Alternative Poster Sale Promotes Student-Made Art

Emma Baxter

South Dome Studios played host to a new kind of arts event last weekend, as 10 student artists displayed their work in Oberlin’s first alternative poster sale.

“Selling art wasn’t the activity that I thought I would be getting myself into,” said College senior and co-organizer of the poster sale Tom Kearney. “There’s just certain parts of fine art that bother me, and one of those is that it’s very expensive.”

The relationship between money and art is interesting to Kearney, who came up with the idea for the alternative poster sale after going to the College’s annual poster sale held in Wilder Bowl.

“I was inspired in a certain way,” he said, recalling the event. “I went last year and ended up buying a poster, but then immediately saw artwork from my friends and regretted it. Silkscreened posters that I was blown away with. And then I see all these kids walking away with posters of Marilyn Monroe and Tupac — not that those people aren’t worth celebrating, but there is something deeper that’s happening here that’s worth putting up on your wall.”

College senior, artist and Treasurer of Exhibition Initiative Nico Alonso agrees with Kearney when it comes to the “impersonal and very commercial imagery” of the posters at the school-sponsored sale.

“Thinking of Oberlin — where there is so much artistic talent and desire to have works that feel more intimate — makes the opportunity for us to have this poster sale really important,” she said. “The most important thing about this sale and what makes it so special is that it’s work done by students.”

Alonso submitted her poster design, and it was chosen out of approximately 45 entries to be one of 10 designs featured in the sale.

“I am really interested in texture. I decided to use a lot of images from sea anemones, seascapes and coral reefs. I also used icons from Día de los Muertos,” she said. “I wanted it to be a formal exploration of ways you can find and use similarities in textures to layer an image. It’s intended to be fun to look at. I want people to look at the poster and find new things, like an ‘I Spy.’”

Part of Exhibition Initiative’s mission this semester was to reach out to a broader audience of students. In thinking of ways to do that, they decided that making art more accessible on campus was especially necessary. They chose the medium of posters for its low cost and accessible nature.

As Alonso explained, “Even if you’re not a studio major or an artist, it is important to have art. I’m not a studio major and I designed a poster. I feel like I’m doing something productive. One of the important things to me is that people can own art and look at it and live with it. Being able to participate in an event that lets people have art they would enjoy is something that makes me happy.”

College junior Liora Lebowitz came to the poster sale with her friend, College junior Ren Wiscons, who designed a poster.

“I’ve never been particularly excited about the other poster sale. I think it’s a lot of money for not very original posters,” said Lebowitz. “These are really cool because I feel like I’m supporting my fellow students and I know I’m not going to find it everywhere. It’s nice to get my friends’ work and have it to myself.”

As Alonso proved, each poster design came from a distinct artistic motivation. For Wiscons, it was growing organic crystals.

“Last semester I took Mineralogy. We learned to take optical and polarized images. It was really cool to see something on the microscopic scale be magnified so large,” she explained. “You don’t really know what it is when you look at it. But you can see the details and [that] adds to its impact. I love the dimensionality and symmetry of the image.”

Double-degree fifth year Charlie Spears created a set of seven images for his Thievery for Artists class. Out of that series, one image was chosen for the sale.

“The series is titled Yuppie Miracles; this is the Boys to Men one,” he said. “It’s about miracles that didn’t happen. I thought it was interesting how a lot of the people I grew up with were in punk bands or hardcore scene and ended up in finance. It was kind of making fun of the inevitable, that people fall into these capitalist roles of the post-hippie phenomenon,” Spears said.

Admiring the Boys to Men poster, College first-year Lily Posner remarked, “Its colors are really appealing to me, and I’m curious to know how that image was put together. I have a secret desire to make [an] awesome poster,” she said, “I’m getting inspiration by just being here. There is so much thought that goes into making these, [and] it’s cool knowing that students made them.”

In discussing his own creative process, Spears explained, “Thinking about what to make takes the longest time for me. Actually putting it together [took] about 30 seconds.”

College junior Oliver Levine, a Studio Art major who designs many of the silkscreened posters for events around the campus, also had one of his designs featured in the sale. “It was rewarding doing this project because I had been wanting to do a poster that wasn’t for an event, but for me,” he said. “I didn’t have to think of a specific event that I had to tailor the design to. It’s more than a poster; it’s a piece of my art.”

Levine’s poster stemmed from his own practice as an artist. “That design was something I did over the summer in my sketchbook. It’s very much in the same vein as my studio work,” which he described as “biomorphic shapes and experimentation with colors.” In discussing his design for the sale, he explained, “I want people to look at my poster and see different things depending on who they are and what they want to see in it.”

Overall, Kearney was happy with the way things turned out. “It was great having the sale [on] the same night as the art event of the semester, which is the Senior Studio Half-Time show. It wasn’t as much work getting people out because they would already be out,” he said.

Exhibition Initiative plans on making the alternative poster sale a regular event. “This was just a test run,” Kearney said. “Hopefully it will be bigger next time. We have the means to create a unique visual culture here. We have the talent to make art available for everyone and allow people to build a meaningful relationship to the art here. That’s what this event is about: letting people own art and [having] artists get their art out to people who want it.”