Campus & Community

Losing control

3 min read

Students in VES learn about world by letting things happen

Lucia Madariaga and Becky
Working with a live model, Lucia Madariaga ’04 (left) and Becky Mitchell ’03 make watercolor figure studies. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)

It’s one of the first things children learn when they start school – no gum chewing! Dubble Bubble, Chiclets, Dentyne, Wrigley’s Spearmint – all verboten! And don’t even think about leaving the chewed wad stuck to anything.

But not in Paul Stopforth’s class.

Stopforth, a visiting lecturer at Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), points proudly to one of the works produced in his “Fundamentals of Drawing” course. It’s a student’s charcoal sketch of a skeleton lying on its back, its arms and legs contracted. But what is that pinkish stuff stretched over the bones, creating a disturbingly real impression of raw flesh, like the remains of a cannibal banquet?

“Yes, it’s chewing gum,” Stopforth says.

The mixed media drawing represents one aspect of a semester-long exploration that the student has undertaken with Stopforth’s guidance.

“We move from very basic drawing procedures through an increasingly complex analysis of natural and manufactured forms. Now the students are in the final stages of their projects, in which they explore the world as a source of information discovered by chance means.”

Paul Stopforth offers a critique of student drawings of a skeleton during his ‘Foundations of Drawing’ course. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)

Stopforth’s method is to have the students throw darts at a map of Cambridge, then travel to wherever the dart lands and bring something back to the studio from that location. Each student’s found object is unique. One has brought back chewing gum, another a rusted electric motor, another a discarded doll.

Their projects are unique as well.

The student who found the electric motor is producing a series of drawings that explore the color and texture of the rusted surface, discovering that in the process of making art, one thing is apt to lead to another. The rubber gloves she wore to protect her hands from the messy oil sticks have now become the object of her creative attention. She has cut them up and stitched the pieces together to create a sort of smudged patchwork skin.

The student who brought back the doll has embarked on a series of mixed media projects exploring the theme of child sexual abuse.

Through such exercises, students learn about the world in ways that emphasize the unpredictability inherent in working with materials.

“All disciplines have areas of unpredictability,” says Stopforth. “But in studio work the unpredictability is higher. Students must be willing to explore, to lose the element of control. If you do nothing but control the material, the results will be very limited.”

Ken Gewertz

Inside the Carpenter Center, the reflection of a busy Emily Carmichael ’04 can be seen in a cracked mirror poised over her paint-stained table. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)
Leaning on a chalkboard, Molly Bodell ’05 (above) listens intently to criticism of her charcoal rendition of a skeleton from instructor Stopforth. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)