The Grace Hauenstein Library Gallery and Study Space at Aquinas College welcomes a new exhibition this week– Holly Roberts: Photography Reimagined. Holly Roberts is a prolific artist blending paint and photography into surreal works of art that captivate the creativity and curiosity of viewers around the world. The gallery will host a soft opening on February 5 from 12 - 4 p.m. where they invite the campus and local community to visit the gallery, ask questions, have conversations and enjoy these stunning works of art.

The exhibition’s story began with a discovery at Brookby while faculty were cataloging its art collection for the College’s digital archive. During the process, they came across the largest piece in the exhibition, an untitled work featuring a human figure with the head of a canine. When they reached out to Roberts and confirmed the artwork was indeed hers, she offered to donate 11 more works to the College. All 12 will be featured in the exhibition.

Collage style artwork featuring the face of a woman on a blocky painted body

Here’s how Holly Roberts describes her artistic process:

I start all my work by painting abstractly, paintings which will then become the foundation of each image. Once I start forming the images, I select from my (bottomless)collection of materials or photographs I’ve taken to begin to tell a story. The story unfolds as I work, and is only revealed to me bit by bit. This process is much like following a trail of bread crumbs with no idea of a destination until, at long last, I arrive. What has resulted is a wide variety of images, each with their own story. Animals, people, and people as animals become the vehicles that portray complicated relationships along with the daily fears, joys, and anxieties of being alive in the world today.

“What I find intriguing about Holly Roberts' work is how she inverts the idea of the photograph as a very self-contained recording of reality,” said art department chair Dana Freeman. “In her hands, they become the emerging inner spirit of her paintings or parts of beings trapped in her abstractly painted bodies or landscapes.”

Collage like artwork of a pink face with photorealistic eyes

Whether you are an art connoisseur or have very little art experience, viewing Roberts’ art can delight your imagination. History of Art and Art professor Dr. Jochen Wierich suggests that attendees consider what narrative might be suggested in the layers of each work for deep viewing. 

“Let yourself be amazed by these Roberts’ whimsical works,” said Wierich. “Open yourself up to discovering the little things that give you a hint of story. It may not be the realistic art that some people are used to, but it is art that people tell me they enjoy returning to because they see new things.”

As a professor of art herself, Holly Roberts encourages her students to follow their artistic intuition as they create: 

My students learn to trust that by using their hands they will connect to their deep creative selves.  They learn that the real creative process comes from allowing themselves to not be slaves to their ‘ideas’ but instead, by allowing things to unfold as they work with their physical materials—paint, brushes, scissors, pencils, charcoal, clay etc-- they learn to follow what is presented to them.  It involves taking a huge leap of faith and trusting that what they need to know will be revealed to them as they work--and that finding and following that faith is never easy.

A photograph of a dog, the photo is split in two with yellow paint splattered across

The Grace Hauenstein Library Gallery and Study Space, which opened just last year, is located across from the library’s circulation desk in an area of high foot traffic, encouraging students from all corners of campus to engage with art. It also has an array of seating that lends itself to professor office hours, studying, meeting with friends, or sharing a coffee. It invites people to linger with the art for as long as they like.

“More faculty have started to pay attention to the space and develop programs,” said Professor Wierich. “One of the programs I thought was really successful had students write poetry in response to the Gilot exhibit. We even had German language students who wrote poetry in German. The space offers opportunities for collaboration and conversation.”

The possibilities for interdisciplinary programs and projects that engage with the dream-like work of Holly Roberts are endless. The gallery’s opening marks only the start of the many more conversations that can be sparked by art collections on Aquinas College’s campus. 

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