Artist Talk with Laura Post '09
Maryanne Tomazic '09 is a biology major from Freehold, N.J. who praised one of her first courses in words and images. She has been heavily involved with Global Health Forum, a Pericles-funded organization that promotes dialogue on public health issues and is currently working on the Minus Malaria Initiative to raise awareness and funds for bed net distribution in Sierra Leone. After graduation, she will attend Columbia University to study the history of public health. Write to her at Maryanne Tomazic.
One of the best aspects of living in the Swarthmore community is getting to know the people around you. Even as my undergraduate career comes to a close, I am still amazed by the diversity and individuality I see on this campus every day. I had the opportunity to sit down with Laura Post '09, a studio art and Asian studies double major from Langhorne, Pa., who recently had her senior art show in the College's List Gallery. Here, she talks candidly about Swarthmore, art, graduation, and beyond.
Maryanne: Laura, you've had quite an interesting path when it comes to your academic career. You originally went to Kenyon College, but transferred to Swarthmore in Fall 2006. Why Swarthmore?
Laura: After a dissatisfying freshman year, I decided to transfer. The first time I looked at colleges, I thought Swarthmore was too close to home so I didn't apply. The second time around that criterion wasn't important and I knew Swarthmore had a great program for Chinese and Studio Art/Art History.
"[W]hen I began freshman year, I had not intended to major in art, nor had I intended to be an artist," Laura says. Above, examples of Laura's work at her first show in the Kitao Student Art Gallery.
M: What sparked your interest in Chinese and Asian Studies?
L: Before college, I decided I wanted to study Chinese — my attitude being if I liked it, great; if not, at least I tried it for a year. Despite the intensity and daily work required, I loved my Chinese courses. However, I also believe that learning a language is only useful if you understand the culture as well. It helps you learn faster while preventing a lot of misunderstandings.
I started taking courses about the history of Asia and China's role in that history. I've realized that the reason you start studying something is usually different from what compels you to continue. For me, going to China and meeting Chinese people not only helped improve my Chinese, they also made my studies come alive and opened up new areas of interest and ideas.
M: Tell me more about your interest in art.
L: I have always been interested in art. My parents saw my natural interest and have always encouraged it. When I was eight years old, my mom enrolled me in art lessons at this couple's home studio where I learned the basics of drawing with value, color theory, and eventually pastels, watercolors, etc. In my first year of college, I concentrated on drawing and life drawing; to this day, the figure remains an important part of my work. At Swarthmore, I took Visiting Professor Daniel Heyman's class and started printmaking with techniques including etching and several types of woodblock printing. I also took Professor Randy Exon's Figural Composition class, where I learned oil painting. Now, my work is printmaking and oil painting with a focus on the human figure.
"One of the most important lessons I have learned from Daniel Heyman, Swarthmore’s printmaking professor, is this enthusiasm for experimentation during the printmaking process. This can take the form of new techniques while creating the matrix or different means of printing it," Laura says. Above, Fletcher.
M: When did you study in China?
L: After my sophomore year, I studied for the summer at the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) in Taipei, Taiwan. During the fall semester, I went to Beijing to study at the Associated Colleges in China (ACC). These are both intensive Chinese language programs where I took three or four hours of Chinese classes each day in very small classes or one-on-one with the instructor. In the fall, I even had a strict language pledge so I did not speak English for the duration of my stay.
After attending the two programs, I wanted to use my language skills in a "real life" application. I had studied printmaking and Randy explained that there had been a show of Chinese woodblock prints at Swarthmore several years before. I got in touch with the curator of the show and she gave me the cell phone number of Zhang Minjie, a Chinese printmaker and professor who was represented in the exhibition. He does not speak English, but I called him and he said I could come to China and study with him. When I tried to ask about the details he just told me to call when I got there. I decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I went to China and called when I got there.
Long story short, he was surprised to see me, but set up an independent study for me and I was able to take classes at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. I met Chinese art students, improved my printmaking skills, and learned about the Chinese educational system and how art fits into this system. This was a pivotal experience for me on many levels. It allowed my two spheres of interest to converge, which was very important for me. Many people ask "Asian studies and art? What do they have in common?" but in my mind, they have always been interconnected
"Now, I have a heightened awareness and appreciation of the power of line," Laura says. "The dark ink in Chinese calligraphy or Chinese ink painting, especially quick, expressive sketches by monks, or the simple landscapes from Southern Song painting, comes alive for me.... The brush and ink sketches from which I created the series of etchings is an outgrowth of my contemplation of these artists and my own attempt at using brush to create simple and expressive faces." Above, Maryanne.
M: How has Swarthmore helped develop your interest and you as a person?
L: My professors at Swarthmore have been an integral part of my development. Aside from teaching important skills such as Chinese, printmaking, and oil painting — which I intend to use going forward — they have also nurtured my interests. My experience last summer is a good example. I had applied for many museum internships and other things, but wasn't sure exactly what direction I wanted to pursue. I talked with my professors regularly about it and that is what reminded Randy about the printmaking exhibition. I then talked with the Asian Studies department about my idea. They were very supportive and helped me apply for a grant. In the end, this experience made me more determined in a career in the arts and introduced me to artists throughout the world. It also taught me that calling and asking random people for help can open up many doors, even if it is difficult.
"By now, my prints and paintings interact, the things I learn from one are applicable to the other, creating a dialogue between them," Laura says. "Specifically, my better understanding of technique, in both media, has allowed me to explore different 'mark-making strategies' and experiment with how to layer paint."
M: Now, for the dreaded senior question — where do you see yourself going after graduation?
L: After graduation, I will spend the summer doing an internship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass. It's an arts organization that hosts artist residencies in the winter. During the summer, they have a different set of workshops every week with different artists and writers coming to teach them. I also applied for a grant that would allow me to study traditional Chinese papermaking at a small workshop in China. Once again, I randomly contacted Nancy Tomasko, an instructor at Bryn Mawr College, who has a special interest in papermaking. After hearing about my summer experience, she was confident enough in my ability that she contacted her papermaking friends in China for me. Papermaking and printmaking are very connected, so it would help my artwork. The region where this workshop is also has many artists and craftsmen specializing in printmaking, brush and ink making, etc. If I don't get this grant, I have a few other "art related ideas" up my sleeve.