A few months into my Mitchell year I looked around my bedroom and realized I had accumulated a lot of artwork. Sketches lined one wall from floor to ceiling, some hidden behind stacks of canvases. I had framed two drawings “just because” and quite frankly it was getting hard to use my desk for studying as it was covered in paper and paint.
Almost as soon as I began to consider finding space for an exhibition, fellow Mitchell Scholar Rishi Ahuja approached me and asked if I wanted to have an art show in Dublin on behalf of 100Minds, a social enterprise that connects hundreds of Irish college students to raise money for a single charitable cause. This year, each student agreed to raise a thousand dollars for Childline, a chat service for children to reach out for help and support.
“Absolutely,” I said without a second thought, because I have never turned down a visual arts opportunity in my life. It took us a few more months to hash out the details. At the time I was working on two separate bodies of work. The first was a time-intensive series of abstract paintings. I used rapidograph pens to outline shapes from flowing watercolor paintings. Those paintings came from ideas of my own disordered sensory perception and how difficult it is to comprehend a scene, which involves deconstructing an overwhelming combination of colors, contours, and perspectives. My methods of drawing assumes the opposite process of creation rather than deconstruction.
My second body of work was more illustrative in nature, as deferential to absurdity as to beauty. I drew everything from a heron catching gummy worms to an ornately decorated pizza floating in space. With two very different bodies of work, I began looking for their common language. I found it in the repetitive markmaking. Just as my drawings pay homage to the sensory overload of sight and texture, so do my paintings obsessively document the separation of one color from another. Childlike delight and imagination is countered by underlying questions of escapism, of a visual that attempts a sense of control as it rides the line between aesthetics and lethal self-awareness. From color story to content, I let my pieces influence one another and come together into a single body of work.
An art show is no small commitment. Panic set in about a month before the opening. Somewhere along the road I had started creating large-scale abstract paintings on my iPad. I wanted to print on aluminum, which meant I had only two weeks to finish four paintings. I was on a similar timeline for the many illustrations, all of which had to get framed.
The show itself was stressful and I think perhaps Rishi did not realize that he had chosen one of the hardest, most expensive, and most time-consuming methods of fundraising. Luckily we received support from all ends, from the framer who gave us a fifty percent discount to the 3fe café, who hosted our show and donated refreshments. I’m always an absolute mess but I was fortunate to have help from Dan Listwa, who helped install; Vincent Hughes, my friend from Galway who photographed the event; and Caroline McEvoy who handled a lot of the behind-the-scenes details and brought along her friends to work the show. I feel humbled when I think about how many people came together to make the show a success.
My stress dissipated as soon as our guests began to arrive, which I think is when Rishi’s stress really began. It was his job to lock down sales. I, on the other hand, was able to relax with a glass of wine and talk to all the Mitchell Scholars who showed up in support. It was a celebratory week for us, as we had also gathered a few days prior at the Lir to view Keelie Sheridan’s midterm performance art show.
In the end, our fundraiser was successful. The show felt like cathartic, a culmination of all my learning and experiences this year. Even though I’m still in Ireland for one more month, it’s like completing a video game and just having fun in the bonus levels. Well, if the bonus levels are graduate finals and a thesis…