Faculty Shen Show
Currently occupying the Shen Gallery is the work of several faculty artists at Packer. Their pieces draw on a number of techniques and inspirations, and the final products take a variety of forms. Students should take a look at these pieces whether it be in passing on the way to class, or for a longer stretch of downtime.
Art serves many purposes, one being the personalization of social and political unrest through a creative lens. Arts Faculty member Elizabeth Eagle’s work currently displayed in the Shen Gallery’s faculty show unpacks the myriad of challenges faced by those whose daily lives are affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the powerful medium of photography.
“I was invited to Israel to be part of a visionary team with an organization called Narrative 4, which created the story share,” she said. Story shares are intended to increase empathy and understanding of others. “They invited me to go partly because of my connection to what it means to be a visual literacy educator—that I teach people through visual means to express themselves in a form of visual communications,” continued Ms. Eagle. “They work in storytelling, and they wanted me as someone who knows how to tell stories visually, not just through writing.”
Art is the means through which Ms. Eagle grapples with her own perspective on such a complicated topic.
“There was so much to see and so much to tell, and as someone who’s an artist and a mixed media artist,” she said, “I combined photography and paint to rebuild and retell my experience. For me, it’s a visual diary.”
While Ms. Eagle was in Israel and Palestine, she was able to listen to personal stories from all sides of the conflict, as well as taking photographs every day. She adds that “it was really personal and it affected me deeply. I am Jewish and I had never been to Israel before and I had never imagined getting such a broad perspective.”
Ms. Eagle hopes to communicate that perspective through her work in the Shen. “When I think about the stories I brought back, what was so powerful to me was the people and the emptiness. The mixed media pieces all have a very bleak blue hue in the sky, and that was intentional. I wanted them to have a sense of connectedness, even though they’re all different parts of Israel and Palestine.”
The work of Upper School art teacher Eric Baylin, esteemed art faculty member of 35 years, is aesthetically different from the rest of his colleagues’ exhibits in both medium and composition.
The inspiration behind Mr. Baylin’s minimalist art comes from the organic shapes of the branches on the bushes that grow outside his house. Mr. Baylin begins his process by finding branches from “special bushes” that grow in his backyard. He gathers the branches and connects them simply using string and rocks. From there, he lets intuition take control. “I don’t preconceive what I do,” said Baylin. “I just collect things. I usually start by putting the string onto the wall in some configuration. It may be in a zigzag configuration or it may just be straight, and then I start playing around with the branches and the string.”
One of his pieces, titled Held, appears to be the most simple, and yet, according to Mr. Baylin himself, has the best display of tension in his exhibit. “I like this one because it happened so spontaneously,” he said. “I had no plan for it. Often my best work comes out of an instant and a moment. If I think too hard I kind of kill it and I overwork things. I didn’t plan to put that in the show.”
While art requires genuine effort, Mr. Baylin emphasizes that it is important not to take an exhibition too seriously, and instead appreciate art’s whimsical qualities. “I like the playfulness of the pieces,” remarked Mr. Baylin. “To me, they’re very playful, so if people chuckle or laugh at them that’s fine by me. If people are puzzled by them, that’s also fine by me. There’s no literal or social meaning behind it other than I do like finding a point of balance.”
There seems to be no limit to Upper School Arts Teacher Mr. Michael Miller’s artistic capabilities. The Packer community knows Mr. Miller as being the teacher of the Digital Video course, co-teacher of Journalism with Ms. Larissa Dzegar, and a brilliant photographer, but the faculty exhibition in the Shen has reminded the Packer community of yet another facet of his abounding artistic talent.
Upon entering the Shen from the Atrium overlook, one is greeted by Mr. Miller’s five playfully psychedelic and seemingly three-dimensional paintings. These pieces do what exceptional art of this genre should: leave the beholder with a basic sense of understanding, a new perspective, and room for imagination and questions.
No amount of time spent with these works is truly enough to unveil every detail, choice, and stroke Mr. Miller has incorporated. There will always be a new shape to discover, another take on the storyline, and a fresh insight on the organized chaos displayed.
The first piece of Mr. Miller’s, which is untitled, is unlike anything that has even been showcased at Packer. With black and white vines stretching away from the canvas and onto the surrounding white walls, the art seems to be physically growing into the Shen. This invocation of movement and nature is juxtaposed by the robust and mechanical color choices. Metallic gold, vibrant blue, and stoic black add another layer of depth and meaning to the piece.
Miller commented on his work: “A lot of people say they like it, but they’re not really sure what it is they like about it. There is a vibe that I think it creates which draws people in.”
In considering the thought and detail that went into this work, it will come as no surprise that Mr. Miller’s choice not to title the piece was a conscious one.
“It was kind of still untitled in my mind and that’s similar to the way I work on things. I kind of paint to find out what I’m thinking about,” he said.
All of Mr. Miller’s other pieces demonstrate the same level of care, quality, and thought, and the exhibition as a whole reflects the immense talent Mr. Miller continuously shares with the Packer community.
Photography Teacher Liz Titone’s undeniable aptitude for groundbreaking photography is also currently being showcased in the Shen Gallery. Her collection of beautiful and reflective images of her family and her travels abroad evoke a feeling of sentimentality, seamlessly blending together the nuances of vintage and modern photography.
Ms. Titone has been an art teacher at Packer for 10 years and currently teaches first through fourth grade. She also chaperones the annual Digital Storytelling trip to Cambodia with her long-time colleague, Ms. Eagle.
Ms. Titone’s photos on the walls of the Shen are all part of her collection entitled The Surrender Series and feature moments from her numerous travels to the Berkshires, Puerto Rico, upstate New York, and Cambodia.
“I have the great privilege of being someone who can be on the move and enjoy the world,” said Ms. Titone.
The level of understanding she has of the subjects of her works is quite evident from the overall quality and care with which each photo was taken. For example, the wistful overlap of the images may look at first glance to be digitally manipulated, but is actually the product of multiple exposures on the same film camera. This effect, which is difficult to achieve, gives the photos a soft and contemplative feel.
Ms. Titone has utilized this rare method of film photography to capture places she feels a connection to, such as her city of residence or a foreign country she has grown to love.
In addition to the print-out photos on the walls, Ms. Titone is displaying a three-dimensional piece called “The Book of Departures.” This multi-media work is designed to resemble the unbound pages of a book and was created to help Ms. Titone reflect upon her time as a mother now that both of her sons have left home. As such, the idea of “moving in and out of spaces” was an important aspect of this piece.
Discussing the intention behind the piece, Ms. Titone said, “I’ve spent nearly half my life in the role in which I raised two sons…and I am now thinking wow, I’m a different person. It’s a departure from one place and a connection to someplace else, and for me that is very much about moving in and out of spaces that I love to be in with the people I love to be around.”
Ms. Titone’s collection is much more than just visually appealing. The intimate details she has chosen to share with the Packer community are truly remarkable. Every young artist at Packer should take note of her profound ability to reflect on her experiences through the art form that she loves.