Last week, Jessica Vanderpol braved showing her illustration work to the Seattle Pacific University community. The SPAC Gallery took on a new look following the previous week’s exhibition by Lexie Hoffman, Naomi Trego and Emily Lowenberg, which had given the space a complex, organic, almost wonderland-like quality. This week, Vanderpol opened up the Gallery, making it more airy and expansive through her artworks’ consistency in medium and size. Only the walls were utilized for display, as her illustrations rested side by side in an orderly and uniform presentation.
Accustomed to the earlier installations, I felt an immediate emptiness upon entering the gallery to view Vanderpol’s show. In addition, Vanderpol’s unassuming use of color and frequently unfinished renderings gave me a sense of vacancy. But Vanderpol’s exhibition is not intended to be viewed as a true installation with strong spatial and sensory impact. Instead, she intends for her works to be analyzed in an individual, step-by-step way.
The viewer’s journey begins on the left of the entrance ramp with an introduction and artist’s statement emphasizing the importance of the imagination. The adjacent wall, which greets each new visitor to the gallery, begins Vanderpol’s journey of creativity as an illustrator. Each work demonstrates an important phase in completing an illustration. Beginning with the medium of graphite and continuing with ink, watercolor and acrylics, Vanderpol’s comic-book-like pages gradually come to life with color and solidity.
Vanderpol maintains a consistent emphasis on process. The palpable loneliness of each work on its blank white wall functions to brings the viewer in for a closer look. It emerges, then, that the simplicity of the installation is completely necessary in order to honor Vanderpol’s underlying intention to draw attention to method and process. Once the viewer is close enough to each work, the work “pops,” thanks to Vanderpol’s experimental use of varied approaches to visual storytelling. The exhibition is a story about making stories, and some of Vanderpol’s curatorial choices echo the storytelling strategies within her comic-book-like panels. For example, cut-out circles and larger-scale paintings are juxtaposed, drawing the viewer closer, and then closer in.
The last phase of Vanderpol’s journey, and the last wall in the exhibition, is backed by a gray rectangle framing floating artworks. This gray rectangle fills the space with a solidifying essence. This last touch brings Vanderpol’s last works, which present a journey in space, into harmony with each other, creating a family of images. The rectangle also adds weight to the gallery, and drew me to it as if it had a strong gravitational pull.
Why weren’t similar expanses of gray employed in the rest of the gallery? The vacant feeling of the installation could have been avoided with this extra feature. Each set of works (which presents a new family of PG subject matter) could have been recognized as a family, so to speak, rather than as another step-by-step sequence of scientific observation.
Overall, Jessica Vanderpol has a real niche in the illustrative design spectrum. Her chances for a future in a gallery could be improved with attention to a more impactful means of presenting her work.