In a recent interview, novelist Anne Tyler said that once her books are accepted by the publisher, she’s “like a mother cat with kittens. I never think about them again. They’re gone.”
Once Erin Castellan hangs her MFA work in the Grunwald Gallery, the feeling is somewhat akin.
“The first couple of days after it was hung, it felt like it didn’t belong to me any more,” Castellan remarks. “You have all those months where it’s very close, and you touch it and you work on it, and you know it intimately, and then suddenly it’s here and it feels like some long lost friend that you’ve had a separation from. It’s part of everyone else’s life now and no longer belongs solely to you. So there is that strange remove.”
The mixed media works Castellan has included showcase her mixed media process, which involves cutting burlap into irregular shapes, soaking it in multiple layers of wall paint until it becomes rigid, adjoining freely draped fabric swaths to it, and embellishing the surface with hand-painted detail and embroidery. It’s a highly empirical, self-directed process, whereby Castellan hopes to achieve a state of “frozen tension,” as she characterizes it.
The works’ apparent staticity–and the degree to which gravity is implicated–has been a source of consistent discussion in critiques over the two years of the MFA program. At least one of the works in the show– Perception Shift–addresses that line of inquiry, contrasting a rigid lower piece pushing upward with material that cascades down from the top of the piece.
Resisting Gravity, Or Yielding To It
Although she chose–in at least this one piece–to incorporate her professors’ challenge that she resist gravity, she’s not convinced that the piece achieves the meanings she is interested in pursuing.
“It is important to me that these things feel somewhat vulnerable,” explains Castellan. “They literally can’t support themselves–they hang, and they are acted upon by gravity. I as a human can connect with them more because they have that vulnerability–in combination with the strength implicit in the marks of time and history [registered by the embroidery and hand-painted areas].”
Culminating two years of graduate work, the MFA show could provide a nice opportunity for a break.
Castellan took off a week, but she’s back in the studio pursuing new directions. “Working toward this thesis show was frustrating in that I couldn’t work on a million things at once. I like to have everything going at once, at different stages in the process, so that if I feel like painting one day, I can paint; if I feel like sitting down and embroidering, I can do that. So finally I can get back to what I enjoy.”