Albion College artist-in-residence program provides students with first-hand experience of working artists

November 9, 2023

julia betts show
Munro Gallery

Albion College artist-in-residence program provides students with first-hand experience of working artists

Although she is an adjunct faculty member of art at Penn State-Beaver, Julia Betts admits that she does not have a lot of time to focus on her own artistic endeavors when she is teaching.

“It’s hard, but I do it when I can,” said Betts, who teaches art installation and sculpture.

As the current Phillip C. Curtis Artist in Residence at Albion College, Betts took time away from teaching to take part in the 10-week program and focus exclusively on her art while helping Albion art students get a glimpse into the creative process.

She will conclude her visit to Albion with an exhibition of her latest creations Nov. 10-Dec. 2 at the Munro Gallery within the College’s Bobbitt Center. She also will host a workshop in November on performance art. Stay tuned for details on the date and time.

Betts said the opportunity to focus on her art has been what she has needed. “Just to do all art, all of the time has been great,” Betts said. “I haven’t had this kind of time for my art in a long time.”

Although she has completed artist-in-residence programs at schools in Georgia and Illinois, Betts said Albion College has been “the best experience.” She explained, “This is such a supportive situation. The people here are welcoming and nice and I have a show in a beautiful space. They give you a studio and you get to interact with students and faculty.”

Ashley Feagin, chair of the Art and Art History Department, said that while the artist-in-residence program provides time and resources to the artist, Albion art students also benefit.

“The Phillip C. Curtis Artist in Residence program offers students a remarkable opportunity to witness the creative process,” said Feagin. “They have the chance to review the proposals submitted by Artists in Residency (AIRs) in their applications, visit the AIR studio during the production phase, assist in setting up exhibitions and witness the completed works. Through the Artist in Residence program, students gain valuable insights into the diverse facets of a working artist’s life.”

Albion students are encouraged to drop into Betts’ temporary studio, located on the second floor of Bobbitt, to see her creative process in action. On any given day, you might find Betts working broken flower pots, stray sneakers and dismantled furniture. The pots, sneakers and furniture are in various states of deconstruction, a recurring theme in Betts’ art.

Her latest work also incorporates drawings of people she knows and their personal objects and blends the images together until the person is hard to see. The style of the art is bold and uses a lot of color.

“That is a friend of mine,” Betts said as she pointed to a portion of her art in which a man is lying face down surrounded by different items, including an image of his dog. Betts takes those images, makes them larger and adds more layers of paint. The layers, four to six of them, are allowed to dry on plastic sheets and then the image is peeled off and installed on a wall.

The inspiration for the piece came from watching her young niece trying to stay inside the lines as she was coloring.

“I was watching her color and try to stay inside the lines and I thought, ‘What if there were no lines.’ I started to think about how nothing in real life is outlined,” said Betts. “Things blur together. Everything is always changing.”

Change is one of the challenges that Betts faces in the creation of her art. She doesn’t use the same materials on every work, so the process is different every time.

“Coming up with the idea is the challenge I like,” Betts said. “The actual physical process is the hard part. I am making this stuff up so I cannot ask for advice on what to do if something doesn’t work. I have to figure it out.”

According to Betts, she has “always liked making art” and started taking art classes at an early age. “Art kept pulling me in and I could not escape it. There is so much freedom to art and it can be whatever I want it to be,” she noted.

Betts graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in 2014 and received her master’s degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017. She has participated in national group exhibitions and mounted numerous solo shows at galleries in Pittsburgh and New York. Her portfolio of work is available on her website.

The artist-in-residence program at Albion College is named for the American Surrealist painter, Philip C. Curtis, ‘30. The program was started by his college friends, Russell and Wanda Babcock, in 1991 during a large Curtis retrospective exhibition in the Elsie Munro Gallery at Albion College.