IU Bloomington graduate painters collaborate on New York City gallery exhibition

The Painting Center in New York City is presenting the work of 15 students from Indiana University’s Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts in a show that runs through Aug. 9.

As a title, “Inside and Out” suggests that each artist navigates two realms: the external world and an inner world of memory, imagination and intuition.

Christina_Weaver painting

Christina Weaver, “Rift.” Weaver’s piece is part of the “Inside and Out” exhibition at The Painting Center in New York City.

And as an exhibition, “Inside and Out” makes a cohesive visual statement, yet reflects the individual visions of students in the Master of Fine Arts painting program.

“One of the great things about this group is the diverse sensibilities they have,” said Gabriel Phipps, visiting assistant professor of painting at IU Bloomington. “Some of the students are influenced by pop art and some by expressionism; there are realist painters and abstract painters. It’s a real range of approaches that one hopes for in a class.”

Phipps first thought of a show early last spring. The recent transplant from Brooklyn had been pondering a way to connect students in his graduate drawing seminar to the larger art world; he wanted to somehow bridge the distance between the Midwest and New York City.

He made a quick call to The Painting Center — a gallery where he previously had shown work — to ask about their selection process.

“It’s a special place,” Phipps said.

Now in the heart of Chelsea, The Painting Center has survived 20 years as a nonprofit run by artists. The gallery also is unusual because it champions one cause: ensuring that painting remains a vital part of the conversation in contemporary art.

“In the digital age, the business of touching a canvas, even with one’s bare hands, gives painting an unmediated directness that sets it apart from most other artistic practices,” Phipps said. “Painting remains important; it’s as intrinsic to human nature as language or music.”

Creation and curation

Though Phipps rallied interest, it was the MFA students who made the exhibition happen. “The proposal was very much theirs,” he said.

Joe Kameen Painting

Joe Kameen, “Container.” The MFA student from IU said, “I’ve never fallen out of love with painting. It’s the one friend that’s flexible enough to change with me, wherever I go.”

The group submitted a package containing resumes, digital images, sample paintings and a carefully crafted letter.

And when The Painting Center accepted, the students set about curating a show.

With some input from Phipps, Joe Kameen and Tyler Wilkinson made an initial selection of paintings. “Our main goal, aside from holding to the show’s theme, was to really try and make a statement with the exhibition, focusing on merit and interest rather than whether we thought anything would sell,” Kameen said.

“Almost everyone had input, but we left it to a few people to make final decisions,” Nakima Ollin said.

Having a large group and a small gallery space, the painters had to get creative.

The floor plan of the New York gallery was mocked up in an art room by rolling a series of partition walls into place. Paintings were then arranged and rearranged on the walls in dozens of configurations.

During the first cuts, Kameen said the other MFA students were open to letting them make choices. But during the hanging phase and final cuts, discussions became more passionate.

“I brought in my fellow classmates to voice their opinions about the arrangement, and it really made me aware of how many different ways there are to see a space,” Kameen said. “It really became clear how much every move completely changed the feel of the space.”


Gregory Watson said their “tight group” of MFA painters worked well together. No aspect of the show was overlooked, including raising funds to cover transportation costs.

“The most valuable lesson I learned from the experience is the importance of working as a team,” he said. “Exhibitions are complicated events to coordinate.”

Nakima Ollin Ark painting

Nakima Ollin, “Ark.” Ollin said about her work, “I don’t plan paintings or know what I want from them until I see it.”

Thanks to the group’s extensive preparation, the installation of the show in New York moved quickly and smoothly.

The resulting exhibition, which opened July 15, also showcases paintings by Greg Burak, Autumn Bussen, Nathan Foxton, Zach Koch, Maria Korol, Taylor Leaman, Nathan Perry, Mike Reeves, Ekaterina Vanovskaya, Christina Weaver and Taylor Woolwine.

Ollin, Kameen and several other students made it to the show’s opening, which was both well-attended and well-received.

“Honestly, it was a bit of a blur at first,” Kameen said. “I had been involved with every part of the project for so long that I was still kind of on edge.”

He said he worried that something might fail, “Like everyone would show up and all the paintings would drop to the floor like a cartoon. Once that faded, it was a good time.”

Professor Phipps was impressed by the way his students worked together on each phase of the exhibition, but he was not surprised. “Collaboration is a part of my graduate seminar in drawing,” he said. “That kind of partnering is already in the air.

“I was very lucky this year,” he said.” My students were as creative as they were cooperative.”

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