The first things an observer of the student art exhibit notices are the pages strewn across the ground in an unconventional collage, striking colors and reoccurring images symbolizing a love of art history.
“My work’s very playful and bright and I want people to like feel good and feel like they’re being stimulated by all of the colors and patterns,” artist Daphne Sweet said.
Sweet is a painting student on the cusp of graduation and has art on exhibit in the student art gallery inside the Fine Arts Building on the University of Montana campus until Feb. 11.
“She really brings a lot of energy and excitement into the classroom and her work brings a really nice sense of playfulness as well as rigor,” said Kevin Bell, the director of the School of Visual and Media Arts and one of Sweet’s painting professors.
Her style is focused on the color and line work she can create with both drawing and painting, as well as several reoccurring symbols.
“I love just like the deep history you can find in art and like the ties to certain imagery that just permeates through human history,” Sweet said. “And colors, I just love colors and like the response to colors.”
She’s developed an image of a feminine face over time that pops up in a lot of her pieces — a round softness, a wide nose and expressive eyes. She also loves depicting vases, the curvy container resembles the feminine body and represents her love of art history. She also loves the way the ancient Greek vases could serve as vessels for both stories and sustenance.
“I love that idea of just this container of history,” Sweet said.
Bell said the university has a strong art history department and that it’s something artists often draw on for inspiration, but Sweet’s vision is uniquely her own.
“She’s taken these classical and traditional and historical motifs and she’s kind of injected them with personality as a way to make them come to life,” Bell said.
Oranges though are perhaps the most important symbols to Sweet. The bold little fruit is sometimes hidden in larger pieces and is sometimes a prominent part of the whole. To her, it evokes nostalgia and reminds her of her artistic roots.
Both of Sweet’s grandmothers passed on their love of art to their granddaughter. She spent a lot of time growing up with her grandma who lived in Redlands, California, near an orange grove. Her whole house smelled like citrusy oranges.
At another art showing Sweet featured felted tennis balls that were orange-scented. She believes in the power of smells to evoke emotion and nostalgia, as the oranges do for her. She didn’t include that feature in her student exhibit though, since nobody would be able to smell through their masks.
Sweet is always drawing. She carries around a sketchbook and has even switched out drawings or added new ones to the floor collection a few times since the gallery opened.
“I just left them on the ground because I just love this like quilt that it makes and it’s like this pool of color and line that’s very intense,” Sweet said. “Seeing them on the ground really makes me happy because I feel like I’m breaking rules in a certain sense of just leaving your valuable pieces on the ground.”
Sweet signed up to exhibit her work in the gallery for a month. She spent a few days setting up, trying to really feel what to do with the space beyond the paintings she already had picked out.
“I knew I wanted to sit in the space and see what the space needed and kind of treat it like the whole thing’s my piece,” Sweet said. “It felt good just to paint on the walls.”
Bell said that drawing or painting on the walls has become a bit of a trend in the gallery as students realize their art isn’t contained to the canvas. Though he said he has to ensure the student can get it back to white afterward.
One of the first paintings visitors see in the gallery is of a simple vase and fruit. When Sweet was first setting up the show that painting was just a plain white vase and an orange. Then she added patterns and images in ultramarine blue to the vase, like a hand reaching for a snake and the bust of a woman and even more oranges. Even after the additions the painting has this still, calming presence among the chaotic patterns and colors of the rest of her gallery, becoming what she called the show’s “resting point.”
The ultramarine blue she used on the vase is probably her favorite color to work with. It’s deep and crisp and full of historical significance. The color is said to be richly spiritual and thus was often the only color that painter and existentialist Yves Klein would use in his artwork.
Bell said he hopes Sweet will continue to do art long after she graduates and that she’ll realize the caliber of her work. He’s excited that she’s already shown in galleries outside of UM but hopes to see her work displayed in a big art city one day.
“Daphne is definitely a motivated artist, who we expect great things from,” Bell said.