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Evelyn Beliveau explores presence in portraiture

September 21, 2018

VIEW OF BELIVEAU: Visual Arts major Evelyn Beliveau ’19 presents an exploration in portraiture in the Lamarche Gallery of Smith Union. Drawn from life with charcoal and color pastel, her works investigate the immediacy and materiality of her medium.

Upon walking into the Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union, it’s hard to not be immediately absorbed by the creative world of Evelyn Beliveau ’19. Titled “Presence,” the exhibit is filled with charcoal and pastel portraits, sculptures and line drawings that explore the dynamism of color and form.

Beliveau showcases a select series of work created under the Surdna Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which allowed her to stay on campus over the summer and create paintings and portraits drawn from life. Her project evolved as she expanded her choices of medium to include small sculptures made of paper shopping bags.

Though they were a major component in her process, Beliveau excluded her paintings from the exhibit to heighten the visibility of her drawings. She cited a tendency for drawings to be overlooked or regarded as preparatory when shown alongside paintings, saying she wanted the drawings to “have their day in the sun.”

Beliveau’s artistic interest in portraiture is by no means new, but rather a continuous creative expression over the last several years.

“I started picking up magazines and looking for the full-sized magazine advertisements which [depicted] a life sized, airbrushed and oversimplified face and I would just draw from them in pencil,” she said.

For her independent study last spring, Beliveau began working with models from the Bowdoin community who she found via social media. People who she barely knew came into her studio for short sittings, which offered a rare authenticity and immediacy to the experience, as opposed to past projects where she would spend multiple sessions on one piece.

The title of the show, “Presence,” refers to the rare occurrence of models being present for a few hours while she created the portraits.

“For me [the portraits are] a lot about the collaboration of doing a portrait from life and the interaction with the sitter, because it’s always going to be a very specific moment in time … it is kind of a unique experience to be in a space with someone, and look at each other for longer than you normally would,” Beliveau said.

Following a rich tradition of artists who grappled with expression and introspection, Beliveau also tapped into the powerful process depicting her own sense of self.

“A lot of them are self-portraits, experimenting with the performative aspect of self-portraiture but also [experiencing] the vulnerable aspect of trying to choose how to portray yourself, or edit from all the possible ways you can look,” she said.

The exhibition was a collaborative process between Beliveau and student curators of the Lamarche Gallery.

Devon Garcia ’21 and Bianca Torres ’20, who curated the gallery alongside Meghan Parsons ’19, noted the intentional layout of the exhibit, which juxtaposes the black and white charcoal drawings with vibrant portraits in pastel; the resulting combination of monochrome with a few pops of color enhances the display’s awe-inspiring effect.

“Evelyn’s work is very noticeable,” said Torres. “So to have most of the work be in black and white was a bit jarring, because I really love her colorful work. But also it was really impressive to see how expressive black and white could be too, and it speaks a lot on her behalf as an artist.”

“At the reception, it was fascinating to see how everyone else interacted with the pieces and how they are all conceptions of the emotions she was trying to draw out,” added Garcia.

Aside from the emotional and temporal immediacy captured in portraiture, the materials used are also emblematic of Beliveau’s process. She repeatedly investigates the mundane nature of paper in varying media, from drawing to sculpture. Each mark or individual line captures the instantaneous sensation received by the artist, resulting in a work that documents the continuous passage of time—an aspect of works on paper that is commonly overlooked.

“Charcoal drawing [is] just one substance [interacting with] the paper, [which] very much puts the emphasis on the immediate moment and the immediacy of the observation,” she said. “[The sculptures are] also Hannaford shopping bags, [which] makes them very colloquial and a material that you don’t really think about. I think those ideas tie together the sculptures with the drawings.”

“Presence” will be on view in the Lamarche Gallery in Smith Union through October 4.

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