With Self-Portraits, Studio Art Major Finds Emotional Connection, Career Catalyst

Brittany Lewis

Each spring, the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University showcases the work of seniors who are majoring in studio art. The exhibition is the final requirement for art students earning their Bachelor of Arts degree and is the capstone experience of their yearlong senior project.

Among the six artists featured in the 2018 Senior Majors Exhibition, which was on display May 8 – 20, was Horizon student Brittany Lewis. In her capstone project, she drew a series of self-portraits displaying all her different moods using grisaille painting, a centuries-old technique that emphasizes shades of gray and creates the semblance of sculpture.

“In this installation, I explored the different sides of my personality that collectively form myself via black and white portrait painting,” Lewis explains in her artist statement. “The contrasting values effectively elevate the drama and emotion of the paintings, and so, I divulge the most vulnerable parts of myself that I often keep masked away, as well as parts I unapologetically express. The various grays within the paintings parallel the many facets that exist within me, reiterating the notion that there is no black and white definition for one’s true self.”

Remarkably, Lewis notes that she only started realistic painting during this past academic year. “I found that I really enjoy oil painting and portraiture, and I wanted to explore those techniques further.” She had never before thought of herself as an interesting subject for her art work, but felt that in doing so for her capstone experience, “I would be more connected to the new media I was trying to master, and more connected to myself emotionally.”

By smoothing out brushstrokes and detailing specific features, Lewis says she paints “with hyper-realistic qualities. As I pull emotion from the static images, I intensify them by using dramatic lighting and enhancing specific parts of my face, like my eyes or the curves of my mouth. I enjoy realistic painting and connecting different emotions to my portraits. My art then evolves into more than just replicating the facts that I see.”

Horizon is Hollins’ adult baccalaureate degree program for women who are at least 24 years of age, and Lewis credits it and director Mary Ellen Apgar for giving her encouragement and understanding whenever she needed it. “Horizon was actually one of the reasons I came to Hollins. I felt like my struggles as an adult student, balancing work, school, and home life, would be best understood within the program, and that I would be helped along the way.

“I was also drawn to Hollins’ friendly environment and by my best friend Azra Mezit, who is an alumna and works at the university as the admissions data coordinator. She told me how much she loved the campus and that I would feel right at home, and she was right. I couldn’t have asked for a better institution to call my home away from home.”

Lewis’ goal is to become an illustrator and in the meantime hopes to find a job in an art-related field. In any event, she says, “I will continue painting and learning on my own.”