Art students offer their collegiate swan songs


CW/ Austin Bigoney

Leah Goggins | @leahisonline, Staff Writer

While some students caroused on The Strip Friday night, two senior studio art majors were hunkered down in Sella-Granata Gallery. Inside a white-walled room, senior Caroline Japal, who has a primary concentration in photography with a secondary concentration in painting, was perched on a step stool with a measuring tape in hand. Music bounced around the room as Japal carefully marked the wall at 81 inches from the floor.

She’ll need to be precise when she hangs her 10 photographs in Sella-Granata, making sure that a viewer’s eyeline falls at the middle of the picture.

These photos are a part of Japal’s senior exhibition, one of the last items on her checklist before she graduates in December. Japal, who realized her passion for photography while at her Birmingham, Alabama-area high school, infuses her hometown into each photo in her thesis exhibit.

Her exhibition is titled “Youth Expression,” and its contents are just that: photos of young people in the midst of conversation, laughing and gesticulating. All of the photos were taken in Birmingham, and all of her subjects double as her friends. Some are students at the University, others live in Birmingham – one was Japal’s high school prom date.

The photos are personal and bright – portraits of distilled youth. It is as if Japal’s camera has caught them in the act of living authentically.

“If you were to look at them, and that person in the image was a stranger to you, I want you to be able to look and have some sort of connection with them,” Japal said. “I’m trying to pick up on those in-between moments.”

One of her subjects caught in the in-between is Candace von Hoffman, a senior with a primary concentration in painting and a secondary concentration in photography, who is also Japal’s gallery neighbor. Her exhibit, titled “Sensory Notions,” is a meditation on the intersection of painting and photography, painstakingly rendered onto linen. Von Hoffman was inspired by the aqueous materials used in both painting and photography, and it shows. Her favorite piece sits on light blue linen, a portrait of her youngest sister emerging from water.

“I was really pleased, and I was thinking, ‘This really makes me think of water,’ as usual,” von Hoffman said. “It’s like an inescapable element for me.”

A few feet down from her sibling-inspired tableau, a bright crimson panel of linen hangs from the wall. It is marked in dark, navy blue ink. In the center sits a bright white cabin and tree, with a shady moon keeping watch overhead. Von Hoffman said she affectionately calls the untitled piece “Big Red,” but it will have an official title by the time her exhibit opens to the public Monday.

Von Hoffman needed major convincing to put the loudly colored piece into her show, but now she says it was worth it.

“It was just freaking me out,” von Hoffman said. “I came to realize that I was too scared of it because it represents the part of myself that experiences anxiety, and I didn’t really want to deal with that.”

Von Hoffman doesn’t fear mounting her anxiety on a wall in Woods Hall anymore. “Big Red,” now complete, is a source of pride for her.

“I was terrified to do it, until I did,” von Hoffman said.

Both Japal and von Hoffman credit their advisor, professor Allison Grant, with helping them realize their respective exhibits’ inspiration. Grant helped Japal focus in on her passion for youth photography, and von Hoffman said Grant helped her transform her photographs into the expansive linen hangings that now reside in Sella-Granata. Being an integral part of both exhibitions hasn’t dampened Grant’s enthusiasm for seeing it all in one space.

Seeing these artists’ works together is exciting because they use photography so differently, and their work illustrates just how varied contemporary approaches to the medium can be,” Grant said.

As for the two artists, they are looking toward the future. Japal, who moved back to Birmingham this year, said New York City may be her next destination as she looks for work on editorial projects. Von Hoffman plans to move to Birmingham after graduation – something she and Japal are both looking forward to.

“Right now it feels like we’re working together,” von Hoffman said. “But soon we’ll be hanging out in Birmingham, doing whatever.”

“Youth Expressions” and “Sensory Notions” are on display until Nov. 29 in Sella-Granata Gallery in Woods Hall. There will be a public artists’ reception on Tuesday at 4 p.m.