“It’s beautiful... Now what?” 

Internationally recognized printmaker Nicole Pietrantoni, an Assistant Professor of Art at Whitman College, placed this text onto a photo she took of an Icelandic landscape in an attempt to challenge the concept of beauty in nature. 

Currently, she is at the tail end of a week-long residency at Bowdoin as part of the Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project. As this fall’s chosen printmaker, she has been teaching classes in the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance, hosting workshops and meeting with students for meals. 

Associate Professor of Art Carrie Scanga was instrumental in bringing Pietrantoni to campus. 
She was originally captivated by Pietrantoni’s ability to mix traditional and digital media. 
“[What] I like about her work is that it’s part image and part object. I think that’s again something that is very relevant to our time,” Scanga said.

Though Peitrantoni grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, she always had an interest in nature and landscape. Pietrantoni currently lives in Walla Walla, Washington, where she teaches printmaking and book art at Whitman. 

Pietrantoni began her residency at Bowdoin with a lecture this past Monday in the Visual Arts Center in which she juxtaposed the romantic painting, “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” with a contemporary Washington State tourism brochure. Her opening served to give the audience an idea of the types of themes she explores. 

The painting depicts a man standing on a cliff looking out into an abyss of smoke and fog, while the brochure shows a man in hiking gear looking down from the top of a mountain. Though the images are from different time periods, they each idealize the theme of nature.    

Pietrantoni explained that she’s concerned that beauty has become a construct in our society. The main way in which beauty has been idealized, she emphasized, is from humans’ depiction of natural landscapes and views through paintings and photos. 

“I am interested and feel excited when I see a sunset or when I see a rainbow, I can’t deny that,” Pietrantoni said. “Yet, I can sort of pick at and question, ‘Well, why do I like it?’” 

One of her works, titled “This Waterfall is Falling for You,” consists of a photo she edited in Photoshop and screen printed onto a plexiglass plate. She then mounted the plate to a wall with a c-clamp and small piece of wood and placed a light beneath it to project a shadow onto the wall.The goal of this piece was to create tension between a beautiful landscape and the industrial materials that were holding it together.

When showcasing her projects, Pietrantoni motives go beyond the conventional art exhibit in a gallery. In Iceland, she took photos of landscapes and printed them onto postcards with text reading “Because you can.” She then placed them on postcard racks in tourist shops. 

“I was interested in my own position as a tourist so it was for me to poke fun at myself, but also for people traveling around the island to think about their role as tourists,” she explained after the lecture.     

Through this project, Scanga said, students have the chance to see and work alongside an artist in action. Last semester, the department hosted Nancy Blum, who focused on the merits of public art.

“With each program it seems like there are some students who get turned onto the possibilities of the art world in ways they haven’t thought of before,” she said.