UA students showcase their art in new exhibit

Sydney Ewerth is an artist, but she doesn't like to call herself that. 

“I still don’t like to [refer to myself as an artist],” said Ewerth, a graduate student pursuing her masters in fine arts in ceramics. “It just feels strange. It kind of feels like a musician calling himself a rock star, but there’s no other way. I guess I could call myself a researcher.”

Call her what you will, Ewerth is one of two artists being featured in a dual exhibition at the Stella-Granata Art Gallery, taking place Feb. 1-12. The other artist featured is Jiaqui Pan, a senior majoring in photography and art history.

 In her small art studio, Ewerth is clad in a beanie and sits surrounded by objects, everything ranging from yarn to clay to spray paint, each faintly covered with ceramics dust.

“Everyone holds onto stuff, and I do that in my studio too,” Ewerth said. “I don’t know if I can say this is why I do this, but I can say that I’m just not ready to figure out what they’re supposed to be yet. But eventually I’m like, ‘This is what I do with this, cool!’”

While Ewerth is using materials like these to showcase a series of vibrant sculptures in her exhibition, “It’s There, I Swear,” her roots in art began with creating more functional items like cups and bowls.

“I’ve always sort of romanticized that aspect, something about finding your favorite mug and using it every morning,” Ewerth said. “There’s something about these objects we don’t think about, that we take for granted, becoming a part of our ritual, unknowingly.”

Ewerth’s functional background has primed her for creating more abstract art, like the sculptures being featured in this show.

“It has evolved into making much more abstract work,” Ewerth said. “It’s been very freeing and nice.”

Craft materials like clay, glitter spray paint and yarn have served as a backdrop to Ewerth’s colorful creations.

“I think a lot of my work is brightly colored and humorous to mask obsessive behaviors in my process, or coy, bashful and awkward tendencies,” Ewerth said. “Even though these things are like neon yellow, making them comes from a quiet, meditative process.”

Like other artists, Ewerth grapples with how to define her art.

“In art there is a lot of pressure, like ‘What does it all mean?’” Ewerth said. “I think that is an important question, and I think that for a long time in my personal experience with art I was afraid to play. Now, this program has been fun and freeing to know that play can be serious. Play can be research.”

Ewerth often uses a trial-and-error process when creating art, giving herself the opportunity to find out the purpose of a particular piece.

“Sometimes I have an endgame in my head, and sometimes I can execute it,” Ewerth said. “But it feels like whenever you’re working on something, there’s a point when you have to realize this is where the art is. Mistakes are hard, but those lessons stick with you the most. They do with me anyway.”

While a piece may not always turn out like planned, Ewerth is still able to find the positive side.

“Sometimes a piece doesn’t end up how I imagined in the end, but sometimes that’s better,” Ewerth said. “We are sort of pushed to ask ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

For China native Pan, art takes a different form than that of Ewerth’s. Her photography exhibition, “Drive Thru,” features the female employees of Alabama drive thru restaurants, each framed by their respective window.

“We don’t have drive thru windows in our country,” Pan said. “It’s a new thing, and I’m really curious about that and how it works. And it’s really interesting to relate the American working class to gender and race.”

Pan sometimes receives interesting reactions when asking employees to be photographed.

“Sometimes the reaction is really interesting,” Pan said. “They’re like, ‘What, me? You’re really sure?’ But they’re so nice and allow me to take photos of them. There is a kind of a trust, even though I am a stranger.”

While each artist brings something different to the exhibition, each takes something from everyday life and gives it new meaning. For Ewerth, this exhibition is just the beginning of a profession, one where it is fitting that she calls herself an artist. 

“Whenever you’re in here, making and working, you identify like, ‘I am an artist,’ which is still a strange thing to call myself,” Ewerth said. “I think all this profession is, is seeing the world in a different way and looking at things differently.”

The Stella-Granata Art Gallery is located in Woods Hall, and admission is free. The exhibit will run from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12, during gallery hours of Monday through Friday from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.  

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