Twelve alumnae artists share their work — and the moments they feel their power.
Story by Marcella Hackbardt, professor of art
Earlier this year, when Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger and I began collaborating on a book featuring the work of women artists who have attended Kenyon — a book that would be a part of the celebration and commemoration of the 50th anniversary of women being admitted to Kenyon — we set out to find as many accomplished alumnae artists, art historians and writers engaged in the art world as we could. The process took many hours and has been enlightening and rewarding.
Reaching out and reconnecting with alumnae that we worked with closely, and rekindling our excitement for talking about art and their work, has meant so much to us. And it has been an absolute pleasure to hear from and work with alumnae who graduated before my arrival on campus 18 years ago.
The final product of this research, along with the personal work with each artist and writer throughout the book creation process, explores the meaningful and critical history of women and creativity at Kenyon through the lens of alumnae and their professional artistic production. Professor of Art Ellen Sheffield and Professor of Studio Art Emily Zeller were critical members of the book design and development team as well.
In advance of the book’s publication (it will be available for purchase during the Celebration Weekend, Sept. 13-15, at a reception in Horvitz Hall), I’m excited to share this sneak preview with Bulletin readers. I’ve selected a cross-section of work from 12 alumnae artists, whose graduation years span the five decades since women were first admitted to Kenyon, and who work in a variety of visual arts mediums. Finally, drawing inspiration from Allison Janney’s quote — “The fear didn’t subside until I set foot on stage with the audience, which made me feel my power” — we asked each contributor to describe when and where they feel their own power, in art and life.
I hope the images on the following pages inspire and empower you, as well.
Minneapolis | halliebahn.com
"The Seven Days After Niddah," 2018, Medium density fiberboard, balsa wood, fabric, paper, aluminum, LED lights, 28” H x 87” W x 85” D
Hallie Bahn '14 is an animator and interdisciplinary artist based in Minneapolis. Bahn recently completed her MFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she was awarded the 2019 Van Derlip Award for Master of Fine Arts. Bahn’s work has been exhibited and screened nationally and internationally, including at Marinaro Gallery in New York, the 2019 Feminist Border Arts Film Festival in New Mexico, and the 2018 Chaniartoon Festival in Greece.
“As a technical, detail-oriented artist, experimentation forces me to give up some of my control over the outcome of my work, take chances and break formulaic cycles of thinking. It builds this fantastic and terrifying tension that completely changes my relationship to my own practice and actually makes me feel somewhat powerless to my own art. When a piece reaches a point of being larger and more powerful than me, that is the moment I feel my power as a maker.”
London | yidaistudio.com
"Misfits, Offcuts, and Castaways," 2016, Video installation
Yi Dai ’10 was born in Changsha, China. She was included in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries and exhibited her works at the ICA and Liverpool World Museum. She had her first solo exhibition in Berlin in 2016 and teaches art (GCSE and A-level) at the Henrietta Barnett School in north London.
“The first few years after graduating from Kenyon were hard. I felt like I was floating in the world, working on random jobs and not knowing what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, or what I actually could do. I was not given a recipe for how to be an artist. … I felt absolutely powerless for a long time, and there was nothing romantic about that state of being. However, by choosing responsibility over cynicism, in both life and art, I felt my power — the power to improvise with chances, as opposed to passively let chances take full control.”
Oakland | alexisarnold.com
"The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass," (crystallized book series), 2016, book, borax, 11" x 10.5" x 9"
Alexis Arnold '05 explores the perception and experience of light and color, the visual effects of time, various geologic processes and the potential of material. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally, including the Aspen Art Museum, Napa Valley Museum, Whatcom Museum, Atlanta Airport, Bergdorf Goodman, di Rosa, The New York Hall of Science and the San Francisco Arts Commission.
“(I feel my power) when I feel successful in my studio, when I see people engaging with and enjoying my art; in nature, when I make others laugh and smile; and with my friends and family (dog included).”
San Francisco | katenicholsstudio.com
"Figment 1," 2015, Silver nanoparticles on glass, 19" x 22"
Kate Nichols ’04 synthesizes nanoparticles to mimic structurally colored animals, grows artificial skin from microorganisms and makes her own paints, following 15th-century recipes. Her artwork has been featured on the cover of the journal Nature, on the TED stage, in the Stavanger Kunstmuseum in Norway and in the Leonardo Museum’s permanent collection. Most recently, she collaborated with the Martin Lab at George Washington University to learn to use CRISPR Cas9 gene-editing technology to “paint” new spots on butterflies’ wings.
“I feel my power when people spend a few minutes looking at one of my paintings. I’ve found that what interests me most is creating work that must be experienced in person. Such work provides a counterpoint to this cultural moment in which we’re constantly experiencing a deluge of images that, generally, don’t ask much of us. … Against this backdrop, spending minutes looking at a painting is a powerful act of resistance.”
Brooklyn, New York | eleanna.com
"Eos," 2018, Toilet paper, joint compound, glue, hydrocal, flour, resin, fiberglass, urethane, pure pigment and acrylic paint, 58" x 38" x 7
Eleanna Anagnos '02 makes work that sits on the cusp between painting and sculpture. It explores the nature of human perception and aims to elicit a physiological response where subjectivity, phenomenology and the conscious act of seeing are addressed. Since 2014, Anagnos has served as a co-director at Ortega y Gasset Projects, an artist-run gallery and curatorial collective in Brooklyn, New York.
“I feel my power when I feel seen and connected to others and can appreciate all that I have been given. I feel my power when I mentor, collaborate and support others. I feel my power when I quiet my mind and make my work.”
Brooklyn, New York and Mexico City | marelazacarias.com
Left: “Crescent,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster, wire mesh, wood, 72” x 44.5” x 20”
Center: “Industry’s Cocoon,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster, wire mesh, Detroit tire, 37.5” x 39” x 30”
Right: “The Guardian,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster, wire mesh, 47” x 40.5” x 15”
Working with a labor-intensive process that merges sculpture with painting, Marela Zacarias ’00 fabricates forms out of wire screening attached to wooden supports or found objects, to which she applies layers of plaster to create undulating sculptures with the quality of fabric, painted in abstract geometric patterns inspired by her researched interest in site specificity, socially committed history and current events. Her murals can be found in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Mexico and Guatemala.
“I feel my power when I am creating the shapes of my sculptures, and later, painting onto them. My body acts instinctively, knowing and reacting at every move. … When I am painting, I feel grounded and connected to the universe. I understand my visual language as a foreign tongue in which I’ve become fluent. I know what needs to be edited to make it just right, as if I were weaving together a puzzle that existed before me, but that needed an interpreter to identify it and bring it to life.”
Felton, California | mitrafabian.net
"Cushion," 2017, Ceramic and resistors, 5" x 15"
Mitra Fabian ’96 was born in Iran and raised in Boston. She had a solo show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in 2007, and her work has been featured in shows at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the Laguna Art Museum and the Arts with Minnesota Street Projects in San Francisco. She is a professor at West Valley College, where she teaches sculpture and ceramics.
“I feel my power when I have breakthroughs in the studio. A lot of my work (and any artist's work) comes from experimentation. And because I work with a lot of ‘non-traditional’ materials, there is a lot of experimentation, failure and then, occasionally, success. I also feel my power when I teach — when I witness breakthroughs with my students.”
Untitled from the series "BROKEN," 2009-2013, Pigment prints, 40" x 50"
Alexandra Rowley ’94 is an award-winning photographer and artist whose work has been exhibited internationally, including solo shows at Dina Mitrani Gallery in Miami, Galerie Speos in Paris and Geukens and de Vil in Belgium, as well as group exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. She is represented by the Dina Mitrani Gallery in Miami.
“As a woman I feel my power in so many contexts. Not only when I’m shooting images and creating work, but also when I share my work with others — be it in exhibition form or in print in a magazine, or when a piece I’ve worked on is in a public space, such as the jumbotron in Times Square (where one of my videos was screened last year). I appreciate seeing how the work is received and, in that regard, it takes on a life of its own well beyond me, and it acquires layers of meaning for other people. It’s when I feel most connected, both to my own creativity, as well as to others.”
Providence Forge, Virginia | alyssasalomon.com
"EK0002373 2016-02-05 JRP," 2016, Van Dyke photo emulsion on Kozo-abaca paper, waxed
17” x 22”
Alyssa Salomon ’82 describes her studio practice “like bird watching — guided by skill, graced by chance. Searching for the picture from the mind’s eye that is realer than real, found in the process of producing each print.” Salomon’s artwork has been recognized with awards, including two VMFA Professional Fellowships, New Waves Best in Show prize, and Theresa Pollak Award for Excellence in the Arts. Salomon teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and and is represented by Candela Gallery and Penland Gallery.
“Withdrawing from the world of finance, I have become less and less attuned to building power and increasingly concerned with opening to beauty, particularly the sublime beauty of our natural world. Powers of observation are what I work to unleash for others and tap for myself.”
Dallas, Texas | carolmitchellfineart.com
"Dinner Party," 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 30”
After earning a degree in studio art from Kenyon, Carol B. Mitchell ’77 completed a Master in Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Then, after a short hiatus, she resumed her art studies and began painting with a strong interest in plein air. Mitchell worked as an art educator from 1997-2011. When she moved to Texas in 2011, she committed herself to painting full time. She is a member of Oil Painters of America and Southwestern Watercolor Society.
“My power in life emerges when I capture the beauty of a quick moving shadow in a landscape or the sunlit reflection on water or fast moving clouds in the sky while painting ‘en plein air.’ … Recording on my canvas the light and shadows that I see in nature continues to develop my knowledge of color and abstraction. Anni Albers said it best: ‘Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness.’”
New York City | kathyhalbower.com
"Painting of a Painting," 2017, Oil on mylar, 8 ’x 8’
Kathy Halbower ’74 has exhibited her work extensively in New York City at numerous galleries, including the Gracie Mansion Gallery and Barbara Toll Fine Arts. She has also shown nationally and internationally, at the Patricia Faure Gallery in Santa Monica, the Samuel Freeman Gallery and the Contemporary Art Institute, in Los Angeles, and in New York Now at Gallery K in Tokyo, Japan.
“I get lots of ideas about the way things should look or be all the time. The only ideas I really enjoy following through with have to do with painting and drawing. Holding scissors, brush, palette knife, pen or pencil between my fingers, mixing the right color and making the right mark in the right spot are all mouthwateringly satisfying to me. I feel unstoppable and as if I’m in the right place at the right time, where five hours can feel like five minutes.”
Baltimore | miahalton.com
"Silenced Women 1," 2018, Lowfire red clay with Majolica, 12” x 6” x 3"
Mia Halton ’73 has shown at the Orange County Museum of Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Clayworks in Baltimore; OK Harris Works of Art, in New York; Gallery K, in Washington, D.C.; Malton Gallery, in Cleveland; and Gomez Gallery, in Baltimore. Halton’s work is in the collections of the U.S. State Department and Kenyon College, as well as numerous private collections. She was recently awarded the A.I.R. Vallauris in France, a solo exhibition at Stevenson University.
“I feel my power when I make a connection. It could be with a person or an idea.”