By Shannon Miller
Kathleen Celestin Parks, an elementary art teacher anticipating her MFA, found a note in her office from her former student and current MFA student, Danielle Savarese. Savarese invited Parks to attend her first solo art show upon graduating with her B.F.A. in art education. They presented their artwork in the the S.A.L. Gallery located in B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library from. After reconnecting almost 20 years later, their relationship has transformed from teacher and student to fellow classmates. They share a passion for art and education, and each of their collections advocates for a cause.
Savarese’s display contained four separate pieces that communicate a message when viewed together. Her acrylic paintings form a metaphor about the pollution affecting the oceans. “In the last couple of years, it’s been a growing concern,” Savarese said. “They say in 2050 there there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. It’s a very scary thought.” The intention of the paintings depends on how proactive the person viewing them is. The top of the paintings begin with blue hues which coincide to create a metallic vision of a clean ocean, then the viewer ends at the painting of a completely blacked-out ocean.
Savarese uses darker tones to represent an abyss; what she believes the ocean may soon become if human interaction with the environment continues negatively affecting it. She applied a layer of resin glaze over it to further the idea of a plastic atmosphere. Those who stand directly in front of the painting can see their reflection, forcing the observer to question their efforts to make a change.
“You can begin at the piece that is completely blacked out and work your way up to where lifestyle has changed for the better, and the problem has resolved, or at least your own footprint has lessened,” Savarese said. “If you live in the negative, the series of paintings can have the opposite effect.”
The painter brings science into her classroom. Many of the projects she does with her students involve environmental awareness, and she wants her students to understand the connection between why they discuss things like a sea turtles in the ocean and how they relate to them. “If I teach it in the classroom, I should also teach it in real life,” she said.
“You didn’t even really need to speak to the artists to understand the message that they were trying to portray,” Victoria Paveglio,” junior art education, student said.
Parks’ artwork is also a form of activism. As obstacles and controversy facing women’s rights appear in the news, she turned the stories into art. In the MFA exhibition, she displayed two pieces that belong to a complete collection series dedicated to women’s rights issues.
Parks’ began the piece “No More Wire Hangers” in fall 2018 in response to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
“I have a fourteen year old daughter, and I started thinking about what would happen if we take a huge step backwards and we outlaw abortions,” Parks said.
The thought of women taking a step backwards spurred Parks to research the history of Roe v. Wade. She began searching through newspapers from that day in 1973 and found that the country was just as divided then over a woman’s right to choose as it is now. Parks explains the stagnant progress through printmaking. Park copied phrases from the news articles she researched, then transferred them on to the canvas to serve as a foreground to what she calls an “anonymous women” without a face, painted completely in red, and intertwined with a wire hanger.
Her second piece is symbolic for the country’s reaction to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual allegations against Kavanaugh. Parks saw Ford’s decision to come forward 30 years later as liberating; meanwhile, others told her to be quiet. The words “Don’t speak; Be quiet; Don’t tell; Be silent,” are printed behind a pair of closed red lips with a finger resting upon them. Hence the title of the piece, “Shhh.”
“Here’s the thing; in that same moment, they put Bill Cosby behind bars for similar crimes he committed 30 years ago, and yet, they weren’t even willing to hear the woman that had the courage to step up and say something,” Parks said.
Parks and Savarese will graduate in May but will continue to createart that makes a difference.
“Aside from voting, this is how I speak up about it. This is my soapbox,” Parks said. Whoever said, ‘When words fail, art speaks,’ was a genius,” Savarese said.