Webster’s Art Department is no joke. Though the students themselves have a sense of humor, pitching exhibition titles like Urethra Franklin, they aren’t playing around when it comes to their crafts or futures. In the studio from dawn to dusk daily, these young artists are exploring different mediums and pioneering new ideas about art.
written by Audrey Hasse
When one thinks of art, paintbrushes and pencils are often the first images that come to mind, but Webster artists prove that it’s much more than that.
The sound of Ray Charles’ gritty, soulful background singers on “Night Time is the Right Time” fills the sculpture room in Webster University’s Visual Arts Studio. “Night and day,” the lyrics the Raelettes repeat over and over in the song, are fitting. Most of the people in the room have been working both night and day.
The song bleeds from 1970s-era speakers atop shelves holding artwork. Miniature sculptures of fast food, an ultra-realistic plaster cast of a face and hands, and someone’s 7-11 cup sit on the green, dust-covered shelves. It’s no surprise, the art department can get dirty.
“Why would I even paint my nails?” Saylor Surkamp said.
A senior at Webster, Surkamp is the only alternative media major in the department. Her work is in multiple mediums, such as her most recent piece, an installation using both visuals and sound.
“I needed to express myself through sound and visual art. I didn’t feel like visual art was communicating everything I needed to communicate,” Surkamp said.
The piece is a wooden box facing the wall with a television inside of it. With the lights out, the light from the television fills the room, flickering and flashing.
“The light looks like the sound of the television. I call it aural noise. I’m drawing attention away from the device, focusing on the light alone,” Surkamp said.
She said John Cage, an experimental composer, is just one of her influences. Cage is best known for his composition 4’33”, a completely silent piece meant to focus solely on environmental sounds and support his theory that there is no such thing as silence.
In addition to Cage, Surkamp mentioned Julian Scaff, one of her professors, as an influence.
“He’s an alternative media guru,” Surkamp said.
Scaff has worked with the likes of critically acclaimed experimental artist Vito Acconci. She credits Scaff for the direction her art has taken.
Surkamp said her work blurs the lines between art and technology, centering on how immersed we are as a culture in electronic devices.
“I treat my computer and my phone like my baby. I’m so dependent on technology and we’re all so dependent on it. We’re using these devices as another part of our brains,” Surkamp said.
Surkamp said her work focuses on how that relationship plays into our aesthetic experience of the world.
Before long, Surkamp is talking about orgasms. Specifically, the way media has portrayed the sound of one.
“Media and technology are changing the way our identities are being shaped,” Surkamp said.
She has a piece that focuses on this idea. It’s a plaster sculpture of a woman’s body with flashing images of mouths projected on it, paired with the sound of a “Hollywood orgasm.”
“Because the mouths are flashing so many times, it creates aural noise. It gives you that look of sound again. That’s what I love about light,” Surkamp said.
While Surkamp is blending art and technology, fellow art department classmate Lauren Marx is merging art with anatomy. Her desk in the art studio has a collection of small skulls, antlers and butterfly wings in a jar. Marx is a senior who ended up at Webster four years ago after losing a bet with her high school art teacher.
“He bet me that if I could get a five rating on the AP art test two years in a row, I had to go to art school,” Marx said.
She went into art school without a concrete plan, but her artwork has developed a considerable fan base. With several pieces sold and over 4,000 likes on her Facebook page, Marx is working toward a future as a freelance artist. Her work combines detailed anatomical drawings with wildlife.
Her attraction to wildlife, however, does not come from first-hand experience. Marx has never even been camping. She became interested in these types of drawings after being introduced to John Audubon’s wildlife art. She credits an advanced drawing class at Webster for supporting the natural evolution of her inspiration. The class had no real assignments other than to produce artwork.
“It helped me develop my tastes by letting me do what I want,” Marx said.
Her newest piece, one she’s been working on since June 2013, is pinned up on the wall in the drawing studio.
“It’s actually drawn with gel pens. I don’t use any archival materials. My teachers hate me for it,” Marx said.
When finished, it will be eight feet long. Marx calls her art “atrophy,” which is defined as the wasting away of the body or organs. Many of her pieces have a cyclical motion, which is something that ties back to one of her inspirations— Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything. This theory suggests that everything plays a role in the creation of everything else.
Webster’s Art Department fosters that kind of creativity and has been the birthplace of many projects. Most recently, graphic design collective The Rabid Arts. Seniors Greg Davis, Hannah Detring and Tyler Harris transferred into Webster’s art program from separate St. Louis Community College campuses.
The Rabid Arts
“Each one of us was an outcast in our own way,” Davis said.
The three connected in class and started collaborating, first by passing sketchbooks back and forth. With the birth of The Rabid Arts came a list of rules. Harris notes their most important rule, “You don’t paint over somebody else’s stuff unless you know what you’re painting is better.” Their work is a fusion of mixed media, typography and illustration.
“Everything we use is found or given to us,” Detring said. “Our whole idea is to get out from behind the computer screen and go back to what we traditionally learned with art.”
A unique aspect of The Rabid Arts’ work is that it’s done live. At their shows, the three artists begin mural-sized paintings with no set plan. The creative process is seen by audiences from start to finish. They described it as “the dirtiness that design once was.”
Their collective’s name is meant to reflect that chaotic process. After brainstorming several names, the group landed on The Rabid Arts because they felt their art connected to a special type of craziness that only comes from rabid animals. Davis, Detring and Harris plan to continue to work together after graduation. So far, the three haven’t been paid in anything but beer, but hope to book more live shows.
“Anytime I’m at a bar I leave a napkin with our name and website and I’m hoping one day one of those bartenders will call,” Detring said.
In addition to working together, they each continue with their own personal projects as well. Davis playfully compared them to hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
“Together we’re the clan, but separately we can be ODB, Method Man and RZA,” Davis said.
Surkamp, Marx and the members of The Rabid Arts will all have pieces in the BFA Exhibit May 2, 2014.