An art studio in France became a makeshift classroom for one Lee student as she delved into Renaissance painting techniques during a semester abroad. The studio, only a short stroll from the quaint apartment where she lived, was the birthplace of her senior showcase series on self-reflection.
Senior studio art major and business minor Reagan Weiss let her technical mind guide her through a path of order and reflection as she versed herself in the art styles of the European “rebirth.” This self-reflection reached all the way back to her childhood.
Despite no one else in her family having artistic leanings, Weiss knew she would pursue art ever since she was a little girl. Being homeschooled allowed her parents to spot her knack for the arts and nurture her creative side from an early age.
“I’ve known I was going to do art my whole life because of that upbringing,” Weiss said. “My parents were very supportive.”
Weiss’ specialty is black and white figure drawings. She enjoys creating lifelike depictions of people, using pencil and charcoal to convey contrast and shadows.
“I thoroughly enjoy creating full value with shadows and highlights,” Weiss said. “I am very much the rational mindset, which is odd for other artists. A lot of artists are conceptual, creative and inspired, where I tend to be more technical.”
As the current president of Lee’s Art Club, sophomore studio arts major Payton Hayman recognizes the fine details that sets Weiss’ art apart from the crowd.
“She has reached a level of realism that I would say is better than photographic,” Hayman said. “She is very adept at creating eye-catching compositions with high contrast, and I really enjoy the narrative quality of her pieces.”
At the end of every semester, graduating seniors in the art department display their work in a Senior Showcase.
For the Senior Showcase, students are required to work under the umbrella of a theme, which was a challenge for Weiss, who normally avoids conceptual work.
However, after much consideration, Weiss chose to draw within the lines of self-reflection in a five-part series divided into two sections: “The Bathroom Series” and “The Broken Mirror Series.”
In the former, Weiss depicts three different full-body female figures in everyday bathroom scenes. The figures, modeled by Weiss’ sisters, are each captured in a routine action — popping a pimple, shaving their legs and looking at their body.
Although originally intended as an emotional glimpse into the everyday unseen, the artwork has widely been interpreted as anti-body shaming, Reagan explained.
“I decided to focus on my lack of inhibition on topics that generally bring up discomfort in conversation,” Weiss said. “Now it’s developed into a confrontation of the viewer, asking them what they think of the pieces.”
In “The Broken Mirror Series,” two figures, modeled by Lee students, are shown during the phases of changing emotions, reflected through a shattered mirror.
The inspiration for the project started when Weiss took a panorama of her own face, and it came out jagged and contorted. She modeled the two pieces off of the unsettling look of two emotions not usually seen together: “Anxiety to Rage” and “Fear to Joy.”
To create the pieces, Weiss pieced together photos of the faces digitally and used a real broken mirror for reference.
“It was an aesthetic adventure, developing what looks pleasing, interesting and different,” Weiss said. “After the fact, I had to come up with the meaning and figure out what it meant to me.”
Weiss utilized the hours spent in the French studio her junior year to sketch the series and to develop her art repertoire. Weiss spent at least six hours a day in the studio, using the rest of her time to study art history, work on projects and tour art museums in Paris.
Though Weiss doesn’t typically mimic the Renaissance style — known for its layers, glazes, colors and detail — in her own works, she brought home a different skill.
“I definitely took away a work ethic — learning how to sit in a studio for hours and put in the time and dedication whether or not you want to,” Weiss said.
Associate Professor of Art Mary Mathias-Dickerson said she has seen Weiss’ artistic ingenuity grow over her years at Lee and appreciates the effects of her semester in France.
“[Reagan] studied at the Atelier Neo Medici with master painter Gregory Pellizari,” Mathias-Dickerson said. “During that semester, she was able to focus only on art, which took her work to another level.”
During her time at Lee, Weiss has developed her dream to open her own art studio. Unlike other artists who sell their personal art, Weiss hopes to run a commission-based studio where she creates what the customers want.
“I don’t have to have a concept, create it, and hope someone else likes it. I’m providing something people already want,” Weiss said. “I like commission work because it forces me to get out of my stubbornness of black and white. It allows me to explore different styles, techniques and mediums.”
Mathias-Dickerson said Weiss has also helped foster growth in the art department at Lee.
“Reagan has really helped set the tone for a culture of excellence and involvement in the art program,” Mathias-Dickerson said. “When she served as the president of the Art Club, she helped promote our art service projects, and she also created social events for students to develop a better sense of community.”
After graduation, Weiss plans to move back to her hometown in Nebraska to open White Studio and Gallery — a play on her last name, which is German for “white,” and a nod to her love for the color.
“I know that Reagan will continue to create beautiful pieces of work,” Hayman said. “I can't wait to see how she will impact the art community as a whole.”
Weiss’ work will be featured in the Student Showcase alongside pieces from the other nine studio art seniors in the Squires Library from April 4 to May 3.
A reception will be held at the library on opening night from 4:30 to 6 p.m.