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Jenny Hersh

Jenny Hersh '17

Jenny Hersh, a third-year Studio Art major, discusses technique, art's significance, and the process of reinstating the UMass Figure Drawing: Open Sessions.

You’re an incredible artist. Paint a picture of yourself (with words) for us.

Dang, that’s sweet. I’m a junior at UMass who grew up outside D.C. and now lives in central Mass. At the moment I’m working on a BFA in Sculpture but also exploring printmaking, painting and drawing. My early artistic endeavors were very aesthetic-based and color-oriented, but now I’m really enjoying the conversations I’m engaging in, purposefully or not, about art, art theory, art history, and other students’ work. Currently I’m drawn to casting and ideas of absence, mimicry and material.

In your eyes, why should people pay attention to and appreciate art?

People should pay attention to art because it is a study that can incorporate questions of politics, economics, social justice, philosophy, privilege, taste, access to space and even questions of the validity of talking about art. Some of the most thought-provoking and challenging discussions I’ve ever had have been due to art. At times they can be infuriating or confusing, but they are always enlivening. There is a richness to be found in life, and one way to it is through the practice and discussion of art.Hersh at the Student Union Art Gallery.

Can you tell me a little about the program you organized this semester? Whom does it intend to serve?

The program I jointly organized (with support and funding from the Student Union Art Gallery) is a free, weekly, open, figure-drawing session that is open to the Five College community. The Art department is rich with inspiring faculty, grads, and undergrads but at points can feel isolated and exclusive. We want these sessions to spark creative exchange. We are hoping to create a community that fosters artistic growth, collaboration and dialogue. A space committed to artists and those interested in practicing art.

I briefly spoke to Michael Belcon, a fellow Studio Art major, about the sessions, and he expressed a lot of appreciation and excitement. How do you work together in order to facilitate the program?

Creating, or rather reinstituting, this program has taking a lot of collaboration between us both and other faculty and students. We worked together on designing the flyers and distributing them, we both were responsible for advertising the paid position of “model,” and we both collaborated on hiring and talking to the community. Beyond these initial steps we also set up and break down for each session. We discuss everything from lighting to the pattern of the backdrops where the models pose. Michael will be graduating within the next month, and while I will continue on the sessions next fall, they could not have been started up without his collaboration.

How does this program differ from other art experience (or lack thereof) that students would have access to?

For the past couple years there have been no figure-drawing open sessions on campus. While there is one at Amherst College, it seemed necessary to me that such a thing be offered and easily accessible on our own campus. Some courses in the art department offer a month or so of figure drawing in a larger curriculum. By having a regular session of practice and optional instruction, students can maintain a steady growth in live figure drawing. Additionally, we are lucky enough to have two models per session, which is something that I have never seen before in other sessions. This means that in one session the artist can have access to a wider range of poses and body types.

Is there particular benefit in having live subjects?

Access to live subjects is so important because it forces you to analyze a moving, breathing form and translate the weight, angles and volume of the figure. Most people will use photo references for their figure drawing, but that can leave you with a flat and lifeless form that lacks detail. The beauty of drawing from life is being able to see reflected light, the changing hues of shadow on skin, the heft of a seated figure padded against a cushion, and the way muscles pull across bones. It trains your eye and your hand and helps you create believable form.

Particularly as a sculpture concentration, how do you feel that these figure-drawing skills transfer to other fields of thought and practice?

For me, I draw figures as if I were sculpting them--pressing dark charcoal into tucked folds, stretching marks across stressed backs and carving out pockets of space between limbs. This practice of analyzing 3D form and molding the space it takes via paint, charcoal, clay, or pastel is invaluable.

What do you hope for the future of this program?

I graduate in a year, so, since I want this program to continue on, I will have to enlist extra help in doing so. Hopefully that person will then get someone to help them for the year after. Ultimately, I want this session to carry on and keep growing. We started a month ago, and while we do have a good number of people per sessions, we would love more. So tell your friends!