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CAM exhibit puts professors to the paintbrush

Faculty Focus, on display at the USF Contemporary Art Museum, brings together artwork from the University’s home turf — featuring three professors from the School of Art and Art History.

“The Faculty Focus exhibition was an alternative — a smaller alternative — of what we used to do, which was a larger group exhibition of all of the faculty that would happen about every four years,” said David Norr, curator of the event.

“This is more of an intimate setting,” he said, adding that the show was an opportunity for the artists to have more space and a chance for people to spend more time with each artist’s work.

Unlike previous Faculty Focus shows, this year’s exhibit doesn’t have a theme. Instead, emphasis was placed on showcasing three very diverse artists.

One painting, “The Field That Feels Like” by Neil Bender, consists of 15 individually painted square canvases joined to form one large piece.

“I wanted to make a big painting where I didn’t know the image,” Bender said. “I worked on these squares. I didn’t know what they’d look like. I was responding to the process of seeing and forming these images.”

It’s not just the size of the painting that makes it noticeable — its provocative subject matter is an instant attention-grabber. The painting uses striking colors to juxtapose fragmented images of human sexual organs.

“I think my body of work is similar — it all deals with (addressing) sexuality in a multitude of formats — both moral and physical,” Bender said.

In addition to his oil painting, Bender has on display a series of smaller collages that incorporate a variety of materials such as fabric, cotton balls, magazine clippings
and glitter.

“I’m restless, materially,” Bender said. “So, while the underlying consistency is addressing flesh — and the clothing and unclothing of flesh — the format changes a lot. So, you get that restless quality, always wanting to investigate the subject matter in a variety of ways. I feel it pervades every aspect of our being.”

Elisabeth Condon’s painting is on the wall opposite Bender’s. “Birdsong” is similar to her previous work in that it features landscape elements, multiple layers of vividly pigmented paint and various textures. Though her individual works are similar, they begin in a way that is random and unpredictable.

“I start a painting by pouring out paint (directly onto the canvas) and then I build,” Condon said. “Whatever comes to me at that time, I’ll build from the pour … At the time, I’ll grab from whatever is in front of me — sort of intuitively — so the paintings get planned the later they go, but at the beginning they’re not planned.”

In addition to environmental themes from her childhood homes in Los Angeles and Florida, Condon’s paintings are influenced by her experiences traveling. There’s always an element of surprise, she said, and a sense of loss
of control.

“There’s an element of freedom that comes with such loss,” Condon said. “A painting has that same kind of engagement for me where, suddenly, that painting became alive and I couldn’t control it anymore.”

Cesar Cornejo’s installation, nestled in a wide corner of the gallery, is quieter than its neighbors but equally striking in detail. “Museumorphosis” depicts an image of the Guggenheim museum overlaid upon the rooftops of a rustic shantytown.

The complete image of the museum can be seen through a mirror hung from the ceiling above the installation. The houses of the town — each crafted and individually placed in the installation one at a time — form a mass of brick and clay and seem to merge into the walls of the gallery.

“I’m trying to bring together two realities that are not normally close to each other,” Cornejo said. “One of the shantytowns and the other of museums — I’m trying to bring them together as one in an attempt to make us think, what is our position regarding shantytowns or regarding museums? Do we think they relate? How do they relate?”

“Museumorphosis” is a reflection of a community project Cornejo is involved with in his native country of Peru. Cornejo works with a rural town to expand the living space of its inhabitants. He does this for free, with the condition that he be allowed to exhibit artwork within these living spaces, essentially turning the entire town into a contemporary
art gallery.

The title of Cornejo’s work references Franz Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis” and the theme of transformation.

“It’s almost like, is it museum to shantytown or shantytown to museum?” he said. “I tried to play with that image.”

Faculty Focus is on display at USF CAM, West Gallery, through March 7. For more information, visit