Harper College highlights student artwork during juried art exhibition

For most of the year, Harper College’s Art Exhibition Space displays exhibitions by artists who come to lecture and mentor Harper students as part of the visiting artist program. But, for a few weeks every spring, the students get to take over the gallery during the Student Juried Art Exhibition.

This free exhibition, which is open to the public, will display award-winning works by Harper’s student body through May 9 in Building C, Room C200, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Harper Professor Jason Peot, who has been the gallery’s director for 15 years, explained how the jury selection process works.

“About 10 years ago, we started a program where we bring back one of our visiting artists from the year to jury — one who’s already shown in our gallery,” Peot said. “It’s a nice connection for the students. The juror will be somebody that they’ve met. They’ve seen their work professionally and know they’re legit.”

The juror for this year is cross-disciplinary artist Angela Piehl, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who explores topics in queer ecology, gender, and preconceived notions of nature and beauty. Piehl will choose pieces to be awarded a Best of Show in 3D and a Best of Show in 2D at the exhibition. A Presidential Award will be granted by Dr. Avis Proctor, president of Harper College, and several awards will be given out by Harper’s Art Department faculty.

“It’s pretty highly selective,” Peot explained. “We get about 150 submissions and the gallery only holds about 20 to 25 pieces. Only some of the best work will be displayed.”

While receiving an award is prestigious, Peot emphasized that the Student Juried Art Exhibition and the gallery space are key components of a larger educational calling to encourage students to craft their own portfolios and jump-start their professional art careers.

“All of this is to help students build a resume. And to have an exhibition record, as a young artist, is a great resume line for their transfer portfolio,” Peot said. “That’s really the point of all this. It’s not just for decoration. It’s important to have their work just be seen.”

One of those students is Cat Reddington, 22, who said he was a bit hesitant to submit an original piece to the exhibition. With the insistence of his painting instructors, Perry Pollock and William Blake, he decided to go for it.

“Both of my professors were like, you gotta do it,” Cat said, “you gotta do it, even if you hate it.”

Cat, from Palatine, graduated from Harper with an Associate of Fine Arts degree. While making plans to apply to a digital art program at Arizona State University, he is taking several art classes at Harper. After painting a self-portrait in bravura style for class, Cat felt ready to make a submission.

“The assignment was honestly like a dream, because it felt so natural. I think the whole painting took just under nine hours,” Cat said. “The piece reflects my tendency to be a little bit weird, but also my love for nature and birds.”

Cat’s portrait was awarded a spot in the exhibition and is displayed alongside other students’ work. This is the first time one of his pieces will be in the public eye.

“I’ve always been a little bit nervous about showing off, so to speak. So, the idea of my art being seen by a bunch of people, it does freak me out a little bit,” Cat said. “It’s so important to be confident in yourself. You don’t have to be a perfectionist, and every professor I’ve had at Harper has taught me this. You’ll be able to go further in your art.”

This year’s exhibition serves as a milestone for Cat and other artists whose work has been included. Yet the importance of the show goes beyond being selected. Peot shared a favorite story of two students who met artist Katie Bell at Harper’s gallery and ended up helping her install a sculpture piece for an entire week.

“Three years later the students went on to transfer and were working at a university art museum as receptionists,” Peot recalled. “And when the director went through a list of names, and mentioned there would be a special visiting artist that year, Katie Bell, everyone was super shocked when the two undergrads raised their hands and said, ‘Oh! We know her!’”

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