Artist explores change, contrast in Moon exhibit

by Jameson Filston, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor

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Multimedia works by Bryce Speed, including “Once in Awhile” (above) are on display in Moon Gallery through Feb. 2 .

Dark, organic lines struggle against clean and crisp shapes in Bryce Speed’s exhibit “Gulfs.”

Speed, assistant professor of painting at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, painted a picture of the artistic process behind this contrast during his art talk on Monday. 

To Speed, art is all about representing change over time. In his art, he shows how he has evolved personaly in the way he depicts that change in the world around him. This is how he came up with the exhibit name “Gulfs.” The word gulf brings to mind water, but also means the space between. 

“I’m interested in time and how painting represents time,” Speed said.

Speed’s lifelong love of art started with a set of oil paints given to him by his sister. He began painting scenes from his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. There, the murky atmosphere prevalent in his paintings first entered his creative process.

The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina is another strong influence on his work. The contrast of the clean, man-made buildings with the natural shapes of the flood inspired him. Seeing pictures of the damaged architecture made an impression on Speed. 

In his art, Speed tries to create the same experience he had looking at the photographs of Hurricane Katrina and convey it to others. He uses media such as pencil and acrylic to create something that has an impact. 

“It has kind of a desolate quality,” Speed said about one of his paintings. He described the feeling as “something a little unsettling.”

Since Hurricane Katrina, Speed has looked to natural disasters for inspiration. His paintings combine invented scenes with elements inspired by photographs. His invented scenes often place pristine rooms in close proximity to the natural disasters that he sees in the news. 

He does this to grab attention, since scenes like this should not exist in reality. These scenes are designed to engage an audience constantly exposed to imagery such as photographs and videos. 

“I think that the role of the painter has shifted in modern times,” Speed said.

Like the role of the modern artist, Speed feels that his art has evolved over time as well. His work grows more realistic and more abstract over time, and he describes his role as an artist as controlling that change. Almost any factor, from current events to ancient classics, has the potential to inspire his art to change.

Though his work transforms over time, a common theme in his paintings has been water. Speed says that water fascinates him because it is full of contradictions such as its potential for life as well as destruction. 

He views water as a metaphor for life, especially in its struggle with human architecture. Speed  also finds it interesting how difficult it is to draw the transparent and dynamic element of water. 

“There is a challenge to representing that quality that the water has,” Speed said. 

Though influenced by others, Speed forges his own path, right down to the materials with which he works.  

Wendy Bristow, a senior and a studio art major, was interested in Speed’s technique of priming paper with gesso (an acrylic paint) for his pieces. 

“It’s interesting to see a new technique I never considered before,” Bristow said.

Attendees were interested in the ways that Speed pushed himself to evolve and change. 

“It’s sort of a puzzle how he imagined them,” Barbara Hatsell, a community member who regularly visits Moon Gallery, said. “They seem to exist in layers, and sometimes … =you can’t tell whether he patched that on first or whether he painted that on top.” 

Speed portrays art as a process of self-discovery, where you can find out as much information about yourself as you put into your painting. 

“It’s like writing a poem,” Speed said.

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