A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity
Popopstudios Junior Resident Artists Reflect on Their Summer
Not many emerging artists at The College of The Bahamas get a chance to spend their summers just focusing on developing their work in a dynamic community of practicing contemporary artists, but this past summer at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts four student artists flourished.
Veronica Dorsett, Yutavia George and Steven Schmid were the 2012 recipients of the Popop Junior Residency Prizes sponsored by Popopstudios ICVA and The D’Aguilar Art Foundation. Meanwhile, Christina Darville was selected for the 2012 Antonius Roberts Award.
Now in its third year, the awards not only recognize the great potential displayed by the four emerging artists in their work, but also gives the students a space at Popopstudios ICVA for the summer months to strengthen their artistic practice.
In addition to developing their practice, the residents are exposed to the larger Popopstudios community of practicing artists, workshops and other projects in the space to fully immerse themselves in Bahamian contemporary art.
Add to that a trip to Schooner Bay, Abaco where they worked on an installation with Antonius Roberts and a 10-day excursion of museums and creative spaces in New York City – which gave the residents fresh perspectives on their artistic practices – and the program becomes a turning point in their artistic careers.
Now coming to a close, the four junior residents take a look back at how they have grown during the once- in-a-lifetime opportunity and prepare for an upcoming feature at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas early next year.
With a very process-oriented approach to her own work, Veronica Dorsett aimed to think through her ideas fully before committing them to paper.
Her work over the summer centered on the repetition of a single object: a casket – the remnants of a traumatic loss earlier in her life. It began as a jarring body-sized representation, but has diminished in scale through the summer as she worked through its significance.
“I wanted to use this experience as a self-healing process and that’s why I think I had trouble producing work sometimes,” she says. “Because it’s not just about me making work; it’s about making it through this and a battle of representing it properly. It was a personal battle.”
Through the trips to Schooner Bay – where process made up most of the final simple installation piece there – and New York City – where she discovered the value of streamlining process – Dorsett came to terms with her artistic practice.
“When we see artists doing work that show us the simplicity of process, it allows us to step back fifteen steps and ask if all of the steps are necessary,” she says. “There was a sense of freedom and possibility in that, and of pushing the envelope and it helped me to stop limiting my mind.”
Through this as well as through feedback and encouragement from a community of artists in these spaces and especially at Popopstudios, Dorsett feels ready to push through her last classes this semester at The College of The Bahamas for her associate’s degree in art and to plan for study abroad in 2013.
“I’ve been able to work out my process better and I’ve grown more as an artist, especially to have more confidence in my ideas and decision-making,” she says.
“I was hesitant at first. But now starting this school semester I have a lot for confidence and I’m able to stand by my work and commit to it and be responsible for it. So I’ve grown a lot personally.”
Steven Schmid came into the residency thinking and working big – yet over the summer, he’s developed an appreciation for scaling back.
Though he has continued to explore in his work the balance between beauty and grotesque through intricate mixed-media pieces, he challenged himself to make smaller pieces for a variety of exhibitions and projects over the summer – especially as the two trips abroad refocused his process.
“A lot of us came into the residency with ideas of what we wanted to accomplish but our time in Schooner Bay and New York made us rethink that,” he says.
“Schooner showed us that the idea is just as important as the finished piece – the idea of thinking more before you do work. Schooner Bay was mostly talking and collaborating, and the conversation became 90 percent of the work.”
Indeed, the value of slowing down and editing the artistic process became even more apparent for Schmid in New York City, where he was blown away by the quality of finished work in the museums they visited including the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Guggenheim and Dia Beacon.
“New York showed me how to be confident in my materials and decision-making,” he says. “As young artists I think we try everything and work on and abandon different projects instead of really immersing ourselves in one thing completely to problem-solve it.”
“So that realization helped me commit to my practice and not let anything go and completely explore it,” he continues. “New York also showed us the idea of clarity – that we have to make 100 pieces and present only one to choose what works in your practice and space and context for a clean show.”
Only completing two final classes before receiving his associate’s degree in art, Schmid is excited to continue to prepare for studies abroad while taking part in various art exhibition opportunities that Popop has exposed him to in Nassau.
“Being here I was working constantly and I think that’s going to carry over because we have between all of us three exhibitions to be a part of through to the end of the year,” he says. “The opportunity here is great.”
For Yutavia George, working at Popopstudios has given time to focus on what ideas truly speak to her in what media, as she shifts from installation work to mixed-media work.
Her paper stencil silhouettes have allowed George to explore value in a new medium and show her the importance of editing – not just through the input from others, but also through developing her own eye.
“Being here forced me to be more responsible for my work,” she says. “There are people you could talk to here at Popop, but it’s more about listening to an internal conversation – about asking yourself is this important? Should I edit this?”
“I think each one of us went through that process of trying to define our work. My work has evolved even just in the way I think about it – through concept and composition. “
Meeting and speaking with artists on their trips to Schooner Bay and New York City, says George, also showed her the value of collaboration in the artistic community as they spoke extensively with a New York City artist about their struggle as a community and also created an installation at Schooner Bay with input from
“After the trips, collaboration has also put on a pedestal,” she says. “It’s more important to share ideas than to keep them to yourself because when you share ideas, you can find more to add on to your idea or even change the way you think about it.”
The process of idea-sharing is important to George who will go on to complete her bachelor’s in education at The College of The Bahamas and then teach, which she looks forward to doing. But her time at Popopstudios has given her invaluable feedback that she will continue to use to explore her artistic process.
“Popop has been so different from working in school because we have been able to get direct feedback on our work from established artists we admire,” she says.
“They would provide us with examples or things to research that allowed us to develop our work creatively instead of opinions from our peers at the college where it would be very concrete or less constructive. It’s such a creative environment.”
Darville started her residency as the recipient of the Antonius Roberts Award with the ability to make beautiful intricate designs on paper, but the summer has allowed her to think about how to use the designs on different objects in order to transform them.
From transforming bottles, paper bags and more into pieces of 3D art with her pen work, Darville found a passion for repurposing old and found materials, like the shipping pallet she made into a beautiful shelf.
“I was interested in using found objects and materials and having my mentor as Mr. (Antonius) Roberts inspired me and helped me realize that I could use different materials,” she says.
“I’m gravitating more to installation work because of that. I love to do graphic work and I want to tie it into what I do with my designs now.”
Like the junior residents, Darville found an appreciation for streamlining her process into less complicated ideas during the two trips to Schooner Bay and New York City.
“I had to narrow the ideas down,” she says. “I had to say, ok, this is an important idea but you need to do this and not that. Having the residency made it more of an open-ended process instead of having deadlines you panic about in school.”
But more than that, Darville found the courage to pursue her true passion in life – art – rather than in education, which she had committed to in her studies at The College of The Bahamas years before. Now, she looks forward to finishing her associate’s degree in art and then pursuing art, especially graphic design, at an institution abroad.
“Being at the Dia Beacon in New York influenced me a lot,” she says. “When I was looking at work by Sol LeWitt, I knew at that moment I didn’t want to do teaching anymore. That was a problem I had been facing the whole summer, and to see artists using lines like I was, it inspired me to realize I didn’t need teaching anymore, because this is what I want to do. I’ll make it work.”
“If you don’t have that ambition, you aren’t saying anything in your work,” she continues. “You have to have that drive to wake up in the morning and say this is what I want to do; this is the art I want to make. I feel like I’ve changed so much. Winning this residency puts into perspective what you want to do in life.”
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012
Photos: Edward Russell III