Herron art exhibit features the exchanges of pen pals with paint brushes

Art students Jessica Casey of Herron and Rachel DiCioccio of Youngstown State exchanged these paintings.
Art students Jessica Casey of Herron and Rachel DiCioccio of Youngstown State exchanged these paintings.

The official name of the exhibit running through Feb. 21 at Basile Gallery at the Herron School of Art and Design is “Material Muse.”

But perhaps “Pen Pals With Paint Brushes” more accurately describes the true inspiration behind the exhibit on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

The paintings on display are exchanges between students in professor Danielle Riede’s painting class at Herron and art students taught by Youngstown State University professor Dragana Crnjak.

Eighteen sophomores and juniors from Riede’s class were paired with Youngstown State students. They exchanged original paintings. As if they were pen pals conversing by letters, a Herron student would complete an original painting and mail it to her or his partner at Youngstown, who would in turn create and mail back an original piece in response.

“We wanted a way for our students to collaborate on paintings and didn’t have big enough budgets to take all of our students to each other’s campuses,” said Riede, associate professor of art at Herron.

“We also wanted students to explore the possibilities of painting as a medium,” she said. “Collaborating in this way also opens up students to risk, which is a necessary ingredient for growth.”

All the mailed paintings were between 2 and 5 inches square. Riede recommended her students create 10 pieces and then pick a favorite to ship to Youngstown in Ohio.

“At the time most of us had not worked on such small paintings.  I was excited to try something new,” student Amy Applegate said. “I ended up sending five of my 10 pieces — two works on cardboard, a small abstraction on canvas, a whited-out promotional button and a painting on a scrap of particle board.

“My response piece was another formal experimentation using bottle caps, magnets and acrylic paint. I pulled my color palette and natural iconography from the (Youngstown) piece I was responding to,” Applegate said.

While it was perhaps hard for her students to let go of their creations, “on the other hand, opening the works that had been shipped was a really fun experience,” Riede said. “The YSU students’ paintings felt like gifts for the (Herron) students; they were so curious to open the other students’ works.”

Herron student Jessica Casey was “super-excited about the idea of collaborating and working long distance with other students in the region.”

“I sent two small mixed-media collage pieces using paint skins, drawing materials, plastic, fabric and sewing,” Casey said. “My hope (was) to inspire the person receiving the work to create something with an array of materials.

“I received a large shell covered in paint; I altered it with wire and then on canvas did gestural drawings of the shell in chalk. I then used oil, acrylic, latex and melted wax to build up mass on the canvas and create an interesting depth on the surface,” Casey said.

The Basile Gallery is in IUPUI’s Eskenazi Hall, 735 W. New York St. Gallery hours are 10 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free and open to the public.