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Laura-Susan Thomas, director of the Ann Foxworthy Gallery and guest curator at SLOMA, discusses two ongoing virtual exhibits

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"I think having multiple tasks, at least for me, keeps me energized and fresh," said Laura-Susan Thomas, who recently curated not one but two local exhibitions.

As the director of the Ann Foxworthy Gallery at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Thomas organized the venue's annual Fine Art Student Show, which premiered online this year at the end of March and will remain available through the end of May. She also curated Finding Spaces, a new group show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA), which nearly shares the same runtime (April 2 through May 30).

SHAPES OF WATER Participating artists of SLOMA's Finding Spaces exhibit were asked to submit their personal interpretations of the spaces they seek for comfort. - COURTESY IMAGE BY LOIS CHARLES
  • Courtesy Image By Lois Charles
  • SHAPES OF WATER Participating artists of SLOMA's Finding Spaces exhibit were asked to submit their personal interpretations of the spaces they seek for comfort.

"It's always exciting to work with a new space and new faces. I feel like every show I install, I always learn something new from the artists, the staff, even the process," Thomas said, commenting on her first outing as a guest curator at SLOMA. "Curating a group show especially, you get to work with artists who are working in so many different techniques."

For Finding Spaces, Thomas curated a collection of artworks created by members of The Painters Group, a collective of local artists sponsored by SLOMA. Participating artists were asked to submit their "personal interpretations of both the physical and introspective spaces that they seek to bring calm, to heal, to bring joy, or to help us move forward."

The resulting artworks range from realistic to abstract and tackle the exhibit's theme in a variety of ways, from capturing the simple pleasures of daily life to illustrating metaphorical representations.

"The exhibit begins with work that focuses on more intimate spaces in our homes and comfort in the daily familiar rituals, such as the act of making coffee each morning, to celebrating our connections to the outdoors, and to more abstract pieces that speak to our human connections," Thomas said.

While Finding Spaces solely includes paintings, Allan Hancock College's Fine Art Student Show highlights several art forms, including photography, assemblage art, and altered books (in which artists repurpose old books into artworks by cutting into their pages, creating cubbies or drawers, customizing flaps and openings, etc.).

ALL THE SMALL THINGS The photography portion of Allan Hancock College's Fine Art Student Show is described as a slice-of-life glimpse into "the small things that connect us through our student photographer's eyes," on the exhibit's website. - COURTESY PHOTO BY BRIDGET ADAMS
  • Courtesy Photo By Bridget Adams
  • ALL THE SMALL THINGS The photography portion of Allan Hancock College's Fine Art Student Show is described as a slice-of-life glimpse into "the small things that connect us through our student photographer's eyes," on the exhibit's website.

The exhibit is subtitled Making Marks in Creative Spaces and aims to showcase the ways in which Hancock students were able to continue studying and creating art while pivoting to online art studio instruction, Thomas explained.

"Our students have created some amazing work over the past year, carving out studio spaces in their homes, on kitchen tables, and alongside others working and Zooming around them," Thomas said.

IT'S ALIVE Allan Hancock College's Fine Art Student Show highlights works of several art forms, including photography, multimedia art, and assemblage art. One of the exhibit's featured assemblage art pieces is Homage (pictured) by Victoria Alvarez. - COURTESY IMAGE BY VICTORIA ALVAREZ
  • Courtesy Image By Victoria Alvarez
  • IT'S ALIVE Allan Hancock College's Fine Art Student Show highlights works of several art forms, including photography, multimedia art, and assemblage art. One of the exhibit's featured assemblage art pieces is Homage (pictured) by Victoria Alvarez.

Curating the Fine Art Student Show was Thomas's third time adapting an exhibit at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery into the virtual realm—following two solo shows, Marcos Dorado's Immigrant Me last fall and Michael F. Rohde's Woven Narratives earlier this spring—and she doesn't think it will be her last, even after in-person exhibits return to prominence.

"I think this format for the arts will probably become a fixture alongside, or in addition to, in-person art shows," Thomas said. "It provides such an outreach for the college and the community. We have visitors from all over the world that can access the art."

Still, the things Thomas misses about the in-person exhibition experience could easily "fill a page," she said.

"There are things that don't always translate as well on a phone or computer screen—the human component and connection," Thomas said. "I miss the dialogue and the conversation one has when you are in an art space with others.

"As we emerge from the pandemic and begin to reopen, the arts are such a vital part of our community," she added. "It has been a hard year for the arts and artists, but we are still here."

In setting out to virtually emulate the feeling of wandering freely through an actual gallery space, Thomas hopes the layout of both virtual exhibits will help visitors stay "excited and compelled to keep scrolling and looking to the next art piece." Δ

Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood kept scrolling. Send comments to cwiseblood@newtimesslo.com.

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