local artist

Jennifer Chenoweth stands next to her artwork, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” in the Seay Building on Monday evening. Inspired by Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, Chenoweth’s numerous works engage viewers by incorporating their responses to questions about where they experienced different emotions into interactive maps.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Plenty of people have made maps of Austin, but local artist and UT alum Jennifer Chenoweth made a map that takes personal experience into account.

After graduating in 1999 with a Master of Fine Arts, Chenoweth started thinking about her intense attachment to the place she had called home for the past 18 years. What began as self-reflection soon lead to a 13-year artistic journey into the psychology of emotion. 

“The project started with thinking about how we find an attachment to place,” Chenoweth said. “We love Austin. People are always like, ‘Don’t ever say anything bad about my town.’ And what is it about here that gives us such a strong emotional attachment?”

Chenoweth’s collaborative project, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” is a 3-D interactive display that maps emotional experiences throughout Austin. The theory behind the map is based off psychologist Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion and his color wheel. Through a 20-question survey, which 115 people answered, Chenoweth was able to identify specific locations where Austinites felt their highest highs and lowest lows and worked with data imagists to create the map. 

“There are a lot of places where people get really, really intent upon having had an emotional experience, and they get really into that location, and that forms an emotional bonding over place,” Chenoweth said.

Ranging from mortality and vitality to love and loss, the survey is a series of 10 positive questions and 10 negative questions. Examples vary from “Where did you fall in love?” to “Where did you feel deep sadness?” 

According to Chenoweth, patterns emerged from the data suggesting where Austinites experience the most and the least joy. Not surprisingly, residents confirmed their love for Barton Springs and asserted their negativity toward I-35. 

“Some people only answered the positive questions or only answered the negative questions, which I thought was kind of accurate for humans,” Chenoweth said. “Reflection caused kind of a road block in getting answers.”

The installment is being displayed in the southeast entrance of the Seay Building from now until August. Tamara Kowalski, communications coordinator for the psychology department, said the project was especially fitting for the field because the study reaches out to encourage students to participate.  

“We are really excited to have her art work in our department, and we felt the need to be a part of her project that has to do with interviewing people and asking how they feel about things,” Kowalski said.

James Pennebaker, psychology professor and department chair, said Chenoweth is one of a handful of people integrating an element of art into psychology research.

“The nature of art is to challenge it,” Pennebaker said. “[Chenoweth’s] work brings together basic research of people’s experiences, moods and perceptions, and ties them to geographical locations. By doing this, she brings together really interesting science with a visual display.”

Chenoweth is also the founder of Generous Art, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting visual artists and its communities, and the primary hostess for the East Austin Studio Tour. When Chenoweth completed her own survey, she was surprised at how her emotional experiences formed within such a short radius of space.

“[It showed] how I am really attracted to my immediate world and that my significant memories surround me in such a densely populated area,” Chenoweth said. “Home is an adventure for me, and that’s what I feel about Austin.”

Bethany Johnson stands in front of her installation piece at Laguna Gloria titled Rain Collection I: Year of Rain. The piece was meticulously created by exposing soot-covered sheets of glass to rain for 60-second intervals.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the hills of Austin at the Austin Museum of Art’s Laguna Gloria location lies a new method of drawing by local artist Bethany Johnson. Several plates of glass, splattered and misted with black, white and grey hang suspended in the air for interpretation. 

This novel form of drawing was created by infusing ideas from philosophy, science, poetry and history. The most intriguing element of Johnson’s creation is the medium through which it was created. 

“Each of these captures one minute of one rainfall in Austin. To prepare, I would coat a sheet of glass with soot from an oil lamp, and when it rained, I would put it out for sixty seconds,” Johnson said. 

This approach created a fresh look into the studies of rain and science with the impression each raindrop created on the soot. Titled “Rain Collection I: Year of Rain,” Johnson dedicated an entire year to creating the record of art. 

Generated by a combination of spontaneity and intervention, philosophy professor Kathleen M. Higgins believes chance plays a large role in Johnson’s collection. 

“An aspect in my work and teaching is existentialism. And the point in contact with Bethany’s work is the idea of contingency,” Higgins said. 

Johnson’s art was created in such a way that, while her opportunities to create were outside of her control, her opportunity to intervene the cycle of rain was in her hands. While the theme of chance and contingency is present, Johnson believes there is more to her art than just chance. 

“That’s something I think is really interesting about weather as a subject. It deals with chance, but where we might perceive things as random, I don’t think really is random — just overwhelmingly complex,” Johnson said.

The intricacy of Johnson’s work emerges through the images each sheet of glass created. One slide may instill the wonder of outer space, while another grounds you with an earthly appearance of granite. Johnson expressed the way in which her collection is filled with wonder and how it displays nature’s beauty. 

“I think what’s interesting about the patterns these raindrops create is that they duplicate patterns that happen in nature at different scales, or with different materials,” Johnson said. “Some of them can look like vast, galactic spaces, and others have said they look like microscopic slides.” 

A collection filled with wonder and inspired by historical, pre-scientific methods, Higgins felt inspired by the work. 

“Bethany’s art is like a haiku. It gives you little bits of information, yet it’s very evocative,” Higgins said. “Contingently, we are reminded this particular thing happened at this particular moment. But that’s sort of like all of our experience, and I think it has a poetic residence.” 

Studio art senior Katie Rose Pipkin said she viewed the collection with awe. Pipkin believes an intriguing piece of Johnson’s work is the idea of perfection. 

“I appreciate her dedication to embracing things the way they are. Her work is about believing in innate perfection; that there is nothing to fix, improve or edit. It is what it is. That in itself is perfect,” Pipkin said.

A display of how chance and spontaneity intermingles with the intervention of life and living, Johnson’s collection is an intellectual experience.  

“My work inhabits the middle ground between scientific and poetic, impulsive and personal, with the rigid and systematic,” Johnson said. 

Johnson’s collection, along with artist Ann Tarantino’s work, will be available to view at Laguna Gloria through Feb. 17 in the exhibition “ShapeShifting.”

From Graffiti to Art

Francis Azarian helps his father, Ethan Azarian, paint over vandalism on his mural near 30th and Speedway. The mural is one of many by the local artist, whose pieces can be seen along South Congress and elsewhere around Austin.

A collection of artist Ian Schultz’s paintings can be seen at the Wally Workman Gallery located on West Sixth Street. (Photo courtesy of Ian Shults)

Ian Shults has always been interested in art. As a child, his mother helped him make his own toys out of clay. As a teenager, he started creating graffiti characters under bridges after he was kicked out of his high school art class. From then on, he started to become aware of art everywhere he went.

Then, fate intervened. Stults stumbled upon a group of artists building a giant genie sculpture. He stopped in to see what was going on, showed the men some pictures of his graffiti art and eventually was given a job at Skagen Art, which later became Blue Genie Art Industries, a company known for its giant sculptures and murals found around Austin.

After eight years as lead illustrator and head sculptor at Blue Genie, Shults is now creating his own artwork and showing in galleries nationally. The series he is currently working on, “The Social Contract,” is done almost entirely in black and white with angular brush strokes, giving the pieces an eerily mysterious effect. Shults’ creative process starts with the search for new inspiration.

“Normally, I spend hours and hours online and in magazines looking through photos basically trying to find stuff that I dig and then repurposing them in Photoshop and drawing things out,” Shults said.

The characteristic style of Shults’ work can be attributed to the inspiration he finds from old magazines he purchases on eBay. The figures in his pieces look as if they were taken directly from the pages of an aged issue of Life magazine but are given the distinct flair that Shults is known for.

“There’s definitely a vintage swagger going on there,” Shults said.

Fabian Puente, an assistant to Shults who describes his job as making sure Shults does not put his paintbrush down, praises Shults’ artwork.

“His artwork, to me, is attractive and exciting,” Puente said. “The images he uses mixed with his unique style not only move you emotionally but also keep you engaged long enough that you create a story of your own for the painting.”

An assortment of Shults’ paintings can be found at the Wally Workman Gallery located on West Sixth Street. Each painting takes anywhere between a day to three weeks for Shults to complete.

“Several times, it happens that I spend a week on something and end up painting over it,” Shults said.

Shults has been successful as an artist. He has consistently sold his artwork and is getting ready for an upcoming show in San Francisco. But he notes that it is hard for artists to prosper in Austin. Though his ultimate goal is to one day become a full-time artist, Shults has to work a second job bartending at Billy’s on Burnet to get by.

“There are a ton of artists in Austin, a ton of great artists,” Shults said. “But this town is one that hasn’t been renowned for how much people buy.”

But Shults is not in a hurry to leave Austin for a more art-centric town anytime soon. He grew up in Austin and has been here his entire life. After touring the country with a band he was once a part of, Shults realized he was not interested in living anywhere else.

“I looked around for other places I could live in, but I’ve only liked other places because they reminded me of Austin,” Shults said.

It is Shults’ passion about art that shines through as he speaks, and Puente believes passion is the key to success in the world of art.

“The way I see it is if you’re passionate about something and you’re persistent, you can achieve just about anything,” Puente said.

Printed on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 as: Local artist showcases mysterious eerie pieces