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K-State Today

November 19, 2015

Internal grant programs raise artist's profile

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Examen Series, 2015, Dispersed pigment on paper, 33x31in.

Email and text notifiers are flashing, phones are ringing, calendars are filling, and we're all looking for a way to make life slow down. Contemplating a Kansas State University artist's work may help.

Erin Wiersma, assistant professor of art, creates drawings in which lines proliferate and travel in many directions. The effect is sometimes frenetic, but if you look through the kinetic labyrinth, pockets of stillness emerge.

"I'm interested in making sense of the chaos," Wiersma says. "I'm trying to stop myself — that spinning that occurs in each of us."

Wiersma does this by engaging in a labor-intensive process of formulating her own acrylic-based paints and laying down numerous layers of paint on paper. By working with paper the size of her body, she finds new ways of thinking about the body's physical parameters and how that framework shapes internal thoughts and incorporeal components of our being.

K-State support has allowed Wiersma to further develop her drawing research practice and add her voice to the conversations within the larger field of drawing. Faculty Development Awards and University Small Research Grants have had a snowballing effect. Also known as FDA and USRG, these programs are administered through the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs to foster professional development for faculty by providing funds for travel to international meetings or for early research, scholarly, and creative activity and discovery, or RSCAD. The funds come from recovery of sponsored research overhead, and applications are sought each spring and fall. Fall 2015 awards will be announced soon.

A USRG in 2010 helped Wiersma formulate paint using industrial-grade pigments and binders. Then a 2012 FDA helped her attend an opening that led to a solo show in NYC. A 2014 USRG to travel to France laid the groundwork for 2015 invitations.

Those invitations have helped Wiersma gain significant recognition within the larger art community. Her recent résumé includes a 2014 solo exhibition at A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, and two artist residencies. One residence was in Brooklyn at Two Coats of Paint, which is sponsored by organizations including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Pulitzer Foundation, the New York Studio School and the Brooklyn Museum of American Art. A second residency took her to France earlier this year. A solo exhibition of Wiersma's work was displayed at the Kansas City Artists Coalition Oct. 9 through Nov. 12 and contained work directly stemming from her most recent USRG Award. Also this month, Wiersma was the curator of "We ALL Draw: Thinking Drawings," an international juried exhibition shown during the Southbank Festival of Creativity in London. The exhibition was part of an international symposium hosted by Thinking Through Drawing, a drawing and cognition research network directed by Angela Brew, Michelle Fava and Andrea Kantrowitz. Juror Aimee Good, director of education and community programs at The Drawing Center in New York, selected five drawings for recognition awards.

Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research and Tim Taylor professor of chemical engineering, says FDA and USRG awards help maintain robust RSCAD investigations.

"It's exciting to have people come back to us after receiving an award and tell us about the connections they made at meetings or the research seed money helped them produce. The awards also have great return on investment, because they're under $5,000 — typically $1,000 to $4,500 — so a relatively small amount of money makes a big difference," she said.

Wiersma agrees. "The support has provided me with visibility in New York City and opportunities to advance my research," she says.

"The practical components in the studio — formulating the paint — and the chance to interact with leading professionals in the field while my work is being shown have helped holistically," Wiersma says.

Wiersma adds that living in Kansas is "its own advantage" because it provides privacy, solitude, and an environment that fosters focus in the studio. She values the involved community, vibrant faculty, and engaged students at K-State, but notes that gaining new perspectives on her work within the larger field is crucial.

"Residencies can shake you up a little bit. You might know who you'll connect with, but as you respond to a new milieu and surroundings it informs your work," Wiersma says. She says it's comparable to scholars in other fields attending conferences to give papers and hear feedback from others.