It may not be full of movement, but it’s still art |

It may not be full of movement, but it’s still art

Sarah Dixon
Vail Daily/Shane Macomber Colorado Mountain Collage Art Teacher Elaine French discusses the symbolism involved in the still life art show displayed on campus, Wednesday, at the Colorado Mountain College Campus in Vail.

Sandwiched between a new Asian restaurant and a movie theater is an exhibit of the blooming artistic talent found in the valley.

The Colorado Mountain College art program is hosting an exhibit of the works of their students. The exhibit will run through the end of May, and is located in the lobby of the Vail campus, below the Cascade Village movie theaters.

The exhibit is composed entirely of ‘still art,’ done in mediums of watercolor, oil and acrylic. The subject matter varies, but the obvious presence of talent does not.

“Every student this semester really focused and worked hard,” said instructor Elaine French. “It was a lot of fun.”

And though the class is an entry-level course (Painting 1), the level of experience students have with a brush varies dramatically.

“Some have never painted before, some have pained quite a bit,” French said. “We have varying levels, varying students in each class, but it really works. I spend a lot of individual time with each student. It’s also a great learning experience for them. They learn as much from each other as from me.”

Indeed, French says, sharing is the best way to learn.

“They’re really encouraged to share their work together,” she said. “We have critiques at the beginning of each class. They have learned to articulate formal art concepts, such as space, color and composition.”

A Strong Personality

From looking at the featured paintings, it is clear that the students can not only articulate these concepts, but internalize and personalize them to make unique art. Several of the still-life pieces feature the same prop set-ups, but with drastically different interpretations of the scene.

“It’s so interesting how students perceive the same setup differently,” French said, gesturing to two frames. Each features a duck, surrounded by reeds. Only one is set in nature, while the other is clearly painted as it appeared in the studio, focusing on a colorful backdrop.

“You really see students take their own perspective on things,” French said.

Another subject matter in which personality shone through the paint was that of shoes. Students could choose any piece of footwear they wished to portray, and the results were as entertaining as they were diverse. A hiking boot serves as contrast to a pair of ballet slippers. A sneaker juxtaposes a set of spiked-heel boots.

“This student is very athletic, so she chose to do the watercolor of her track shoes,” said French, gesturing to the sneakers. “And this student loves to nightlife – so she chose to depict her disco boots.

“Once they overcome their fears and see how fun it is, they really enjoy this,” said French of her student body.

A Lesson in History

Several other frames upon the wall feature darker subject matter – a still life juxtaposing a skull, a candle, dead flowers. One might ask why students would choose such seemingly arbitrary – and dark – props for their masterpieces.

“This still life exhibit has a lot of art-history background,” said French. “Some of the pieces have Northern European Renaissance influences.”

In fact, as it turns out, each of the aforementioned props has a specific metaphorical meaning when interpreted in a Renaissance mindset.

“These paintings focus on the Renaissance theme of the transitory aspect of life, and the vanity of pursuing material goods,” French explained gesturing to each of the pieces featuring the skull. “The half-burned candle symbolizes life burning out, the skull represents death. The half-empty wine bottle symbolizes life flowing out. As you can see, the paintings have a very didactic nature. We really used art history as a format for the subject and nature of the art”

Yet fret not that students lost sight of the fun side of art. In several paintings, the skull appears to be snacking on torn piece of bread.

“The half loaf was meant to symbolize how life is consumed, but the students put the bread in the skull’s jaw as a joke,” French said with amusement, subtly shaking her head. “I don’t think a Renaissance painter would have done that.”

A New Home for Art

As most of us know, Colorado Mountain College has a new home in Edwards. It’s large new campus will be it’s primary locale in the valley. The temporary classrooms in West Edwards will be gone, as will be the campus in Cascade Village.

“The new campus is going to expand our art program,” said Division Director Terresa Herbst. “We’ll have new art and ceramic studios. We’re very excited.

“These are great pieces of work, and we’re very glad to be displaying them.”

Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer based in Vail.

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