Shelley Newman Stevens, Central Michigan University art professor and a talented painter in her own right, is displaying her series “Journey: Life From the Inside Out” at the Rankin Art Gallery.
Stevens’ paintings in this series alternate between detailed, life-sized pieces focusing on a young woman modeled by her three daughters and small, lovely landscapes flush with saturated colors. All wonderfully vibrant, together they tell a story—what that story is is determined by the individual examining the series.
Art is a notoriously subjective area, but Stevens took that a few degrees even further. The teacher in her was constantly displayed when she spoke with the observers browsing her exhibit in Rankin as she explained that the journey could start at any one of the paintings–whether it be at the vibrant, hope-filled girl in striped knee socks or the storm-weathering, rain-soaked woman of the sea.
“My favorite is ‘The House of Fear and Dread.’ I kind of like how the whole exhibit you can interpret however you want. I interpret that one as a place where you put your fear so that you don’t have to deal with it,” Derek Brower, Ferris sophomore in graphic design, said.
This was just one example of the way the exhibit could be interpreted in numerous manners. A number of people saw the house as a more malevolent place, a haunted house of sorts. Taken in with the other paintings, the number of possibilities multiplied. The journey could begin at any painting, something Stevens was quite proud of.
As the visiting class from Kendall asked Stevens questions, even more examples of the high subjectivity of art came to the fore—observer-derived meaning. When asked about certain things, such as why the girl only wore shoes in one set of paintings or what the striped knee socks meant, Newman could only say that it just happened, or that she’s a big fan of stripes and knee socks are more youthful.
She also spoke of the symbolism she did intend, though; some of which was obvious, while other parts were less overt and more interesting. The small landscapes represented little “breaths” before taking in the next part of the story.
As for the art itself, Stevens is obviously quite the painter. Visitors marveled at all her paintings, with several different ones popping up as favorites.
“My favorite one is the first painting. I love the way she uses the gold and the blue and the lighting,” Ferris psychology sophomore Kirstie Drews said of the vibrant portrait of a young girl in the bright woods.
When asked to give a quote on her series, something short and sweet, Stevens alit upon a few words she found quite fitting.
“It begins and ends with hope.”
Despite the darker parts, both in the journey she presented and in the life it represented, she still presented a bright light of hope. It was a night very worthy of the subjectivity-filled art world—one of art beautiful both in its technicality and in what it represented.