The 43rd Annual HCC juried student art exhibition

Students at HCC Ybor hold a mirror up to us and themselves through their artwork.

click to enlarge Maria Jose G.'s "Pink Sea" (middle bottom) and Sofia Arvanitopolous' "Death in Shadow" (far right) - Jonathan Talit
Jonathan Talit
Maria Jose G.'s "Pink Sea" (middle bottom) and Sofia Arvanitopolous' "Death in Shadow" (far right)

As the school semester wraps up and summertime is just out of reach, a lot of student work is available to see in the Tampa Bay area. It’s been refreshing checking out the student work here, and seeing more and more exhibition spaces showcasing emerging artists is an encouraging gesture in an area that an increasing amount of young people are calling home. The art gallery at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor campus is a perfect example of this, which makes sense — it’s a gallery located in an educational institution. Their 43rd Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition, up through this Wednesday, proudly shows off the students that learn under the HCC umbrella.

All the works in the show are exhibited on the wall. There are no sculptures in sight, though some of the hung works do play with three-dimensionality. Sofia Arvanitopoulos’ “Death in Shadow,” for example, reads initially like a framed painting, but upon further inspection you realize that the frame houses sculptural elements. A thin, red electrical wire undulates near the interior edge of the frame, complementing the painting’s sleek, Jetsons-like design. The image combines voluptuous curves with strict geometries, while still remaining resolutely flat. Arvanitopoulos’ use of an electrical wire almost as a drawing tool underscores this interesting dichotomy, and I hope she continues making work that capitalizes off that. Another piece that has a bold, visual volume while remaining physically flat is Maria Jose G.’s “Pink Sea.” It’s a beautifully simple, delicate Prisma color drawing on tissue paper, but the potency of its palette makes it feel much more durable.

Controlled explorations of form don’t seem to be the main impetus behind most of the works on display, however. Self-awareness, inner dialogues, and individuality appear to preoccupy most of these artists. It makes sense; these are artists in college who are probably changing every day and struggling to figure out where youth ends and adulthood begins. This negotiation is particularly explicit in photograph-based works. There are lots of images of mirrors and other reflective surfaces, as well as literal mirrors like in Cayenne Heym’s “Dysphoria.”

Four silver gelatin prints on top of an octagonal mirror that has shards of yet another mirror collaged on its surface. In both its design and content, the piece is very much about balance. Two vertical prints of women frame two horizontal prints of two women reaching for each other, one in the mirror and the other in “reality.” Both women appear to be the artist herself. Her clear staging and costuming is definitely reminiscent of early Cindy Sherman photographs, though Heym’s piece is probably a little too heavy-handed. Still, her piece is an interesting starting point in exploring the tightrope we all walk between how we envision ourselves internally and the “truth” we see when we look in the mirror. The sharp, anxious quality of the piece really lingers. Jagged marks on one of the prints act as signifiers (gender symbols, punctuation marks) as well as tools of erasure. Cary Stogdill’s “Face Yourself” employs the same scene of a woman in front of a mirror but has none of the collage work of Heym’s piece. “Face Yourself” is a complete exercise of photography. A seated woman in front of two mirrors looking at herself, but the position of each mirror completely obstructs the viewer’s ability to see the woman’s face even though we can see the entire surface of each mirror. It’s a quietly subtle piece illustrating the psychic, never ending game of pong we all play with ourselves: our bias means we can never get a full sense of ourselves, but we can’t stop looking either. We’re our own blind spots. We are the ones who know ourselves the best and the least. The human condition is beautifully annoying.

click to enlarge Cayenne Heym's "Alex" - Jonathan Talit
Jonathan Talit
Cayenne Heym's "Alex"

Then there are works that are clearly self-reflective but occupy the social space instead of exclusively interior ones. Cayenne Heym’s photograph “Alex” has more conceptual breathing room than “Dysphoria.” It’s an image that I think a lot of people can empathize with, particularly creative people. A girl leans her back against a row of school lockers. While other students are talking and embracing each other, she stands alone and gently tilts her head to the side, looking (waiting?) just out of frame. It’s such a ubiquitous scene that it’s almost cliché but it’s not. The row of identical lockers behind the girl perfectly illustrates another contradiction of the human condition: the desire to celebrate your uniqueness and individuality while also having the profound need to belong in a group. Samantha Wheaton’s digital illustration “Till the Cows Come Home” is comic relief but still deals with issues analogous to Heym. It’s a beautifully-executed illustration of a middle-class cow sitting on a recliner, beer in hand and cigarette in mouth, illuminated by the hypnotic glow of the boob tube. Who hasn’t been there?

While a painting of an individual, I think Stephanie Santana’s portrait “McGhee” clearly deals with the exterior world as well. It’s an acrylic painting of an African-American figure probably in his late teens or early 20s; somewhere between a boy and a man. Thick impastos of paint are lathered onto and scraped off of particle board, giving the work a distinct ruggedness that makes it interestingly awkward but not clumsy. More importantly, the figure appears to be squinting or wincing out at us, the viewer. Though isolated within the picture frame, the figure has a definite sense of the outside world, however vague. Even further, the figure appears to be hesitant of us and the outside world. Realizing this, I feel like I assume some control over this static figure; how he thinks of himself, his value, his identity. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to wield that kind of power on another person. If this show had any single theme, it’s the realization that for better or worse, the world of the social drastically disrupts how we come to know ourselves as individuals. It’s an uneasy lesson of adulthood. But then again, it’s the truth.

The art gallery at HCC, Ybor is open Monday and Wednesday-Friday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and Tuesdays from noon to 7 p.m. The 43rd Annual HCC Juried Student art exhibition is up from April 5-26, 2017.