Collaboration binds UNCG to NY artists

by Amy Kingsley

ChanSchatz started as an art community of two. Eric Chan and Heather Schatz met as undergraduates and, in time, merged both their surnames and artwork. They also got married.

Since becoming the first pair to earn a joint MFA (from Columbia University) and share a joint teaching post, they’ve expanded their notion of artistic communion to include soldiers in Iraq, coal miners in Pennsylvania and even design students at UNCG.

ChanSchatz is one of three Falk Visiting Artists at UNCG this semester. They were chosen in part because of their experience with collaboration to work directly with an undergraduate class. The New York-based artists had the option of working with a web design class, a painting class or a digital design class.

They chose the design class, which had 24 students, and soon set to work designing a collaboration that would ultimately include 50 people.

“This was very new to [the students],” said Amy Lixl-Purcell, a professor in the design department. “This whole idea of collaboration was something different. They’re very used to solving problems by themselves, but to have it all based upon guests and community was something else.”

For the assignment, each student in Lixl-Purcell’s class chose a guest. ChanSchatz provided selection sheets with characters the duo has developed during their 10-year collaboration and palettes of color.

Each student and guest selected characters and colors, and the students used those raw materials to create a work that would say something about their partners. ChanSchatz, in turn, took the students’ characters and colors and incorporated them into an expansive mural.

At the beginning of the project, which started Jan. 8 on the first day of class and ended Jan. 31 with the opening of an exhibit, students took photographs of themselves and their partners holding pictures of their characters.

Two students chose their moms, some chose roommates, but most chose their significant others, Lixl-Purcell said. They did it out of convenience, she added, but the nature of romantic involvement added a creative wrinkle to the part of the assignment intended to reflect something about their guests.

ChanSchatz worked with the students all semester via videoconference and arrived in late January to supervise installation of the show. On Jan. 31, they, the students and faculty gathered to admire the work.

Students’ interpretations of ChanSchatz characters varied as wildly as their backgrounds. One student repeated a Lepidoptera-like figure, conjuring a swarm of warm-hued shapes that spilled over the bottom left corner of the page. Another placed his character square in the center of the page and, using bold colors, airbrushed the edges into an image resembling an eighties metal album cover. Another artist took the imperative to comment on her guest to its logical conclusion: she used variations on her character to design a portrait.

ChanSchatz’s mural took the characters and bathed them in neon hues. It sits in the center of the Gatewood Gallery surrounded by the smaller works and process photographs of students and guests with their characters. The mural evokes not only the nature of collaboration, but also the artistic personality of the entity that is ChanSchatz.

ChanSchatz works with 140 corporate sponsors as part of their community-building effort. Their connections secured free pieces of Hahnemuhle art paper and framing supplies used to hang the final projects.

Chan Schatz left for New York shortly after the opening of the exhibit. The results of their collaboration with UNCG will linger a bit longer, and the lessons learned by aspiring artists will perhaps last a lifetime.

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