Ramapo’s first art gallery of the year highlights professors’ vibrant minds

Photo courtesy of Tori D'Amico.

This year's first gallery opening in the Berrie Center is the Visual Arts Faculty Exhibition, available through Nov. 19 in the Kresge and Pascal Galleries. The 13 professors featured work in all ranges of visual arts, including sculpture, ceramics and animation. 

When entering the gallery, two standing sculptures are hard not to be drawn to, as they stretch from floor to ceiling. Made by professor Warner Wada, “Photo Strip Tripod” and “11.19-10.21 Overgrown Tripod” are made from materials Wada had on-hand during quarantine.

“While I restarted my photography projects after being fully vaccinated earlier this year,” the project description states, “the ‘lockdown’ artworks I began during those scary days have motivated me to continue making this work.”

Another sculpture stands between the two tripods, a twisted column (Untitled) by professor Lori Merhige. It is a mixed media project which came from “a desire to achieve something I wasn’t physically able to build by hand,” according to the project description.

Many of the works featured were beautifully personal, like the set of photographs by professor Lauren Fedorchak. One photo, “How I Feel About My Mother,” depicts a woman in undergarments laying atop an older woman, looking directly at the camera. It took my breath away. 

The photo is a part of a series titled “Toast The Bread Twice,” which explores generational trauma, according to Fedorchak. This series was one of the many meaningful photography projects in the gallery, each deserving their own moment of pause.

Professor Jackie Skrynski, associate professor of art for drawing and painting, had works featured in a variety of mediums. A series of oil paintings depict saturated and detailed plants, both native and invasive from a residency in Black Rock Forest.

“Throughout my career, my work has described connections between humans and the natural world. I have often done this with unsettling subjects,” Skrynski said. “While the most recent oil paintings may still have a bit of an edge to them, they also intend to describe beauty in a way I have not tried before.”

Skrynski says her art often confronts her own mortality. “When painting the faded iris, I wanted to suggest its grace in death, how something as common as a fading flower can contain time, beauty, nature, aging and death, and in this way offer a salve in confronting our own mortality,” she said. “Sounds totally cornball, but I think that is about the best I can hope to do as an artist.”

Beside her naturistic paintings, Skrynski also featured work in charcoal and pencil. Her two-piece work “Stretch” combines anatomy and botany in one.

“I was referencing skin folds around smiling eyes and tree bark. I created two drawings that are almost symmetrical to each other, which was tricky and a lot of fun,” she said. “I see all sorts of suggested anatomy when I look at this drawing, such as a stretching torso duet which inspired the name.”

On its opening night, both students and staff visited the gallery. They could be seen energetically speaking with the artists about the meaning and processes of their work. Skrynski says the gallery opening felt very safe, with everyone vaccinated and masked.

“It was wonderful to see people in the Berrie Center again! I appreciated the students and alumni who made a special effort to attend the opening,” Skrynski said. “The Acting Provost and President also attended! It felt like an important step toward more normal events on campus.”

Other featured works, like professor Ann LePore’s audio loop, were interactive for the viewer — or in this case, the listener. Only on a bench surrounded by black curtains can the viewer hear the story “Followed, Escaped.” The way LePore acquires stories is as intimate as the experience of hearing them.

“I cook food for each person who is recorded telling a story,” the project description states. “I am invested as a listener and a caretaker and both parties share vulnerability, leading to a more trusting exchange.”

The work of our visual arts professors is something to revel in; how lucky Ramapo is to learn from such talented and dedicated artists. I implore every community member with a free moment to go, to spend time in the galleries to appreciate the variety of work exhibited, as well as the countless hours of creation which each work represents.