For the next month, the main gallery on campus will be showcasing senior exhibitions. In order to graduate, senior art students are required to have their own exhibition. The process requires a commitment of each artist’s time and energy to ensure a successful show. In this article, art student Alex Jarman follows Erica Cooper, one of the seniors preparing for the show, as she prepares for the exhibition.
When I entered Cooper’s living room, which is also her studio, I took a minute to survey the numerous drawings scattered across the floor. Her senior exhibition was seven days away and she was still finishing the drawings that would make up her show. I settled in to the lone piece of furniture not covered by art supplies and noticed a checklist on the back of her front door containing the tasks yet to be completed for her show, Projectile Love. Next to the list, on the wall, were a half dozen charcoal figure drawings that she thought she might use – or might not. She was neither happy with nor finished with any of them. With one week to go, Cooper admitted that she was already stressed about whether she will finish or not.
This exhibition is an important milestone for Cooper. Not only will it affect her ability to graduate this winter, but it will provide her a chance to prove to any of her doubters that she is a capable, skilled artist. As a single mother of a two year old, Cooper has had members of her family tell her that she should not or could not finish her five-year degree on time. She also feels that she has not been able to spend as much time in the art department working on improving her skills as her peers because she has to divide up her time between being a student and being a mother.
When I asked how she feels about the upcoming exhibition she responded optimistically, “I feel like this final show at NKU is not an ending,” Cooper explained to me. “This is the start of a new phase in my artistic career. These works will show my proficiency at drawing. I feel like I have learned all I can at school, and now I’m ready to work on my art on my own, try new techniques and get my work out there.” Before she does anything, though, she has to finish her work on this exhibit.
Five days before the show, I saw Cooper again. The studio was visibly messier that my last visit. Cooper was sitting in the middle of a pile of drawings, pencil shavings, reference photos, erasers and scrap pieces of paper while she worked on one of her charcoal figure drawings. Her anxiety level had increased with her productivity. To add to matters, her son was sick and she was still facing with a long list of tasks to complete. Most of the pieces were almost finished but she told me they all needed finishing touches.
I asked her about the subject matter of her drawings (nude portraits of mostly women, some of whom are pregnant). Cooper responded, “I know that some people will find the work to be controversial, but I thought it would be important to make a body of work that talks about isolated women. In this series, I am taking my personal situation of being a single mother and visually representing what some of the consequences of lust and passion can be. Some of the drawings are meant to be empowering and some just illustrate how fleeting love is.”
I left Cooper’s studio, returning in a couple of days to find her in much the same position. She was still concerning herself over the details of most of her pieces. While many of the other senior art students were hanging their shows in the gallery, Cooper was framing, matting and in some cases, finishing her drawings. As the two of us looked at everything she had completed so far, she realized there could be something missing. With 72 hours until her show opened, Cooper decided to start a new piece. At this point, I was convinced she is either really confident or absolutely crazy.
The night before the opening, Cooper recruited me along with some other art department students, to assist her in hanging her show. Strictly because of time, some pieces that Cooper had hoped to exhibit were not completed and would not be shown. Even though her finished drawings were already matted and framed, they had to be hung on the wall to Erica’s specifications. She also had some alternative materials to display, such as a large bed sheet that contains one of her figure drawings. Erica’s energy in the gallery was high as we began our work, but as the hours dragged on the enthusiasm turned to stress and anxiety. With 15 hours until the opening, Erica is still working on her final piece, a drawing done directly on the wall. Exhausted, I left Cooper in the early hours of the morning, with some final touches to be made.
At 5 p.m. Nov. 10, the NKU senior shows opened with hundreds of people passing through the gallery before the night was over. Not only was Cooper’s show finished, but it received favorable criticism from her professors in attendance. Though she had circles under her eyes, Cooper wore a big smile and was happy to have her show finished and for her peers and family to be able to see her talent and ability. This was a moment for Cooper to enjoy. Erica told me that she finally felt that she had proved to others and to herself that she was a talented and productive artist. Be sure to visit the senior shows and take a minute to think about how much work went in to each student’s exhibition.