When speech pathologist and Tyler graduate Paula Cahill was working toward her master’s degree at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she wanted to focus on painting the human figure.
Her professors, she said, had an unexpected piece of advice for her.
“They told me, ‘If you really want to learn to paint, paint a fish,’” Cahill said. “So I painted a fish.”
Several piscine portraits later, Cahill found an interest in not only painting the structure of the fish, but in tracking its movement through the water. A Detroit native who grew up on swimming, boating and watching Jacques Cousteau videos, Cahill said it seemed natural that she developed a passion for marine painting.
Cahill’s recent works have explored both aquatic subject matter and abstract style, which led to “Pink Sharks,” a painting that was featured in Victory for Tyler, an alumni exhibition series, in 2013.
“My daughter, who took a high school marketing class always says, ‘Mom, you’re never going to get anywhere. People don’t want pink sharks, sharks aren’t pink in the first place!’” Cahill said.
“I just laugh,” she added.
Currently, two more of Cahill’s pieces are on display at the Icebox Project Space in the 2015 Victory for Tyler event. A collection of 45 works by 23 alumni will represent Temple’s artistic legacies at the exhibition space on 1400 N. American St. until April 26.
Before moving to Philadelphia, Cahill was not a painter. Her first painting – a still life of blue teacups on a printed cloth – remains in her kitchen, a reminder of the initiation of an art career that happened “later in life.” She visited art schools in the area and finally chose Tyler.
“I called it my night degree. I did all my homework after they went to bed,” Cahill said, referring to her three children.
Like Cahill, Carmichael Jones, another artist in the new Victory for Tyler alumni exhibition series, didn’t head to Tyler for a degree right away. A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Jones studied music, photography and glass at several community colleges before attending Tyler in 2009.
“I always knew I wanted to pursue art,” Jones said. “I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college.”
Jones became an undergraduate student at 28 when he entered Tyler – Temple is the only four-year university to which he’d ever applied. In 2013, he emerged with a bachelor’s degree in glass, a medium that Jones said is demanding but widely versatile.
“It requires your full attention and does not reward the half-hearted,” Jones said.
The exhibition will showcase Jones’s installation, “Can’t you see the world is on fire?” The piece is a thick mass of pink Mongolian faux fur encased in a cerulean-painted wooden frame.
“[It] is the culmination of thoughts on joy, grief, existential anxiety, gender and sensory input,” Jones said. “It also comments on the tension between the handmade and the ready-made.”
Molly Clark Davis, the director of alumni relations for Tyler, Boyer College of Music and Dance, the School of Media and Communication and the department of Film and Media Arts, said she finds the diversity of the exhibit noteworthy.
“I love that it really represents alumni who graduated 30 years ago and alumni who graduated last May, so it’s really all-inclusive of Tyler,” Clark Davis said.
For Anthony Elms, the juror for this year’s show, working with biennial exhibits is not an unfamiliar prospect. A current associate curator with the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Elms also co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial. This exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has formerly promoted artists as iconic as Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock.
Elms chose 45 works out of 180 submissions from Tyler alumni.
“It was my pleasure, because I like having an excuse to look through things and to look over things and to be exposed to new work,” Elms said. “It’s something I actually sometimes feel I have not enough time to do.”
One of the selected 45 works is a creation by Jacqueline Nowakowski, a 2013 graduate who holds a BFA in sculpture and is now a member of the Tyler Alumni Board of Directors.
“Being a Tyler alumni and hearing that Anthony Elms was the picked juror for the show, I felt it would be foolish not to apply and give it a shot,” Nowakowski said.
Her piece in the exhibit, a silent-video piece titled, “Careless Whisperer,” discusses a year in her childhood when Nowakowski gave up candy for lent, and promptly began an “all day, all night candy binge to the point of becoming physically ill” when Easter arrived. The piece involves candies molded into the shapes of Ken Dolls that Nowakowski owned as a child.
Diversity in the Victory for Tyler show is present not only in its works, but in the stories of the creators. Jones said his art may be misunderstood, but a diverse show like Victory for Tyler provides a platform to learn about his art personally.
“If you are going to dedicate your life to making art, I think it’s important to realize that no one is going to understand, as a whole, what you do,” Jones said. “That doesn’t mean you won’t be loved or supported or appreciated, but it does mean that you have to know when to stick to your guns.”
Angela Gervasi can be reached at email@example.com.