Culture | A portrait of the artist as a McGill Professor

Art and academia meet at the Redpath Museum

Last Friday, beneath a giant marine vertebrate suspended from the ceiling in McGill’s Redpath Museum, professors, faculty, and graduate students ditched their stacks of papers to celebrate their own creative endeavours at the second installation of “Artists Among Us.”

Riding on the tail end of Academic Careers Week – five days filled with information on how to negotiate one’s first academic job contract, how to defend a thesis, and how to give a professional interview – the exhibit functioned as a fundraiser for cancer research and as a secondary source of income for the artists who sold their work there. It was a reminder for all those who attended, that even in McGill’s bleak, number-crunching, fine-arts-starved world, there are indeed artists among us.”

The exhibit was the vision of an enthusiastic and enterprising graduate student career advisor, Susan Molnar. An artist, appreciator, and self-described “event planner,” Molnar first organized the exhibition last year, after hearing about a similar program at M.I.T. called “Artists Behind the Desk.” Limiting entries to professors, faculty, and staff, Molnar hoped to cast new and colourful light onto those individuals whom students tend to see one-dimensionally.

“Artists Among Us” was comprised of 25 artists – 11 grad students and nine faculty and staff, with the overwhelming 4majority of the contributors from the science department. The art ranged all the way from change purses to paintings of Notorious B.I.G. Although, for many, art is a cathartic way of releasing stress caused by their day jobs, for many others, it is intrinsically linked to their studies.

I talked with Varina Campbell, a grad student in mineralogy and crystallography, who carefully showed me her “hand jewel” – a mix between a ring and a scepter – which was created using plates of mica to take the shape of a diamond’s atomic structure. Frieda Beauregard, a Botany grad student, illustrated her love of plants along a table full of flower photography. “Your art is the final product of your personality and of everything you do,” explained Barbara Tolloczko, a research associate in the department of medicine. Tolloczko’s art incorporates cross copies of cells in her oil paintings, proving that your “other life cannot be separate from your art.”

The artists describe their ability to keep producing art as a testament to their passion and their initiative. A few have organized their own art shows around the city, or simply sold at Tam-Tams. Of course, it would be ideal to have a fine arts school at McGill, they all agree, but until then, it’s important to make the most of the situation. They suggest finding a community of artists among you to encourage and inspire. Molnar hopes to organize the exhibition again next year in order to keep that community alive – because art is important, because artists need outlets, and because she finds it “eternally fun.”