A showroom filled with art pieces from students
2022 Annual Student Art Exhibition in the Van Every Gallery. Photo Credit Claire Begalla

Isabel Smith ’24 (She/Her), Staff Writer

This year will be the first time the Van Every/Smith Galleries of Davidson’s Visual Arts Center will have a fully in-person reception for our Annual Student Art Exhibition since 2019, pre-pandemic. 

To commemorate, the gallery decided to print posters for the event with the printing press in Dr. Andrew Rippeon’s letterpress lab. Gallery interns Sarah Zhang ’23, Claire Begalla ’24, Molly Smith ’24, and myself worked with Dr. Rippeon, creating the background of the poster by arranging some “cuts” (the blocks with designs on them used in the printing process) that Dr. Rippeon has collected, including animals, plants, and instruments. We did multiple trial runs, and each color of ink required a different round through the press: neon yellow and magenta for the background and black for the text, which spelled out: 

ANNUAL STUDENT ART EXHIBITION 

ON VIEW APRIL 13th – MAY 5th AT THE VAC 

RECEPTION: APRIL 27th, 7 – 8:30 PM 

AWARDS, MUSIC, DINNER 

With three runs through the press, we got acquainted with the methodical feeling of rolling paper through the machinery. The process of creating was almost reverent, and the posters turned out vivid and eye-catching: perfect for our student show. 

A few days after we printed the posters, we finished installing the show. 63 works created by 57 students adorn the Van Every Gallery, from paintings to books to videos to a sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Each art professor got to select about fifteen pieces from any of their Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 classes to put in the show, resulting in a collection of works from a range of class years: eighteen seniors, five juniors, twenty-eight sophomores, and six freshmen. Studio art majors/minors created twenty of the works in the show, and the rest belong to students from a plethora of departments: fifteen works from biology students, six from computer science students, and some from math, philosophy, English, economics, and more. The interdisciplinary nature of the exhibition lends itself to a wide variety of methods and subject matter that blend into a refreshing hodgepodge of colors and ideas. Visitors walk into the gallery with awed expressions and ask me, “Did students really make all of this?” With over sixty works crammed into the space, the exhibition is an almost overwhelming frenzy that you can easily get lost in. However, when you step back, the works form an intricate, lively mosaic: a microcosm of the diversity of student life here on campus. 

One of the pieces in the show is a portrait of students gathered in the atrium of the Visual Arts Center by the Rodin sculpture. This painting by Molly Smith ’24, iconically titled “Roll VAC,” depicts masked figures with arms outstretched, reaching toward one another. Bright, spring colors and strong contrast give the painting a playful and youthful feel, despite COVID masks. To me, “Roll VAC” serves as a shrine to community and to platonic friendship and love between students. They lean on each other. They help each other. The feeling of this work is reflected in student interaction with the exhibition. Students come to show off their work to their friends. They vote for their favorite work for our audience choice award—writing the artist’s name with hearts dotting the i’s, folding up the slip of paper, and kissing it for good luck before placing it into the jar. 

Amelio Aragona ‘25 has two works in the show, including “Intercostal Adornments,” a sculpture made of steel rod, assorted metals in jewelry, beads, wire, and string. The sculpture is of two metal rib cages, each with a spine-esque metal rod welded to a circular base on the ground. The spines are twisting as if in motion, resembling two figures waltzing with one another, eternally dancing. Aragona called it a “vignette of queer intimacy.” Necklaces— gold chains, pearls, and colorful translucent glass beads that shine in the light—decorate the bodies. An abundance of jewelry drapes across the hollow chest cavities and cascades down the outside of the bones. The figures seem to indulge in accessorizing, and Aragona said he wanted to create “an homage to queer fashion and the culture of embellishment/ ornamentation.” He says he “was reminded of metal/piercings lighting up on an x-ray— as bright white as the bones.” The jewelry is hung across the insides of the rib cages, in their chests. It is an innate part of them, something you see in an x-ray. 

This idea of identity extends throughout many of the works in the exhibition, including in “Emotion,” a book by Amelia Shields ’24. The piece unfolds like an accordion to reveal psychedelic-feeling multimedia pages of neon color made using paint, marker, and yarn. Shields stitched the yarn into the paper, fashioning outlines of a crying sun, bubbles, wilting flowers, and a winding path that journeys through the different pages. The pages are loosely tied together with hot pink, purple, and black wire strewn through eyelets. Each piece is distinctively its own but comes together to create a lovely constellation of artworks. The front and back pages of the book reflect these themes of identity, community, and growth back onto the viewer, prompting engagement: “who are you?” and “how do you feel?” they ask. The label says “WRITE IN ME!” and there’s room for people to add in their responses. It becomes an interactive playground, with different handwritings spelling out responses on how they feel, including: “Relieved,” “tired & lonely,” “~like a silly goose~,” “overwhelmed,” “9 weeks pregnant. shhh… don’t tell anyone!,” “At Home,” “feral,” and “getting there.” The work is a scrapbook of anonymous emotions that merges the individual and the collective, just like the show as a whole. The exhibition is a Frankenstein’s monster of Davidson students’ art. It has come to life. 

The Annual Student Art Exhibition will be on view until May 5th, 2022. 

Isabel Smith ’24 (she/her) is a gender and sexuality studies major from St. Augustine, Florida. She can be reached for comment at issmith@davidson.edu.