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Time is a Brisk Wind

Posted November 21, 2011

Mariel Versluis, an associate professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, started her gallery talk on November 17 with a bold statement: “Going on sabbatical got me to be an artist again.“

Her work displayed in the Kendall gallery is a result of the time she was able to take off from teaching. The large, bold, colorful pieces reveal her interests and passions.

“Animals are integral part of my life,” says Versluis. “They symbolize my life, anxieties, fears, my own 'journey' and sometimes the journeys of other people.

“I view this work as my story,” she said, sweeping her arm around the gallery to point out the very large pieces installed on the various walls featuring dogs, horses and geese. 

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“In my head there are ‘chapters’ even though they aren’t placed in that order in the gallery. Each one has to stand alone and be its own chapter.“

I would have liked to have understood this a little more--specific experiences in her life, chapters in her artistic experience? What are these chapters? Maybe that’s the beauty of the gallery show. One can go on a discovery mission to understand Mariel and her work.

She talked about what influences her work. Clearly animals are at the top of the list. 

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The animals in the various pieces are her animals, her friends--her horse, Jango, who she refers to as a “very sexy horse,” and her dog, “the ghost dog” in another large piece. “They are big because they take up a big space in my life.”

The blue horse on a back wall is a reference to a dream she had 15 years ago about a blue horse. “I never knew what to do with it,” she said. Her sabbatical time gave her the opportunity to work with the image that has apparently haunted her. 

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She also is quite enthralled with Tundra Geese. They show up often in her work. “I think this is all about movement in our lives. They migrate every year just like we move from place to place some times,” she mused.

She also makes reference to earlier work--cars and houses on wheels, saying “I’m tipping my hat to a creative body of three dimensional work.”

In general, though, she says she had no agenda when she approached her sabbatical. Anticipating a question from the students, she said, “these are not paintings......they are from a print making point of view.”

“They are really a dialogue between print making and drawing,” she continued. I’m not sure I understood what she meant by this but watching the nodding heads in the audience it was clear that she struck a chord with the students and artists in the room.

Her sabbatical time proved to be well worth it to Mariel Versluis.“ I learned I am still a practicing artist and I can get excited about my work. I think this will make me a better teacher and certainly feels good.”

“After teaching for nearly 20 years I discovered that I was no longer a disciplined practicing artist and while I truly love teaching, I also truly love creating images. This time was really good for me,” she continued earnestly.

At the end of the talk one of the students stood up and spoke directly to her teacher, “Thank you. You express yourself so powerfully and have a huge impact on many of us.”

Wow. What a special moment for everyone to share.

~Susan J. Smith 

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