February 23rd, 2021
The Art in the Libraries Committee and Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz selected Anna Allen, a BFA candidate in painting, and Raymond Thompson, Jr., an MFA student in photography, to receive the 2020 Dean of the Libraries’ Student Art Award.
Allen won for her oil on linen painting titled “Empty Jar.” She explained that she uses the human face as a vehicle for emotion in the paintings she creates.
“From birth, we have all practiced the art of deriving information from faces; expressions are the universal language of the human race. I paint realistic portraits, enhanced by extreme contrast in value, to evoke an emotional response in viewers and to translate information. The confrontation of direct eye contact from the subject encourages the audience to engage and to attempt to understand the person in the painting. Reading a cold, detached face allows for a more open interpretation from the observer. In this painting ‘Empty Jar,’ my intention is that viewers will wonder what thoughts and emotions lie behind the callous expression of the subject,” Allen wrote in her artist statement.
Thompson won for “Untitled (After Jack Delano and the trauma of white light #1),” a tobacco chlorophyll print. The work features appropriated images from the Library of Congress Archive. Thompson reprinted photographs created by the Farm Security Administration photographers in the 1930s directly on tobacco leaves using the chlorophyll printing technique.
“Tobacco is a plant whose taproot is buried deep in the American experience. Like other cash crops, it had a whole agricultural ecosystem devoted to its cultivation. Sharecropping was one part of the ecosystem that formed in the wake of slavery in which sharecroppers worked land they did not own and paid a share of their crop to their landlords as rent,” Thompson wrote in his artist statement.
“The violence of the transatlantic slave trade left many African-American people with truncated personal histories, myths and family memories. The images created by the FSA represent one of the few sources of visual information about life in this part of black North Carolina in the 1930s.
“As African Americans our history begins with violence. We were marked as black when we were enslaved. With the same act of violence, all that came before it, our history, our culture, our families, and our memories were stripped from us. The tragedy for me is that I as a black person looking to understand parts of my own history have to do this through the mediated lens of the white gaze.
“Cotton and tobacco were at the heart of my family’s mythologies that surround my grandfather. In searching for my own origin story, I wanted to find a way to move one step closer to my grandfather’s experience as a teenager and young man. I know this is a futile quest, because the holes in my family’s memory and the political nature of the American archive is far too great to recover what has been lost.”
Allen and Thompson each received a $300 award. Allen’s painting will be displayed at the Evansdale Library. Because of the fragile nature of Thompson’s work, it can be viewed only online.
A list of former winners of this annual award is available at exhibits.lib.wvu.edu/student.