crediting her high school ceramics teacher, Sean Harrington, from Bartlett High School in Webster, for being a major influence throughout her career.
Coombs said her inspiration for “Self Portrait” came in the form of wanting to reflect on her own life during troubling times.
“At this time in my life, I felt I needed to focus more on myself – so why not do that through art? I decided to make a self-portrait based on how I was feeling at the time in quarantine, which was a lot of different emotions that I didn’t want to verbally express,” she said.
While the mosaic may have started as an assignment in her ceramics class, “Self Portrait” ended as a deep look into Coombs’ life.
“The items that I chose to include in the mosaic are each symbolic in some way, such as relating to a trait, memory, or experience of my own. Many are things that I associate with certain people or general periods of time in my life,” she said.
Coombs said she felt nervous that others would have a tough time interpreting the mosaic’s meaning because it was so personal. “Since there is so much meaning in it for me, it is hard to tell how other people may perceive it.”
Coombs began by deciding what she should include – items that were already sentimental to her, as well as items that would gain meaning as the piece progressed. She described how she would keep rearranging the items in different patterns until it “felt right.”
Once the composition was decided, she “covered and filled the entire thing with grout,” which she left partially colored white and partially pink. After letting the grout sit for a time, Coombs sanded it down to reveal the items she had placed in it.
In addition to the three Juried Exhibition winners, Krakow presented a new award, the “Citizen as Change” award, for those who can become the catalyst for change within their communities. This was presented to Martha Baieva for her piece, “Bicultural in America.”
When Senior Studio Art Major Martha Baieva came to Framingham State, she said she lacked
confidence in her artistic ability. Coming from a family of doctors and nurses, Baieva had to look for her artistic inspiration outside of her family.
However, as one semester rolled into the next, Baieva’s confidence grew as the professors in the studio art department worked with her.
She said she had always wanted her art to deal with meaningful subjects and for it to shed light on issues that are important to her.
“Most of my inspiration comes from my friends and family. I have a very diverse group of friends, many of whom are immigrants, and being an immigrant myself, I wanted to explore this idea of what it means to be an immigrant in America,” she said.
To begin her process, Baieva researched other famous works from bicultural artists and settled on an acrylic painting resting on top of a collage.
“I studied a contemporary artist who is Nigerian-American. Her work focuses on bringing the two cultures she grew up with and combining them. She does this by putting pictures that she’s taken in her native Nigeria, images of her friends and family, and objects or landscapes, collages them onto a canvas, and then paints a scene from her home in America on top.”
Baieva wanted to warn new artists of the dangers of comparing their own work to that of others. She said, “Trust the process and don’t ever compare yourself or your work to others because your work is very special.”
For many artists on campus, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an atmosphere in which they feel disconnected from their peers. While this can create hurdles in any class, many art majors are feeling the burnout of being at home.
Mancuso said, “It makes me want to not create because I feel everybody is just so depressed and it makes me depressed. But at the same time, I’ve been kind of getting out of that rut recently by trying to create more. I find it to be an outlet – art and being creative.”
Carlson said, “There’s nothing like being with people and actually seeing the process. It’s kind of hard to do online. I would say the art scene has died down quite a bit.”
Baieva said, “COVID-19 changed everything for me. I had to work in a very small space whereas before, I would work in the painting studios in May Hall. I was limited on my materials and wasn’t making money to buy what I needed in order to create more work that I wanted, but I was luckily able to adjust to this situation and made the most of it.”
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, artists at Framingham State continue to give words of encouragement to all those interested in becoming involved with art.
Carlson said, “I would say surround yourself with people who are about art, and people that aren’t going to knock you for doing it.
“Just keep working at it because you can only improve.”