Open Minds

2008 Student, Faculty and Staff Art Show

When the winter sky washes the campus in ochres and grays, the student Arts Commission hosts its annual exhibition featuring works by students, faculty and staff of Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM). The event promotes a passion for creativity in a community devoted to science and medicine. More entries, more variety, and a high level of craft combined to make this year’s show remarkable.

WUSM artists work in a variety of traditional and non-traditional media, exploring the physicality of paint, graphite and film, as well as the evanescent bits and bytes of digital media. The following comments represent a selection of the works on display.

As human anatomy is a focal point here, it comes as no surprise to find WUSM artists investigating the human form via art. Three artists zeroed in on the head, brain, or mind. In Open Mind, a.k.a. Zippy, Rose M. Tidwell, a research technician in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, depicts a head and shoulders covered in translucent, milky fragments of glass. A zipper opens (or closes) atop the skull, revealing a rainbow-hued interior. Inside and out, mental and physical space appear simultaneously.

Another sculpture of the upper body is the bronze-toned clay piece by Paul E. Milligan, a staff pharmacist in the Division of General Medical Sciences. This figure feels closed off by way of its cross-armed gesture, and yet the top of the skull is open as if an explosion or implosion has occurred — and you can see inside the body.

A counterpoint to Tidwell’s and Milligan’s sculptures is the 2-D digital image Nestled Minds by Jason Hill, a graduate research assistant in the Medical Scientist Training Program, Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. Heads are nested inside heads like so many Russian dolls. It’s pure “pixelated soul,” according to Hill, who exhibited last year, too, and the color, focus and technical prowess of this piece show his growing skill as an artist.

Seascape Study, an acrylic painting by second-year medical student Jeanne Shen, conjures a classically romantic vision. This moody piece conveys the raw power of nature as water and stone. Nearby stand a series of entries by Richard J. Mahoney, a member of the School’s National Council. Since 1994, Mahoney has featured his art on holiday cards, and among them he created a colorful surf speckled with white foam. Each of Mahoney’s cards is a gift in itself: every one a seemingly small gesture, yet the series in total records artistic explorations of places near and far.

Finally, in a different vein, we find the acrylic fantasy of Steven Sorscher, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Oncology. Sorscher playfully evokes a space – real or imagined – full of cartoonish forms, vibrant graffiti and primal symbols. The appealing colors and repetitive patterns of Untitled, 2007, draw in the viewer to find some surprises — insect postage stamps affixed to the canvas.

With the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center now the Grand Central Station of the medical campus, many people are fortunate to get the opportunity to view the show again and again as they travel between classes, conference rooms and labs. For those off-campus, the diversity of these entries was more than worth the quarters in the meter and maybe a cup of coffee from the cafe to savor while browsing.

The show ran through February 15th in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center.