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Brown Bag Lunchtime Artist Talk: Tamra Seal

Tuesday, September 12 saw the first Brown Bag Lunchtime Artist Talk of the semester. The Lunchtime talks give the St. Mary’s community a chance to have more face-to-face interactions with visiting artists and professors (as well as a chance to eat some St. James’ pizza). Students and faculty gathered in the Glendening Annex to hear a talk by this year’s artist-in-residence, Tamra Seal.

Professor of Art Sue Johnson and Assistant Professor of Photography Tristan Cai introduced Seal’s talk. The Boston-native and Californian artist received her M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, as well as a B.S. in Art Education from Tufts University. Professor Cai noted that he and Seal were close friends outside of St. Mary’s, and that Seal was coming off of a number of California exhibits. Cai added that just as Seal’s personality fills any room she enters, “her work,” –literally—“lights up the room.”

Seal began her presentation with a slideshow of photos of the Californian landscape, what she called its “hyperreal flora and fauna.” She noted that although she grew up in Massachusetts, it was the West Coast, with its juxtaposition of man-made luxury and overwhelming natural world which influenced her sculptural and multimedia work the most.

Sea anemones, vivid flowering trees, fairytale-like mushrooms that Seal paused to mention were actually poisonous and hallucinogenic, all flipped by on the screen. Seal described her interest in the weird and wild side of Californian nature as “drawing images that should be from science fiction but aren’t.” She added that, since she is new to the area, students should be sure to point out any too-unreal-to-be-real wildlife that she should check out in the region. “I’ve already seen those lizards with the bright blue tails,” she added, speaking of the blue-tailed skinks you can see climbing around St. Mary’s brick buildings.

The second half of Seal’s presentation was what showcased her own work. Blinds had to be lowered in the bright Glendening Annex to convey the way in which Seal had translated those hyperreal Californian landscapes into vivid, technicolor, often neon sculptures. She said that in real life, she wanted her neon works to be almost hard to look at, so bright that they create after-images in the viewer’s eye.

She showed more pieces that played more with that juxtaposition of manmade and natural—not morally labeling one aesthetic better than the other, but rejoicing in how the two overlap. “You have to be really excited by your own work,” Seal said. Much of her work, she said, dealt with the iconic, the cinematic, using eye-catching objects that had often been immortalized by film.

Seal flipped through different projects: rows and rows of old-fashioned soap dispensers in the style of 1960s public swimming pools, the soap dyed bright fluorescent colors drawn from those old color palettes. Her “Color Wheel” series, which plays with the traditional representation of color theory—one being a color wheel hanging over a mountain of marble, using its edges and smooth surface as both a center for the piece and a projection surface for light and color.

She described her latest piece, which was still sitting in her garage—a suspended, 10-foot-wide color wheel made of glass and acrylic, that turned out to be too big to enter the gallery she had designed it for. “If anyone has any idea of what to do with that let me know,” she added dryly.

As for advice for the young artists attending her talk, Seal advised that they take the time to let their form and interest in the arts develop. Seal started out as a painter before people pointed out that all of her paintings were seeping out into the 3D.

She recommends going to grad school later in life. “I had to work and make money for a lot of years before I could get back into my art,” she said, which she described as in the end a benefit to her work.

During the Q&A session immediately after her talk, junior Sarah Schaeffer raised her hand and told Seal about the rectangle-shaped, somewhat transparent, bioluminescent jellyfish you could sometimes find in the river. Tamra Seal’s eyes widened and her stance shifted like she was about to bolt from the room — “I gotta go, you guys,” she said, drawing laughter as she made as if to run to the waterfront right that instant.

“Are you gonna work with that yourself, in your own art?” she asked Schaeffer.

“Oh, no, I’m just a biology student,” she replied, which drew laughter again.

The Brown Bag Artist Talks give members of the St. Mary’s community, no matter their discipline or purpose for attending the lecture, a chance to find common interest in the arts. The next two Brown Bag Lunchtime Talks will take place on Monday, September 25, with new SMCM Art Professor Jessye McDowell, and another on Monday, October 24, with photographer and printmaker Alyssa C. Salomon.


Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Seal had a solo show in Manhattan, NY. Seal told The Point News that this was not accurate.

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