From the galleries to the classroom

By Courtney Taylor

Since LSU Museum of Art is a university museum, one outcome I hope for most when organizing an exhibition is for students to deeply connect with work, and find relevance to their studies. This fall, the stars aligned with Broken Time, an exhibition of Martin Payton’s welded steel sculptures, and two classes led by LSU art professor Malcolm McClay. 

In his Immediate Sculpture and Special Studies in Sculpture courses, McClay regularly assigns a project personal narrative project. This project requires the final work to have one dimension that is at least six feet long, use welding, and integrate fabricated metal or found metal objects—each requirement aligning precisely with Payton’s practice.

 LSU sculpture students with Martin Payton, School of Art professor Malcolm McClay, and Studio Tech Alex Cooper.

LSU sculpture students with Martin Payton, School of Art professor Malcolm McClay, and Studio Tech Alex Cooper.

Several sculpture students attended the opening of Broken Time, and upon meeting Payton, listening to his Q&A, and seeing his work, they became increasingly enthusiastic about the project's possibilities. Seeing this enthusiasm and the overlap between Payton’s work and the assignment, McClay scheduled a special tour of the exhibition led by Payton himself so other students could study the work and discuss the sculptor's practice. Much like Payton’s scrap hauls, McClay’s students raided LSU’s dumpsters for scrap materials in preparation for their sculpture projects. Though Payton's practice includes no preparatory sketches, the students were required to write statements, create quick models and, eventually, scale maquettes from foam core in preparation for their final projects.  
 

 Class tour led by Martin Payton.

Class tour led by Martin Payton.

 Students finding their materials in the LSU dumpsters.

Students finding their materials in the LSU dumpsters.

One of the resulting projects is by LSU undergraduate scuplture student Isabella Damico and draws from her life in New York City. “When designing this sculpture, I wanted to incorporate aspects reflecting New York City and my experiences there. The structure of the sculpture is meant to resemble the skyscrapers in Manhattan while allowing viewers the chance to walk inside and sit down. The graffiti wall and ‘industrial’-style wall both represent two very different sides of the city. The actual images painted on the graffiti wall are abstract images of personal experiences I had while living in New York City,” she says.  

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For Damico, discussions with Payton gave her insight into her future with the medium. "It was an incredible opportunity to meet someone who is actively and successfully creating work in an art field that interests me the most. Not only did viewing his work in person spark ideas for future sculpture designs but also gave me confirmation that it is possible to be a successful sculptor. Seeing Martin's work helped me realize that my work in college can and will be worth it in the end." 

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Damico's final sculpture (pictured above) and the sculptures of her classmates are on display in the LSU School of Art Sculpture Garden behind the studio arts building and will remain on display until the fall of 2018. 

Courtney Taylor is LSU MOA's curator.