“Brutally honest artwork that chronicles the time and the trials of ordinary life.”
The above sentiment was artist John Peña’s way of describing the focus of his drawings, entitled “Daily Geography,” that are currently on exhibit in the Weitz Center through March 13th. Peña, a Pittsburgh-based multi-media artist, came to Carleton himself last Thursday to present his exhibit and delivered a lecture entitled “Silly Doodles Filled with Sorrow and Joy.”
In art school at Carnegie Mellon, for example, Peña learned that the cows in back of the school had been taken from far-off farms to create a pasture where none existed before. He built a wooden cow in the center of the pasture to emphasize the mixing of man and nature.
At summer camp, he and his students tried to recreate nature with the human body, creating a tide with their arms and hands. Different forms of media, said Peña, are a major source of fascination for him.
Similarly, Peña’s work has explored the concept of time’s passage. Every day for the past four years, he created drawings and wrote short descriptions for each them, in order to showcase the slow passage of time.
Students admired Peña’s attention to detail, and the unique composition of his work. “The majority of his daily drawings are, while personally significant, rather mundane moments,” said Cooper Dodds ’13. “As a viewer, looking at his drawings feels voyeuristic, as if you’re reading the pages of John’s diary.”
Peña also emphasized how much he valued honesty in his drawings. “I remember his statement: don’t make art to impress others. If you think too much about what you make, you’re in your head constantly and not really reflecting on those things that relate to your heart,” said Bettins Wiesenthal ’14. “I thought he merged his reaction to the environment and material production in an insightful and fascinating manner through both videos of students and construction of a cow in a manmade pasture.”
Peña’s drawings include him riding a bike, doing laundry and other personal actions. “I thought his striking honesty was really interesting,” said Megan Dolezal ’13. “His work is mostly about mundane events that happen, but he does it in such a sincere way that it lets the viewer form a relationship with him even if they’ve never met him in person.”
His artwork has truly inspired Carleton students with its honesty. Said Wiesenthal, “I’ve now decided to be true to myself in my [journal] too. And hopefully then someday when I look back on them, my journal entries will be a whole lot more interesting.”