Senior studio art major Colleen Harkins opened her first atrium show, “Come and Get It,” in Sharadin Art Building on Monday, Jan. 28.
Each painting is a large oil on masonite composition, reaching sizes of four feet by two and a half feet. These large oil paintings all feature a resemblance of food and dinner table contents, both admirable and repulsive in appearance.
Intended to be “one cohesive panorama” rather than a collection of individual pieces, viewers are encouraged to start at the left side of the gallery space, with a lighter, less abrasive composition and follow the colors and patterns to the end of the series to complete with a darker color palette and more ambiguous content.
The artist strategizes the order of her paintings, leaving elements of one painting hidden in the corners of the next painting or using similar patterns and colors to make for a continuous series. Viewers may also find the same cucumbers lying in the foreground of one piece peeking out from the background in the sequential piece.
Harkins highlights the irony of food culture in America throughout this series, reinterpreting the intentions of food paintings and depictions overall. Goods that are meant to be appetizing and aesthetically appealing become deformed, chaotic and overwhelming. On her canvas, piles of items like beef, fish, vegetables and desserts are all in one complex composition.
She further complicates the ironic elements of her paintings, finding inspiration in a single decorative plate that takes on the same fish shape as her food products. This particular piece becomes humorous in the mounds of fish, Jell-O and other products that surrounds the massive platter. Harkins extends this humor into her personification of the fish, painting them with human-like eyes.
Another appealing factor in this show is that, while the subject matter may be less than pleasing, the artist still aimed to conform to the aesthetic qualities of traditional painting. Artists are often “at battle with themselves” and forced to determine “what is beautiful and what’s ugly,” Harkins states.
In this series, the artist forces these two concepts to work with each other, painting the images she is interested in while, at the same time, recognizing and abiding by the visual elements of design so integral in the world of art.
Harkins work stands out among other student shows in that she is not afraid to illustrate the excess consumption of human beings and the level of discomfort society associates with extravagant amounts of food.