Students brushing new life into painting medium

imageA group of SUNY Oswego students and an art professor are trying to prove that the age-old art of painting can remain a vibrant medium for the 21st century.

The results will hang around campus as well as serve as the basis of some presentations at Quest, the college’s annual symposium for creative and scholarly activity, on April 20.

Matthew Friday of the art faculty will chair a panel, “Bob Ross Has a Posse: New Strategies in Contemporary Painting,” at 10:15 a.m. in Room 106A of Lanigan Hall. Three students taking part in projects through student scholarly and creative activities grants—Lindsey Guile, Mario Romano and Michelle Scoville—will join him for that panel and exhibit their unique takes on painting at a noon session in Hewitt Union’s main lounge. Their work, plus pieces from Jesse Williams and Mike Moncibaiz, will hang in the union and Penfield Library.

All Quest sessions are free and open to the public.

Friday points to an old Jackson Pollack quote: “New needs must have new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statement. It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other culture. Each age finds its own technique.” The students have all found their own ways, Friday says.

In Tyler Hall studio space, Scoville experiments with an age-old encaustics technique. She melts pigment bricks and beeswax on a hot plate to produce paintings with added texture. It is a demanding medium, where mistakes are harder to paint over and one has to strike when the paint is hot. “You have very limited time to get it from the hot plate to the painting,” the senior studio art major from Carthage explains.

The creative activities grant was a big help because it helped fund the materials for startup made necessary since no other student at Oswego works in this medium, she says. “It’s not being done by anyone my age, so it’s kind of giving me an advantage to be unique, stand out and explore encaustics,” Scoville adds. “I think a lot more students will be interested in doing it, now that they’ve seen what I can do.”

In another studio, Guile explores a combination of drawing, painting and psychology. “I’m fascinated by short-term memory, the idea that we pass so many people every day and we don’t really see them,” the graduate student from Sandy Creek says. This brought her to the idea of observing passersby and then developing a style that reflects the flashes of color and features one may recall from short-term memory.

“I started walking around the campus and community trying to notice people I wouldn’t normally notice,” Guile says. Laker hockey games, where subjects were very emotional and uninhibited, proved one great venue, she adds. She started taking pictures, and then omitting detail through blurring and other techniques during the painting and drawing process so that the result gives an incomplete, fleeting effect.

Other students blend other types of visual media into painting. Two examples are Williams, who incorporates comic book-style graphics, and Moncibaiz, who injects the look of graffiti into his canvases.

The work of Williams, a senior studio art major from Greece, is “very influenced by comics,” she says. “Comic books aren’t considered a fine art, but I feel they are every bit as much fine art as painting or drawing. You need the exact same amount of training if not more.”

Working in a studio near Guile, Williams incorporates bright, eye-catching splashes into her designs, like in comic books. In linking comics’ influences with painting, she tries to reinforce the idea that both are fine arts. This includes breaking the sequential frame-to-frame style to recast it “into something more sophisticated,” she notes.

Down the hall, Moncibaiz mixes the appearance and street sensibilities of graffiti into his work. “I try to combine the two to make them my own, make them unique,” the senior studio art major from Massena says. “I try to combine the essence of graffiti with painting quality.” A graffiti-like spray adorns the top of a nearby painting.

“Graffiti is everywhere in commercials and marketing,” Moncibaiz notes of the many advertising campaigns using what is seen as an edgy, streetwise art form. “As far as aesthetics goes, it’s very acceptable.”

While the other projects were often more personal in nature, Romano’s vision involves creating a community. He gave disposable cameras to about 30 students in an arts therapy class and asked them to take a roll of film of someone they thought was interesting. He selected the best pictures and began creating portraits of people he’d never met.

“All these paintings together have a narrative, and each of these paintings has its own little look, character, existence,” the senior studio art major from Syracuse explains as portraits on the wall seem to gaze in various directions. “The paintings themselves seem to interact with each other by how they are located.” He invited everyone—photographers, subjects, the campus and community—to an opening from 6 to 8 p.m. April 20 at Penfield Library’s Lake Effect Cafe.

For more information on Quest activities at SUNY Oswego, visit

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PHOTO CAPTION: Portrait studio—Senior studio art major Mario Romano works on a portrait while other visages from his project appear to look on in a Tyler Hall studio recently. Romano’s community-building project involved giving disposable cameras to about 30 students in an arts therapy class and asking them to take a roll of film of someone they thought was interesting. He selected the best pictures and began creating portraits.

(Posted: Apr 06, 2005)