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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Monroe explores irony and spiritual nature of creation

By Clarissa Hunter

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Monroe poses with what he calls his “self portrait,” a project for one of his classes. (Photo by Clarissa Hunter)

Senior Paul Monroe is an artist in several senses of the word. Majoring in Art and English Education, he sometimes pulls the two disciplines together and mixes them with a distinctive sense of humor. This is definitely true of his current painting projects.

Inspired by the beatnik authors, Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, Monroe’s works are satirical visual commentaries with unique meanings behind them. He described his paintings as “re-imagining the beatnik authors … as if they were still alive today and what they would think.”

These paintings are in two sets, one focused on saints, one on fools.

The set looking at fools plays to the irony of a clown with no audience, combining quotes from each author with this theme.

The other half of the set focuses on saints. These paintings are a mix of Eastern and Western themes, incorporating Buddhist imagery on a circular canvas and Western church imagery on canvases shaped like stain-glass windows. The idea in this set is a “canonizing” of the authors in conjunction with their professor, and leader in a way, William S. Burroughs. Kerouac and Ginsberg appear in the stain glass windows, and Burroughs appears in the circular canvas above.

Monroe’s father and brother were his early art influences. Monroe said his initial beginning in art resulted from a desire to follow in their footsteps. Over the years, however, he realized it was a love of his own.

“As I got into school, I just kept taking art classes,” Monroe said, “and eventually it got to a point where I couldn’t take them anymore, and I realized, oh my gosh – it was one semester it just didn’t work out with the rest of the classes I was taking — and I was devastated.”

At that point, he saw how important art was in his life.

“I didn’t realize how much I depend on it — as a release — during the day to have creative projects I’m working on besides academic pursuits,” he said.

Before this realization, he assumed he would go to college and become an English teacher.

“I just thought I was going to be an English teacher from like, seventh grade on,” he said. “I just loved to read, loved to write, and so I thought that’s it.”

With the encouragement of a teacher, and his realization of art’s importance in his life, Monroe decided to study art as well as English education in college. It was then that he discovered his true passion —  ceramics. This discovery has impacted him so much that he said he may not pursue teaching in his future, but go on to be a potter. He has been looking at graduate schools and apprentice programs where he can learn more about pottery and practice his craft.

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Monroe uses various techniques to add a unique quality to the pottery he creates. (Photo by Clarissa Hunter)

“Pottery is like the best of every situation,” he said. “You get to make beautiful art, friends and family get to benefit from you making things and that artwork is then incorporated in their lives forever.”

To him, ceramics are unique because the items he makes can become practical and beloved belongings for others.

Pottery has both the high artistic notions of creation and self-expression while still maintaining a very down-to-earth simplicity,” Monroe said. “A mug that a potter has labored and worked into life has the potential to be used and loved every day by a stranger. That’s the connection and the powerful tie that I’m attracted to in ceramics.”

Regardless of the art form, he said that he sees creating itself is an act of worship.

“Since creation is one of the innate attributes of God, then we in his image creating is an act of worship,” He said. “We have an element of creation in us all that’s fighting to get out in clay and painting, or in song, dance, poems, or even knitting.”

This view comes through in his relationship to ceramics.

“God brought us out of dirt and spoke life into us and that’s exactly what we’re doing on the wheel — is we’re breathing into this, we’re adding form to clay.”

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