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Studio Art Undergrad Uses Self to Explore Body Image

By Abbey Becker

Photo of Carolyn Becker working in the studio by Vanessa Robertson.

Photo of Carolyn Becker working in the studio by Vanessa Robertson.

Carolyn Becker, BA studio art ’13, had a rough start when she tried painting the human figure. “The first portrait I ever did was terrible,” she laughs. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever painted in my whole life.”

But practice makes perfect, and Becker has come to embrace the body as a central theme of her art. “I think my art is going towards working with the figure, because I just love painting the body,” she says. “I think it’s beautiful.”

Becker often uses her own body as her subject and focuses on body image in her art. “Last year, I painted my legs on pairs of pants, which juxtaposed the length of my legs to the actual lengths of pants and how they never fit me,” Becker explains. “I want to explore my feelings and self-esteem, how I compare myself with others, and my size to the world around me.”

But it may be the colors that she uses that best distinguish her work from others’ in the program. “I love being able to use colors that people don’t normally see [in painting],” she says. “I don’t really like painting with browns and blacks. My color palette is literally what I call ‘eye candy’—it’s blues, turquoise, pinks, really bright reds, really rich, ultramarine blues.”

Though she’s more than a foot shorter than the six foot canvas she used for a recent piece, Becker prefers to paint on large canvasses. “Working large allows me to paint more details and utilize larger color blocks and brushstrokes,” she says. “The only problem is that I sometimes need to stand on a ladder to paint the top part.”

Becker does most of her painting in her assigned space in the undergraduate art studio in Katzen. “I can’t see myself without a space,” says Becker. “The space is honestly my second home. I work on literally all of my art there, even if it’s not for class. The only thing that’s missing is a bed and a bathroom.”

She shares the studio with a couple of other undergraduate studio art majors, and they often confer with each other on their current pieces. “We often work together late at night on our separate projects and give each other feedback,” she says. “When people are using the space, it’s very exciting. Everybody’s talking, everybody’s helping each other. It’s a really great community space.”

Last year, she worked with her fellow majors to organize an open studios event. “A lot of the undergrad and grad students came, teachers came, even members of the public came,” says Becker. “It was great, because people got to see the art that the undergraduate students were doing.”

When it came to choosing a school, she thought past her undergraduate career. “I just love the DC area and the art scene here,” she enthuses metro area native. “It’s not that big, so I thought I could get more attention in the scene here and in the program at AU than I would have if I were in Baltimore or New York.” She’s already planning a guerilla art exhibition, and she attends gallery openings and shows to make connections with people in the local art community.

While she primarily considers herself a painter, she’s also interested in drawing, crafts, and vintage fashion. She started a vintage store on Etsy, and she’s working to get that off the ground. “I just want to go out into the world and try and see what I can do,” she says.

Becker has twice been awarded the Alma Thomas Award, an annual award given to an undergraduate painting student who exhibits exemplary skill. “Carolyn approaches all of her work with a willingness to experiment and take risks,” says Department of Art professor Danielle Mysliwiec. “She has a dedicated studio practice, and her commitment to her work has resulted in many exciting leaps forward.”

Professor Tim Doud agrees. “She is enthusiastic about making art and it shows—she and her classmates are helping to make the undergraduate art program at AU a dynamic program.”

She’s modest, though, and attributes much of her success to hard work. “I’m that kid who always has to be on time,” Becker explains. “I go to bed really early because I need to wake up early and do homework. It’s really about how much effort you put into it.”