Fine Arts Seminar (Houghton College)

thinking critically and building community around art and design

Masha Ryskin

Being born and raised in Russia, Masha Ryskin grew up in a highly structured school system in which freedom in art method was hard to come by.  Knowing this fact about her background added a whole new level of intrigue for me in looking at her work.  Ryskin possesses a quality of organized spontaneity that many other artists try to develop in their careers but simply cannot.  One might even suggest that it was her strict and rigid educational upbringing that allowed her to be so successful in art once she gained the ability to make her own creative choices.

Ryskin majored in printmaking in college and still incorporates prints into her work today.  After starting with the simple subject of trees, she transitioned into a more abstract representation of those same trees and then ran with it.  Her pieces are highly representational and are mostly open to interpretation in looking for a meaning within them.  Ryskin also uses unconventional materials in her work to add to her organic “microworlds” such as tea bags and most recently–instant coffee.  I loved hearing her talk about the freedom she has in making choices for a piece and how much is decided on a whim or feeling that she has.  When asked how instant coffee became important to her work, she replied with no real reason other than that she uses it because she can.  She was exciting to listen to because she lets her work evolve naturally over time rather than trying to force it to new heights.

She finished by explaining some of her collaborative work with us.  I personally enjoyed her independent abstract pieces the most but could appreciate her willingness to work with people who focus on different styles from her own.  She described her current partner as very geometric and patterned in his work, and explained how those qualities offset her organic, free-moving lines.  In an explanation on one of her pieces, Ryskin concluded, “It’s really about meandering” which I appreciated to hear more than an artist who acts as though every move and brush stroke hold specific purpose.  Ryskin was extremely pleasant to listen to and brought a laid-back but dedicated feeling with her as she came to speak.

-Jenny Zacchigna

A. Bogs – Lauren Smith

One thing that really stood out to me as I was listening to Bogs speak, was his remark that it doesn’t matter how much art we can create in a certain amount of time, it matters how we can touch other people through our art (or something like that, I didn’t get the exact wording). I feel like so often we are trying to figure out how to be more efficient or time sensitive, and we lose sight of why we are creating art. Art encourages; it inspires and communicates. We should not just “hope to do good” art, we should “hope to speak to people” through our art.

It is inspiring to hear and see his sketches and drawings; even to hear that he sketches everyday. I should try to do this more often. It is good practice, it gets ideas onto paper, and it also helps you not to forget the ideas. “Drawing is a very quick and natural way of communicating … it’s not about how pristine or pretty it is.” I like this quote that Bogs said because sometimes I don’t know the right words to describe a feeling or situation, but I can draw it.

Overall, I found Bogs very inspiring and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing him speak in Fine Art Seminar.

-Lauren Smith

Art Faculty Lecture- Hayley Ellen Day

The chance to sit and hear the leaders of our art department talk about their work is one of the biggest blessings. They are insightful, genuine, and knowledgeable. Gary Baxter, Alicia Taylor, John Rhett, Ted Murphy, Jillian Sokso, and Ryan Cooley have all been had an influence in my work in some way or another.

Gary Baxter talked about his current work in the gallery. Whenever Professor Baxter has something to say I am on the edge of my seat, because he always speaks truth and wisdom. In his talk he had said, “what we make informs whom we become.” This is something I truly take to heart, because we pour all of ourselves into our work. Gary also touched base on his attraction to fish and God’s creation. His collection of bowls with gold luster fish truly represents that.

Alicia Taylor was next- she started her talk off with how the moon has been a strong influence to her. I loved when she talked about how the moon can be an “anchor” that brings us together. I also really appreciate how Alicia looks at the world and just continues to explore and keep moving.

John Rhett is always straightforward and honest. Especially in this talk, “I really haven’t made anything new.” But to be honest with what was going on in his life (wife’s cancer), who can blame him? I would react the same way if I were in his shoes. I did truly love the work that Rhett had shared, (watercolors from London + Paris) because I saw London and Paris through my camera lens not on paper in watercolor.

And now for Ryan Cooley- all I can really say is that he does great work every single time and I just hope that one day I can be as good of a photographer as Ryan Cooley is. Not to be dramatic or anything.

Needless to say our professor are amazing artist that I truly look up to everyday.

Masha Ryskin – Katie Kloos

The memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years. Marcel Proust, “Swan’s Way”

Masha studied in her homeland of Russia before coming to the United States with her family when she was 16 years old. For her BFA she studied at RISD and then she got her MFA from Michigan State. Classically trained in Moscow, she was taught to glorify Russia. When she came to the States she was exposed to Gunter Uecker as a part of the group Zero. She also was exposed to Robert Rauchenburg and kinetic scultpures. She learned that art could be about everything instead of just Russia.

Through out her practice Masha has attempted to search for the sense of place. She attempts to get lost in the layers and natural patterned fragments that make up the whole. She is constantly in a state of observation in relation to the linear and non-linear narrative. Discovery and intuitive exploration are important elements in her work. She appreciates the printing process that leaves residue behind; a mark of what happened in time.

Aesthetically, I really resonate with Masha’s work (I love the ideas that drive them too). I love the fluid lines and the atmosphere she is able to create with mylar. I also appreciate the use of thread/fiber in the work and how it continues the idea of the fleeting line.

Masha Ryskin

When Masha Ryskin first started her lecture, I didn’t expect her artist’s story to be much different than any of the other artists who have visited Houghton. She began by talking about her perceptions on her artwork’s meaning in statements like: “fragments coming together” and “linear vs. non-linear narrative”.  These are, in a way, catch-phrases of contemporary art, and it is difficult for these words to convey an individuality. For Masha Ryskin though, these words rang true as she showed her work and talked about her artistic beginnings in Soviet Russia.

Because of the lack of creative freedom for young artists in Soviet Russia, Ryskin had a very disciplined background in traditional painting and drawing. The most compelling part of her lecture was when she described seeing an exhibition of modern abstract artists such as Rauschenberg and the Russian Constructivists. Having unlimited access to art and images, I have a difficult time imaging what it must have been like to see these works of art for the first time. Ryskin went on to say that since seeing that exhibit, her work and artist’s perspective had fundamentally changed and that she was no longer content to keep making state-sanctioned representational work.

As Ryskin began showing her non-representational art she talked of, “getting lost, meandering through surfaces”. She described her miniature works as micro-worlds that told self-contained stories. Ryskin also shared that her aesthetic is influenced by Japanese art and music, especially the concept that, “silence is a sound”. I saw Ryskin’s work as powerful, but unassuming. Her approach to art making is disciplined but also playful and experimental (the instant coffee description). Most of all, I appreciated how she let her work and experiences speak for themselves. She described how her paintings are not objective representations of where she has been and what she has experienced, but rather they are narratives of impressions and perceptions. An example of this kind of work is Ryskin’s “Dry” Dryfound on her website. A physical place isn’t shown, but the words, colors, textures, and shapes convey her impressions of her environment.

-Emily Friesen


Evelyne Leblanc – Stephanie Kuehner

Evelyne Leblanc currently teaches at Alfred State in New York.  Her work is inspired by the idea of home and defining what that means.  She also likes to play with space and play around with our relationship to space. She works mostly with photography and video and she has done many installations.

Evelyne Leblanc’s work fascinated me.  I loved the way her work messed with the viewers mind.  It was almost like an optical illusion.  My favorite piece had to be when she projected what looked like flowing water out a window at Alfred State.  This cause an illusion for people walking outside.  To someone looking into the building they would think the room was overflowing with water. I never would have thought of doing something like that and I love that she did.

I liked how she came up with her idea of space and home.  My favorite piece I think was when she went to different apartments in her building and photographed the same room in every apartment.  They were set up the same but looked completely different. She liked the idea of capturing the personalities of different people and what home meant and looked like to them.

Another very cool idea that she is currently working on is working with inmates.  Evelyne wants has wrote to different inmates and asked them to describe what it looks like where they are living. She also asked them to tell her where they would like to be.  She has received many responses.  Some of the inmates were even artists themselves and sent her pictures and paintings of where they wish they were.

Faculty Art Exhibition – Stephanie Kuehner

The Faculty Exhibition was something I was most looking forward to when it came to this class and I was not disappointed. I have seen some of my professor’s work but I was really looking forward to hearing more about it and see what specifically inspired them. It is a neat idea to see the thought process of the people who are helping us to become better artists ourselves.

I loved seeing the fish bows done by Gary Baxter. They were so intricate and the texture on them was beautiful. I loved that he went thrift shopping to find clothes with different patterns on them. I would have never guessed he used someone’s shirt just by looking at them. The way the fish show movement throughout the bowl makes it seem alive like the fish are truly swimming around in there. Especially the bowls that had water in them. He would have the tails or the head carved deeper to make it look they were going in and out of the water or swimming towards you or away from you. I also liked his reasoning for choosing fish to be his focus. Fish are such simple and common animals but the way he discussed them gave them a bigger purpose.

Alicia Taylor’s inspiration was based upon place and home. She focused on the power and moon of the sky and that connected us to one another and those who are not here physically on earth. She also had personal reasons that inspired her artwork. I admired how she talked about her emotions and feelings of loss that inspired her work. I loved the prints that she did.

Ryan Cooley’s photographic installations were amazing. I loved that is work was displayed on the floor and the lights were apart of the piece. The lights made you interact with the piece more. The way you had to look down instead of up somehow made it much more interesting.

John Rhett’s inspiration was simplistic yet beautiful. I loved his inspiration and attention to detail. He also was inspired by hardships within his life but sometimes those hardships can transform into the most beautiful work.


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