Evan Smith, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, was past the age of 20 when he took keen interest in drawings and paintings. But years later, with more training in conceptual art at SIUE, Smith’s recent project, Guise, has attracted the attention of the International Sculpture Center (ISC), which selected him as a recipient of the prestigious 2022 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.
The award celebrates the work of young sculptors, and this year, 13 recipients and seven honorable mentions were recognized from a pool of 270 nominees from 101 schools. Recipients will participate in a group exhibition and be featured in Sculpture magazine.
Smith is the third SIUE student to win the ISC award after Abbi Ruppert, BFA ‘21, received it in 2020 for her sculpture, Steal My Ambitions; and Allena Marie Brazier, BFA ‘21, in 2021 for her sculpture, “Passionate Desires.”
“These consecutive accomplishments really say something about the quality of our students, as they have been recognized for their work three years in a row,” said Thad Duhigg, MFA, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Art and Design. “We are competing with major programs at much bigger institutions not just within the U.S., but also around the world, so this recognition is certainly something to be proud of.”
A West Virginia native currently based in St. Louis, Smith was nominated for the award by Duhigg, who was his mentor. Smith built his piece using a combination of conceptual art techniques to make a commentary on climate change.
“Guise uses the concept of hyperreality, which depicts either a distorted reality or something that does not exist at all, by using 3D printing, sculpture and projection mapping to create a surreal image of a real time event,” said Smith. “The clear water in the pool is surrounded but untouched by flooded river water, a metaphor on how the more privileged of society can escape climate change easily. The pool, a physical object, is filled with real water to play against the projection of muddy water, asking the viewer what is real. The green of the life preserver in the pool represents the thoughtful but sometimes meaningless steps we take to combat an event that is reshaping our way of living.”
He was inspired to work on Guise after seeing an intriguing image on the internet, which showed a flooded neighborhood where a pool in one backyard appeared spared by the disaster.
“Guise embodies the uncanny feeling that climate change has on us and embraces an often-contradictory mindset we all have on the subject,” Smith said. “By approaching this subject with both a sense of humor and within the hyperreal, I bring to light a different aspect in which we connect to and understand something that seems beyond understanding.”
Duhigg felt that Smith’s work deserved nomination for the award, stating, “Evan works hard, is completely committed to his art, and pushes the parameters of what sculpture can be. It is so nice to see his dedication rewarded by the ISC.”
Guise serves as immersive art in which interpretation depends on the active rather than passive participation of the viewer. Accordingly, humans are not represented in the sculpture. It allows people to imagine themselves in the spaces created by Smith.
“The tiny lifesaver that floats in the water is to help viewers to get to that place. My hope is that what I make allows people to think differently about the places they inhabit,” said Smith.
The SIUE MFA program has enabled Smith to learn about conceptual art, theory, teaching and practical approaches to contemporary art and education under professors like Duhigg.
“The SIUE art program offers a strong community of professors, students and staff that are supporting and caring of one another,” said Smith. “Everyone I have worked with has a common goal to teach art in an open-ended way that’s both informative and freeing as an artist and educator. The Department offers a lot of opportunities inside and outside of the program. I have been given the opportunity to teach a 3D design class, receive grants and exhibit my work locally and nationally. Currently, I am participating in the Sculpture on Campus program where students are awarded money to create a public sculpture on the campus of the University.
Following his graduation in May 2023, Smith plans to become a professor and to continue collaborating with fellow artist Stacey, who works on local and national exhibitions with him and has over the years challenged him to take up academic study to develop his art.
Central to SIUE’s exceptional and comprehensive education, the College of Arts and Sciences offers degree programs in the natural sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences, and communications. The College touches the lives of all SIUE students helping them explore diverse ideas and experiences, while learning to think and live as fulfilled, productive members of the global community. Study abroad, service-learning, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities better prepare SIUE students not only to succeed in our region’s workplaces, but also to become valuable leaders who make important contributions to our communities.
Evan Smith, SIUE MFA candidate and 2022 recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, shown. (SIUE photo)