Kern's senior art exhibit explores social behavior, stereotypes

Release Date: 4/28/2014

In her four years at University of the Ozarks, Abigail Kern has transformed from someone who creates art to someone who can be called a true artist.

The senior art major from Wichita, Kan., is presenting her artwork as part of her Senior Art Exhibit in the Stephens Gallery . The exhibit, called "Oh my!" is being shown from April 28-May 6. There will be a reception to meet the artist from 6-7 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, in the gallery.

Kern, who is graduating from Ozarks on May 17, said she has grown tremendously as an artist during her years at the University.

"When I first arrived here, I was just someone who created art without thinking a lot of about it," she said. "The last couple of years I've really grown as an artist. I've learned about what it means to put the work, the time and the thought into creating art. It's a much more encompassing process that I realized when I first arrived here."

Kern credits Dawn Holder, assistant professor of art, for helping her blossom as an artist.

"Only in the last year or so have I been creating art that comes from my mind and from my heart," Kern said. "Dawn really inspired and encouraged me to think about every aspect of a piece and to ask myself why I'm doing something. It's really helped me come up with some interesting concepts that truly come from within me. I think of myself as an artist now."

In her "Oh my!" exhibit, Kern said she inspiration for most of the 12-piece collection comes from personal experiences.

"Each piece can be traced to something that has happened in my life," she said. "I draw from my own personal experiences and often find myself in my work. I use these experiences and observations to create work that explores the way young people behave and interact "

Kern's exhibit is made up of primarily ceramic sculptures that deal with social behavior and stereotypes.

"Social behavior is the way individuals interact with one another," she said. "These behaviors are affected by an individual's culture and are heavily impacted by societal standards and stigmas. Social behavior can sometimes contradict what may feel natural or instinctive to us as human beings. This exhibit explores these different social behaviors by examining stereotypes involving things like gender, sexuality, and affection. I focus on my own age demographic, as I am often inspired by the interactions and behaviors of the people around me."

Many of Kern's work includes animals.

"I embody these explorations of social behavior in animals so I have the freedom to address a variety of topics, regardless of how taboo or uncomfortable they may be," she said. "I make bright, colorful, stylized creatures that draw the viewer in.  That way, they are already invested when they begin to recognize the reality of the content. "

One of Kern's favorite pieces is called "Princess Sylvia."

"Princess Sylvia is a sweet, adorable lavender-grey hippo with a voluptuous figure," Kern said. "She sits with her nails polished and a tiara on her head with an ice cream cone in her hand. At first, she is simply a loveable little girl, but when you examine her facial expression you realize there is sadness in her eyes and in the slight downward curve of her shoulders. The initial reaction shifts from adoration to pity. Much of my work functions the same way. Each piece is an adorable display that explores different facets of social behavior and hold meaning beyond face value. They all work together to create a whimsical world that seems to exist without pretense, but is actually layered with questions and implications about cultural norms and social behavior. "

Kern, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in art in hopes of becoming a college professor, said working with clay is particularly satisfying.

"It's very personal and intimate," she said. "I'm a very tactile person, so I like to feel the process. I've found that working with clay is much more satisfying to me than drawing or sketching."