Celebrating the artists who walk among us

Posted on Saturday, October 28, 2017

Photographs of Havana by Kristina Kasparian.

By Neale McDevitt

The funny thing about artists is they have no identifying features. No secret handshake. They are men and women, young and old, rich and poor and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Just think, your colleague in Financial Services might be a sculptor, and you’d never know it. That new Dietetics prof? He could be brilliant at batik. And that varsity volleyball player? She may create stunning murals.

“Artists are all around us at McGill,” says Susan Molnar, Graduate Student Career Advisor, a mosaic artist and the founder of the annual art showcase and sale called Artists Among Us. “Many have parallel artistic careers, either as a secondary source of income or simply as a hobby.”

Chemistry PhD candidate Siting Ni is one of the exhibitors at Artists Among Us.

On Nov. 1, some 55 McGillians – students, staff, faculty, retirees, alumni and parents of McGill students – will display their artwork from noon to 6 p.m. in the lobby of the Elizabeth Wirth Music Building (527 Sherbrooke St West). All artwork – ranging from photographs, paintings and mosaics, to textile and jewelry – will be for sale.

Molnar initiated Artists Among Us in 2005, inspired after hearing about a similar program at MIT. “I wanted to promote emerging artistic careers and connect with artists at McGill,” she says.

That very first event drew 25 artists – 85 per cent of whom, says Molnar, came from the sciences.

This year’s exhibition and sale will also feature a strong science contingent, lending credence to Albert Einstein when he said “the greatest scientists are artists as well.”

Siting Ni is a PhD candidate in Chemistry. Specializing in material science, her main research area is the functionalization of gold nanomaterials. She also is an accomplished artist who creates beautiful works using everything from oil, acrylic, watercolour and charcoal, to her graphic tablet for digital art.

Kristina Kasparian completed her PhD at McGill’s School of Communication Sciences & Disorders in 2015, focusing on the neurocognition of language and multilingualism. But she, too, creates beautiful art. Kasparian is a photographer and an entrepreneur, specializing in travel photography that she sells as wall art or other home decor products.

Finding balance through art and science

For Ni, having art and science play equal roles in her life is quite natural. “I don’t think there is a dichotomy. For me, it is more a question balance,” she says. “When I am stressed by my research, I will always find comfort and calm in my art; and when I lack inspiration in my art, going back to my research will help me arrange my thoughts.

“When I am making art, I love precision and accuracy, like a scientist does,” says Ni.

Autumn, by Siting Ni

Her passion for art was fostered as a child, as she received formal art training for some six years. But it wasn’t until quite a few years later that a new world opened up to Ni. “I didn’t discover my love of science until my last year of my middle school,” she says.

“One of the motivations for me to pursue science was my admiration of the natural philosophers and versatile scholars in 17th- and 18th century Europe,” she says, citing the example of Mikhail Lomonosov, the Russian chemist, physicist, astronomer and natural scientist who was also an influential poet and mosaic artist.

For Ni, the artistic endeavour is much more than the actual paintings and drawings she creates. “We look at different things every day, but a lot of times we are not really ‘seeing.’ We take too many things for granted we don’t take time to observe with the heart,” she says. “My art has taught me patience and given me eyes to discover beauty in daily life.”

Telling stories through photography

“It’s hard to tell,” says Kristina Kasparian when asked which came first, her love of art or her love of science. “I was the girl who carried an encyclopedia in her backpack and asked her 4th grade teacher whether she could do independent ‘research’ while her peers did their schoolwork. But I have also been very creative from a very young age… My first and favorite form of art is writing. I have always filled notebooks with ideas, impressions and recollections.”

Kasparian launched her fine-art photography shop while completing her PhD at the School of Communication Sciences & Disorders.

After getting her BSc from McGill, Kasparian went to Europe to pursue an MSc program. As a going away present, Kasparian’s parents gave her first digital camera – a gift that helped her “discover a new form of storytelling – photography,” she says.

More than just a hobby, Kasparian’s photography blossomed into something profound. “Photography became so natural to my daily routine that it changed the way my eyes were accustomed to seeing the world,” she says, echoing the sentiments Siting Ni.

Kasparian returned to McGill as a PhD candidate at the School of Communication Sciences & Disorders. One would think that the demands placed upon a PhD candidate wouldn’t allow for much time for outside interests. In Kasparian’s case, nothing could be farther from the truth.

“As I conducted a part of my PhD research abroad and travelled to international scientific conferences, I collected more photographs and stories to tell,” she says. “For this reason, I always say that my career in science fueled my art and accelerated my vision for an online art shop.”

That vision became a reality when Kasparian launched Veni Etiam Photography, a fine-art photography shop where she sells her local and international travel photography as wall art and other home decor products. Kasparian embarked upon her new enterprise during the most intensive part of her PhD, when she was analyzing data and writing her manuscript.

“I feel like I need both [art and science] to thrive,” says Kasparian. “There are aspects of art and science that intersect for me, because both are infused with my interests, skills and experiences. Everything I have learned along the way gets transferred into whatever I am doing and I think there is as much room for creativity in science as there is room for a strategic approach in creative endeavors.”

In honour of the 375th anniversary of Montreal, and the 150th anniversary of Canada, a special edition of the Artists Among Us art exposition and sale will take place on Nov. 1. The event will take place from noon to 6 p.m. in the lobby of the Elizabeth Wirth Music Building (527 Sherbrooke St West).

For more details please contact  susan.molnar@mcgill.ca

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