What do Kanye West, James Franco and human urine have in common?
They are all on display at the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Centre Gallery’s newest exhibition, “If that’s what you’re into.” The work of senior art majors Samantha Newton and Justin Sears highlights the artists’ innermost desires, such as homoerotic and celebrity fantasies.
The name of the exhibition comes from the New Zealand parody folk band Flight of the Conchords and their song by the same title. The doors to the Centre Gallery will be closed for this show, which runs through Feb. 17, with a disclaimer warning viewers of mature content before they enter.
The exhibition utilizes traditional media, such as oil paints, with more unconventional techniques, such as employing one of the artists’ own urine. On the left wall just inside the gallery doors, a series of wooden panels hang vertically, creating a fragmented canvas. Sears’ self-portrait shows him bearded and shirtless with streaks of yellow running down the wood.
“I wanted to use urine in one of my pieces – I was experimenting,” he said. “It’s like urine mixed with yellow watercolor.”
Sears said using his own urine was a “territorial” decision to mark his work, which he feels a deep personal connection with.
Next to his self-portrait hangs a series of square canvases each painted their own bright color. The faces of hip-hop artists such as Method Man, Biz Markie and Ghostface Killah are displayed in front of the colored backdrop like floating heads.
Another series of canvases contain portraits of other celebrities, many of them with panties in their mouths. Swirls of paint that look like smoke create the image of a woman in the backgrounds of the celebrity portraits. Newton said these represent celebrities looking back at the viewer instead of the other way around.
“I’m reversing it – you, the celebrity are idolizing me,” she said. “Mine deal with the idea of dismantling and fragmentizing the construct we have between celebrities and where the viewer is and collapsing that space.”
One piece, titled “Cudi Can,” shows Newton having her lip bitten and stretched by rap artist Kid Cudi. During the opening reception, Newton got the rare experience of watching viewers’ responses to her work.
“When I was handing out cookies, one girl saw the Cudi one and said ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,'” she said. “But that’s what our work is basically about – making the viewer deal with that.”
Two student viewers stood next to a portrait of Newton, Kanye West and Taylor Swift and tried to guess who the other celebrities lining the wall were. They could distinguish James Franco, but had a hard time placing Joseph Gordon-Levitt and T.I.
“It’s very interesting and playful,” said Ariel Dewitt, a junior majoring in fine arts. “I like the use of celebrities. They make me think of celebrities and how they don’t want to be seen and their undercover affairs.”
Olivia Yodice, a junior majoring in fine art, accompanied Dewitt and said she liked Sears’ self-portraits, but wasn’t sure it featured real urine.
“It goes with the themes, ‘if that’s what you’re into’ – some people are into getting peed on,” she said. “I just wouldn’t smell it.”
Centre Gallery is located in MSC 2700 and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the gallery, visit centregallery.usf.edu.