By: Steele Smith, senior writer
On November 7, Sheridan Kate Murray, ’19, will become the first Wofford student to have their artwork exhibited in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts. As a Whetsell Fellowship recipient, Murray has had the opportunity to be cultivated by mentors who have assisted her as she embarked on this creative journey.
A basement is a peculiar place to find an artist, but below DuPre Hall is exactly where Sheridan Kate Murray has spent numerous hours working on her exhibition. While the space is not grand or new, seeing it filled with pieces of Murray’s art gives it quite a purposeful feeling.
“Dr. Goodchild, the head of the Art History department, emailed me and said she didn’t know what my plans were for the summer but that she had a really cool opportunity for me,” states Murray, describing how she first heard of the Whetsell Fellowship program.
Murray explains how Dr. Karen Goodchild, who also happens to be her Art History major advisor, recommended that she apply for the Fellowship, offering to help her through the process. “She [Dr. Goodchild] offered to read my application if I sent it in to her so I decided to do it. I never would have thought that I was good enough, but then she encouraged me to apply for it which made me feel like maybe it would work out, ” says Murray.
Murray initially was drawn to apply for the Whetsell Fellowship because the amount of freedom she felt the program would allow her to have. Designed as a summer fellowship that allows a Wofford student to pursue some aspect of the visual arts under the guidance of a mentor, the Fellowship provides a platform for developing artists at Wofford to create works reflective of their own inspirations.
After being selected as the 2017 Whetsell Fellow, Murray’s project began this past summer when she split time between interning for Dr. Youmi Efurd, curator and cultural arts coordinator, and developing her exhibition.
“A lot of the work that I have developed has evolved since this summer. I had one idea, but as I started working on it, I had other ideas too,” says Murray, detailing part of her experience as she was working on what the focus of her pieces would be. She describes the creative process as equal parts rewarding and stressful. It takes many hours of drawing out different premises and concepts before finding one you want to continue to explore.
Speaking on navigating that sort of unfamiliarity, Murray states, “This part of my body of work has only come to fruition in the past couple of months which is cool but also scary. I am more confident in what I am doing now, but I also am crunched for time.”
For this exhibition, Murray’s works center around the repetition of organic shapes. “I have been drawing these same shapes since freshman year. In my mind’s eye, the forms resemble grapevines. I have always been interested in organic shapes, so I wanted to examine the things that I draw all time and the process of making patterns—things like that,” she explains.
Her pieces focus of numerous iterations of the natural shape that she created. The works each orient the viewer in different ways to the image. Some feature a closer perspective and others place the shapes at a distance.
“It has really been me creating the same form but on different scales and thinking about how I can make an object bigger or smaller. Also I worked on how I can display abstract forms in a way that is interesting to the viewer,” explains Murray.
While her primary mentor throughout her Fellowship has been Lissa Friedman, an environmental artist in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC, the Wofford Studio Art department has also provided much support to Murray, with professors, such as Jessica Scott-Felder, giving input throughout her entire project. This has allowed her to develop an even deeper understanding of the images she creates.
Speaking on the works in her exhibition, Murray states, “My art utilizes a monochromatic palette to allow the viewer to apply their own interpretation onto the works. I play with positive and negative space, letting the organic forms take a life of their own on the page and allowing for a loss of control that I really find interesting to experiment with.”
Murray’s use of space in her pieces has a spirit of multiple beginnings and endings rather than set points of entry and departure for the viewer. She notes that she feels as though the pieces in this exhibition are strongest when viewed together. This is evident even while the pieces have yet to be mounted. Your eyes naturally wander from image to image, making connections as they go.
Despite this being her first solo exhibition at Wofford, Murray says, “I want people to be curious, to feel like they can ask questions about the pieces and to leave wanting to know a little more.”
That approach is very reflective of her personal philosophy as an artist. She places an emphasis on abandoning fear in the name of allowing creativity to blossom.
“I feel like the most important thing is just to make art. If you stay hung up on potential failures, you’ll get nowhere. Move from the theoretical phase into the actual, and make some art. Don’t think too much,” states Murray.
Murray’s exhibition will open in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts on November 7, and she will be giving her artist’s talk on November 16.
Expressing a well-deserved confidence in her art Murray said, “When I look at my work, I feel proud. This is something I have worked hard on, and I see it as an extension of myself. I also feel comforted. These shapes are ones that I draw all the time, and I find solace in the mark making that has allowed me to make these works.”