Artist Spotlight: Sydney Pertl ’12

Cameron Carrus

(Photo by Angela Wang)

Today is the day! That’s right, the long-awaited senior art show opening reception will be held in the Wriston Art Gallery tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. The art will be hanging and the drinks will be flowing. Amongst the many amazing artists whose works will be featured is senior studio art major Sydney Pertl.

In creating a senior project, Pertl wanted to make sure that she was making something of personal value on many different levels. The exhibit, which is a series of eight watercolor and charcoal portraits, is titled “Paradigm Shifts through Meditative Exorcism: A Tribute to the Instigators.” The portraits are of friends, family, strangers — even enemies — who have in some ways changed Pertl’s life.

Extensively trained as a classical figure artist since she was 13, studying the craft in high school and working an Atelier apprenticeship for three years, Pertl played to her strengths in this project. She went back to pictures that she had taken of people, and decided to copy and reinterpret the photos corresponding to moments that were most meaningful to her.

One piece of the exhibit is a portrait of Pertl’s brother. When he was 15, during a house fire, he ran back into the inferno to salvage Pertl’s diary, her yearbook and photos.

One of the most challenging parts of this project for Pertl has been getting into an appropriate emotional state to do her work. She said, “If I feel the emotions that I want to express, then they will shine through.” This is easier said than done. Pertl deals with some heavy subject matter, including physical abuse and “doomed love.” The necessary “recall of tragic moments” of her life makes capturing the “will to work” difficult.

The combination of watercolor and charcoal has helped Pertl to express her emotions a great deal. The colors that Pertl use in her pictures are not part of their reality; rather, they respond to the emotion that she associates with the person. “[The watercolor] achieves emotions that I feel unable to express in black and white,” she added.

Using her own project as a kind of therapy, Pertl has actually been able to connect with people from her past. She said, “[Some of them are] unaware of the impact they have had on me… It has brought me closer to a lot of people.” Pertl is considering even making prints of the portraits to give to the people in the distant future.

Not only does this exhibit lift a load of emotional baggage off of Pertl’s shoulders upon graduating, but it also serves as a full body of work that she really wanted to do, as opposed to commissioned portraits that she will work on in the future.

In her time at Lawrence, Pertl has made a difference in the larger art community of the Fox Cities. With the help of Associate Professor of Art and Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art Rob Neilson and others, she put together The Rabbit Gallery. Being a pop-up gallery, it moves from space to space, turning empty space on College Avenue into a unique opportunity to appreciate the arts. In addition, the gallery helps to boost the economy, and helps many Lawrence students get their start. Many Lawrence students do not have the opportunity to have their work featured in galleries, and it is great for a resume, Pertl explained.

Pertl has many hopes for the future. Broadly, she would like to become a professional artist. She wants to surround herself with art of all kinds, going to Seattle to pursue her craft. Eventually, she would like to open up a gallery for recovering drug addicts, partnering with a rehabilitation program. More immediately, Pertl is finishing up the album art for the local band, The Walking Wounded, which will be released shortly.