From animal portraiture to trash to dirty clay, art is subjective.
The 47th Unionville High School Art Gala saw the return of some well-known area artists, as well as some who are lesser known. Among the known names in this past weekend's event were Carol Appicella, Annette Alessi, Christine Burke, and Diane Micklin, as well as this year’s featured artist, Shawn Faust. And there were lessons to be learned.
Faust has shown at the UHS Art Gala three or four times and has also shown at the Chadds Ford Elementary School Art Show and Sale as a featured and a donating artist.
While Faust’s subject matter often includes images of livestock — horses, cows, and others — might have one think of him as a landscape artist. But he would disagree.
“I’m a portrait artist,” he said. “The traditional history of portraiture is to honor nature, to give it importance. To elevate the importance of a subject is to do a portrait.”
And while Faust honors nature with his work, Carol Appicella — who has been showing at the gala for more than 10 years — recycles trash and waste and uses those items in her mosaics. She’s done work with beer cans in the past, but the works on display during the 2023 gala show a heavy use of old tiles, wires, and spent brass — shells — from 9mm firearms.
“I like taking things that other people consider to be garbage or trash and turning them into something beautiful. It could be a broken plate. People bring me broken plates, a piece of wire, a doorknob. Anything can become art. Bullet casings can become art. I like repurposing things,” she said.
One of those lesser-known artists was Kiya Nicole, a ceramic artist, who said she comes from a family with three generations of women artists and has been working with clay since she was in middle school.
“I’ve always been creative and just in touch with my making and exploring. With ceramics I started with the abstract forms, getting inspired by natural forms, interconnected forms that I find outside,” she said.
Nicole explained that by “interconnected forms,” she means things such as root systems, coral, and bone structure, “All of those forms of nature that kind of echo what I find as part of the human experience.
She uses several different techniques to manifest her vision in clay. Some of her pieces, the more abstract, are fired to a leather-like softness, then using an Exacto Knife, she simply cuts away the pieces that don’t work for her vision of the final piece.
For other pieces, she uses “atmospheric firings” that give the artist less control of what the firing will do to, or for, a piece of work.
One such firing is called “raku.” She explained that in raku, “The work is taken out of the kiln at 1,900 degrees and put into a container filled with newspaper or other combustibles so the whole thing bursts into flames. Then I put a lid on it, reducing the oxygen which causes a chemical reaction, and that changes the color of the glaze, so you never know what you’re going to get.”
Nicole said she also does wood firings where the work is in the kiln for three days, stoked with wood continually and it reaches about 2,400 -2,500 degrees.
“Similar [to raku], the work gets so hot that the ash falls onto the clay and turns into a glaze. Depending on how much oxygen the piece has received, it changes color.”
Such is the subjectivity of art.