A photographer snapping a photo, an onlooker pointing to something of interest, passersby jostling through the crowd — the 3D wooden cutout illustrations by Denise Stewart-Sanabria stood Friday amid the Arts Center’s visitors.
These freestanding cutouts are drawings of people Stewart-Sanabria saw at other galleries and exhibits, who she then drew onto wood and cut out life sized. She works on these drawings based on photos she stealthily takes of people she sees at receptions, such as Friday evening’s reception for the “A Drawn Conclusion” exhibit.
“Nature photographers never ask the birds for permission, they just sneak up on them and take the picture,” she said with a laugh.
Stewart-Sanabria and Andrea Garland, both featured artists in the illustration-based exhibit, were at the Arts Center on Friday to talk about their work and field questions from visitors. A full-time studio artist now, Stewart-Sanabria said her works now mostly consist of those freestanding cutout illustrations of people and modern takes on medieval altars.
With Lander University art students in the audience during the artist talk, Stewart-Sanabria offered some advice. She said an art program can often be a difficult degree to pursue, because it’s about teaching students to access their own minds and create an individual style, developing original imagery in their work. For many students, their last solo exhibit will be their thesis project — but not because artists struggle to get off the ground, instead because there are so many paths forward for them.
“There’s no rule book, no guidelines,” she said. “There’s so many different, divergent paths you can take.”
She said art students can go on to work with nonprofits such as the Arts Center, have a career working with local galleries, work in product design, architecture or any number of fields that require a creative eye.
In her own work, she said she’s inspired by taking a variety of materials and reimagining their use in new contexts. Her altars, inspired by medieval art, elevate images of things she sees as idols of current culture.
“What are our obsessions in culture right now,” she said. “If I was a renaissance artist working for the Catholic church and I walked into Michaels, what would I want to buy?”
Garland’s work is inspired by her family’s history. She’s exploring the meanings and purpose of items inherited from her grandparents by doing charcoal rubbings of them, then washing and reapplying to create ghostly, distorted images that maintain some semblance of the original items in them. The pieces on display at the Arts Center, she said, are an homage to the domesticity and tradition of past generations’ ways of life.
The exhibit also features works from Tamie Beldue and Denise Wellbrock. Gallery Director Jennifer Smith said the “A Drawn Conclusion” exhibit was inspired by a desire to have some contrast from the “Liminal Spaces” exhibit, which featured bright colors. Focusing on illustrations shows the breadth of work that can be achieved with graphite and charcoals, she said.
“I wanted to focus on drawn media because we like to break things up,” she said.
The reception also highlighted an exhibit that stemmed from a partnership with the staff of the Ninety Six National Historic Site. “Art in the Park” is a series of plein air paintings from area artists who painted the natural beauty of Ninety Six’s national park. The Arts Center’s staff helped pool together the artists, Smith said, while park staff bought the easels and supplies.