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Art Program 'Inflates' Students' Imaginations

Nov. 7, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

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Inflatable projects created by students from previous WASH programs have taken various shapes and sizes. The students above utilized the transparent plastic sheeting and an air-source to create rooms that allowed campus visitors to venture inside several rooms. —Photos by Brian Blalock


While some SHSU students settle into their dorms for the night, a handful of art majors can be found in another of the university’s facilities tinkering away, to the curiosity of many nighttime passersby.

Serving as a go-to for “a late-night source of creative inspiration,” the Workshop in Art Studio and History (WASH) Building seems more like a 24-hour wonderland inside, with pieces like fork chandeliers and giant cardboard walnuts dwelling in every corner.

All semester long, WASH students tuck themselves away in this creative stronghold to work on a few “larger-than-life” projects that will bring the program’s whimsical atmosphere to the rest of campus.

For the past several years, these students have transformed Sam Houston State University into “Inflatatopia,” unveiling their works of art—giant “inflatable sculptures.”

Far from the average art piece, these “inflatables” consist of only two materials: transparent plastic sheeting and a fan, or other air-source, to keep the models inflated.

Despite how simple they may seem, the air-filled art pieces require long hours of collective brainstorming and imagination, according to SHSU junior and WASH student mentor Jason Camero.

“The plastic is only 4 millimeters thick and definitely not easy to work with,” he said. “The project definitely pushes all of us as artists.”

According to WASH’s instructor Kathryn Kelley, a visiting assistant professor of art, the plastic inflatables are the final collaborative project of the course, which she refers to as “art boot camp.”

Throughout the semester, students in the program are encouraged to “manipulate everyday objects into works of art” resulting in pieces like sculptures made from PVC pipe, Crayola crayons and even women’s underwear.

As the academic term progresses, the assignments require increasing amounts of imagination, teamwork and creative problem solving, according to Kelley.

Swan“WASH really shows students the possibilities that are out there when they push themself as an artist/designer,” she said. “The projects in this program require maximum levels of creativity and push students so far as an artist that they start to think ‘if I can do this, I can do anything.’”

In fall 2008, the university began offering the foundations program to incoming freshman as a pre-requisite to all upper-level art courses. According to Kelley, the WASH program teaches art students a set of skills that will assist in their progression through any of the department’s seven programs.

“WASH pulls you away from the standard ‘pen and paper’ and teaches you how even the most surprising materials can become art,” said junior Lee Ann Price, who took the course last spring.

According to Price, a big part of WASH happens when the classes are over. Sometimes until the late hours of the night, Price and her classmates would put in long hours at the WASH House to “work on projects and rely on each other in times of creative blocks.”

In August 2010, SHSU opened the WASH House, which was designed to accommodate and promote students working after hours. The 6,000-square-foot building is equipped with a kitchen, library and computer lab and features industrial-style furnishings such as a tool room and large tables for students to bring their visions to life.

Accommodating “after-hour students” was a main consideration during the design of WASH House, which is located at 2220 Ave. M, South of 22nd Street.

“The WASH House has everything an art student could ever dream about,” said Price. “It definitely became my second home last semester.”

After all the long hours of hard work, showcasing the product provides a fun way for students to feel a sense of completion. After each project’s completion, the finished art pieces are showcased—and occasionally strut down a runway—to a “panel of judges” which includes upper-level art majors.

“WASH makes you a better artist because you leave it with a different set of possibilities and perspectives,” said Camero.

According to Kelley, the goal of WASH is to “create curiosity that will drive research and design” for the young artists, which is done through expanding the art students visual vocabulary. Her hopes is that “Inflatopia” will give other SHSU students the same curiosity to see art in the abnormal.

“At the very least, it’s a great way to create dialogue throughout the college,” said Kelley. “That small, artistic appreciation gives all of us in the WASH program a sense of accomplishment.”



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