On Sept. 7 the Martin Art Gallery hosted artist Rhonda Wall for the Artist Talk and opening reception for the exhibition “How Do We Survive? Everything Happens at the Same Time.”
Stepping into the Gallery, the room is a unique sensory experience, the ear descends into a realm of hushed murmurs from respectful patrons while the eye is greeted by the vibrant colors and abstract figures of Wall’s collages. The collages range in size, the smallest (“Boosted,” 2021) being 14”x11” and the largest (“Supply Chain,” 2021) being 36”x 96” and spanning nearly the entire right side of the entrance wall. Following the artist talk, Wall could be found floating about the space, conversing with eager attendees about the inspiration for her work and minute details that caught each individual’s eye. Nola Thompson ‘27 verbalized this phenomena when she stated, “You could look at these pieces 20 to 30 hundred times and see different details and different meanings every time.”
Rhonda Wall herself is just as creative and complex as her collages. A 1978 graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, Wall has created work that spans medium and time. A prominent figure in the East Side art scene of New York City in the 1980s, her works were displayed in both the Sensory Evolution and B-Side Galleries. She has also created performance-based art, with past projects including “Russian Fantasia” (1993-1994), which contained collage but also dance, costume and textile work and a performance piece titled, “Who Am I and Destroy Telephones” (1979), which she wrote, directed and starred in.
“With what’s happening in the world, we tend to not see the humor”Rhonda Wall
As Wall’s collages are uniquely intricate, many attending her artist talk wanted to know just how she goes about creating them. In both the Q&A and discussions with The Weekly, Wall explained that she starts her collages by painting a geometric non-objective background. When it comes to the collage, she doesn’t save material. When she wants to create, she utilizes her own photography, magazines, books and the Internet to gather components. Often, she finds an image and asks herself, “What would I put with this?” Wall explained that, more often than not, it is “really like what’s going on then.”
“Every day is a different story,” she states, “and then I’ll work on a piece.” She utilizes what happens in her life as a starting point, allowing her to create work “that can be beautiful and horrific at the same time.” Macy Sauder ‘27 expressed appreciation for Wall’s process, saying that seeing it allowed her to see “what the work was and what it became.”
The pieces in this exhibition all seek to answer the question: How do we survive? While the concept can seem rather heavy, and Wall’s collages do cover serious topics such as the January 6th Insurrection, Mueller Report and COVID-19 pandemic, Wall told The Weekly that she seeks to “represent the difficult times we live in and the beauty that’s out there still.” One of her works which accomplishes this most evidently is “The Car Wash, Bird’s Nest, and the Report” (2019). As the name suggests, this work has three main focuses. Wall revealed that when she started making it, she had intended to create something more lighthearted, drawing on the beautiful purples of a carwash she had gone through and the turquoise of a bird’s nest she stumbled upon. However, while doing so, the Mueller report came out. The purples and turquoise are not made any less vibrant by the inclusion of the Mueller report, yet the collage acknowledges that all of these events with various emotional consequences occurred at the same time. Wall noted that, “With what’s happening in the world, we tend to not see the humor,” however, she maintained that, “We have to keep our sense of humor, otherwise we won’t keep going.”
“Represent the difficult times we live in and the beauty that’s out there still.”
When speaking with The Weekly, Wall revealed her answer to the omnipresent question of survival: “How do we survive? The answer is with hope.” As for the second part of the exhibition’s title, Wall approached this within her artist talk, stating, “Everything happens at the same time… life goes on.”
Martin Art Gallery Director Jessica Ambler remarked that Wall “has been teaching in the area and is well known in the Lehigh Valley arts community.” According to Ambler, this exhibit has been highly anticipated, as it “had been planned pre-COVID.” “How Do We Survive? Everything Happens at the Same Time” can be found at the Martin Art Gallery in the CA until Oct. 6..