Gallery exhibitions positively challenge students, viewers

Undergraduate artists tell personal motivations behind their works -- guided by inspiring professors -- to make people think about the world in new ways

January 19, 2022
By Faith Morgan '23

Saint Michael’s College senior art students have been honing their skills and finalizing their artistic pieces for exhibitions planned throughout the spring semester in the McCarthy Art Gallery. Students worked with Brian Collier, professor of fine arts, among others in the Art Department to put together a collection of pieces in the senior studio class during fall of 2021.


“Self Portrait” by Hannah Muse ’22

Hannah Muse ‘22—an art and design and education studies double major with a minor in art history from Yarmouth, MA — admits that while the prospect of sharing her work in the gallery is nerve wracking, the creative experience has been rewarding. “I’ve never had a gallery showing and this is a very personal part of myself that I’m putting out there. Trying to make the message clear without compromising the original theme is really important to me,” said Muse.

Muse has put together a collection of five portraits, all displaying women of different identities that represent her own. The senior studio class in the fall semester was an exploration of those identities, said Muse, who takes a lot of artistic inspiration from her family and identity since they are both very important to her. Alongside exploring and presenting her identity, Muse is very interested in how her art may convey a certain message by making viewers uncomfortable.

“I love painting portraits specifically of women. My portraits are very confrontational with their facial expressions,” said Muse. “Some people have said they make them uncomfortable, which I actually like. People want me to be uncomfortable with my identity, especially the more marginalized parts of it,” said Muse.


“Beatriz” by Hannah Muse ’22

Portraying an image that unsettles the viewer puts them in the position of possessing those uncomfortable feelings, which helps the viewer understand, said Muse. Alongside making viewers feel and think about their discomfort while viewing, Muse is also interested in bending the idea of traditional portraiture, composing portraits that are unconventional. “The portraits are of women making facial expressions that you wouldn’t normally see in traditional portraiture. I like having people rethink what they think of portraiture and specifically women in portraits,” said Muse.

Abstract conceptual work

Using art as a vehicle to push viewers’ way of thinking is a common theme in the motives of the art students displaying their work this semester. Ethan Li ‘22—a media studies, journalism, and digital arts (MJD) and art and design double major from Wuhan, China—believes that his work may be difficult to comprehend for some viewers. “What I do is conceptual art. It’s more abstract and hard to understand,” said Li. Pushing viewers to think about what they’re seeing and ultimately shift their thoughts on his subject is what’s important about the art, said Li.

Too Much

“Too Much” by Ethan Li ’22

“My idea for this exhibit, which I have titled ‘The Fragment that we Lost,’ came from a Nietzsche theory. He argues that if time is infinite, our lives are going to repeat again and again. He thinks this is horrible, meaningless. I disagree. I think our lives are meaningful because we are repeating them over and over again,” said Li. Capturing images of objects that represent small aspects of our lives focuses on his disagreement with this theory, said Li.

“There’s a German phrase ‘Einmal ist Keinmal’ which means once is never,” said Li. If you listen to a song once, or meet someone just once, you are not fulfilled by the presence of those things or people, said Li. The fulfillment comes from the repetition of engaging in and with the things that bring us joy, said Li — from there we are able to build on our appreciation of life’s fragments.


“Never” by Ethan Li ’22

Li recognizes his studies with MJD as something that aids his creativity and understanding of the art he makes. “The media gives me critical thinking about societal problems and the art makes the problem or question abstract a bit,” said Li. Taking a problem or question that he is wrestling with and making it into something abstract is a way of further thinking about and understanding it, said Li.

Like Li, Kayla Riordan ‘22—an art and environmental science double major with a minor in chemistry from Ludlow, Massachusetts—has taken the topics she is interested in from both of her majors and melded them together. Riordan has created paintings displaying UV patterns that exist on flowers but are only seen by an insect’s eye. “Learning about the presence of UV patterns and the fact that they’re used to connect with pollinators was amazing. Especially how this is happening in our common flowers, right below our eyes and we can’t even see it,” said Riordan.


“Geranium” by Kayla Riordan ’22

Since the natural world is something she is passionate about, it acts as her artistic inspiration often, said Riordan. “This project renewed my sense of wonder for the natural world,” she said. Displaying the beauty of the natural world is something she hopes her exhibit will do. “I want to help other people to understand that even though we’ve made a lot of discoveries in the world, there’s still a lot we don’t know,” said Riordan. Her biggest hope with this exhibit is to open her audience’s eyes to the wonderful things that are out in nature and the aspects of the natural world that aren’t thought about on a day to day basis, she said.

Riordan said that she appreciated all the support she received from her professors while working on the pieces in her exhibit. “The entire Art Department is so helpful and so generous with their time and their resources. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of my professors like Professor Collier and Professor Mentor,” she said. Muse and Li agreed that many professors from the school have been a great help in the exhibition preparation process.


“Rudbeckia” by Kayla Riordan

“Four professors [Jerry Swope, Jordan Douglas, Brian Collier, Will Mentor] gave me lots of help in different ways,” said Li. “They have their own point of view of me since I have worked with them in different ways. They all gave me different points of views and critiques on my photos.” Muse said that Brian Collier was a tremendous help throughout the senior studio class in the fall and through the class’s critiques.

Kayla Riordan’s exhibit will be open to the public from February 15 through February 26. Hannah Muse’s exhibit will be open from March 22 through April 1. Ethan Li’s exhibit will be open from April 5 through April 15. Receptions for exhibitions will be held February 25, March 23, and TBA respectively. Other students will have exhibitions open to the public throughout the rest of the semester.

To find out more about student exhibitions, please visit

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