From SRQ Magazine, May 1, 2020
The artist works alone. The artist may on occasion observe their solitude, but they do not wander into the despairing perception of loneliness. Alone by choice, the artist probes the creative ether that resides somewhere between the mind’s eye, the body’s state of tension and the hand’s contact with a canvas. Within this ether dwells the portrait of the artist, their tastes and predispositions, their desires and anxieties, surfacing from time to time like quantum particles to present ideas in varying stages of completion—a color palette, a mood, perhaps even flashes of a work in its entirety. For two New College art seniors putting the final touches on their senior theses, the isolation induced by COVID-19 has affirmed rather than hindered their journeys-in-progress, as each seeks to extract their own commentary on mental health issues enflamed by the pandemic.
For Samantha Zellner, the whole argument for her thesis crystallized around the same time that restaurants and schools shut down. “I knew I wanted to combat the stigmas surrounding mental illness,” she says, “but soon realized those are very broad topics.” With the pinch of approaching deadlines, she finally narrowed her topic to a reexamination of society’s “quick fix” approaches to mental illness. Zellner chose to challenge the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative often depicted in stereotypical motivational posters. The titles for her pieces all fit the codified format of said posters—a constructive character trait followed by a truism about that trait. “The quotes can present a helpful mantra,” she says, “or could invalidate the individual with mental illness.” She attacks this narrative particularly effectively with her painting, Character: When You Have Depth of Character, You Will Never be Afraid to Take the Plunge into the Unknown. The sharp protrusions in the foreground seem to offer a thorny passage through to an altered state, suggesting that perhaps overcoming an emotional hurdle is not as simple as a short maxim.
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