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The Columbian: 'Better Shades Of Grey' Aims To Shine Fine-Arts Light On WSUV

When Google searching “50 Shades of Grey” and “WSU Vancouver,” the last thing you expect to read about is an art gallery. The best-selling “Grey” series of bawdy novels features a fictional student at the very real branch campus of Washington State University.

But Avantika Bawa, a professor of fine arts at WSU Vancouver, is doing her best to ensure an art gallery is what Google will turn up. The gallery show is titled “Better Shades of Grey,” to redefine what people notice when looking into WSU Vancouver, and to bring more attention to the campus’s fine arts minor.

“It’s unfortunate that’s how people first hear about the school, as opposed to the art and research and students here,” said Bawa.

Bawa, who has been teaching at the school for three years, chose the title based on a suggestion from a student and a vote from her class. “It’s all about marketing, and making the most of what you have,” she said. “We are using it to present ourselves, not some fiction writer.”

The “Better Shades of Grey” gallery aims to reclaim WSU Vancouver’s identity.

The gallery, on the first and second floors of the Science and Engineering building at the campus, features work ranging from simple paint on canvas to tree branches and bones, all in gray scale.

The works are “painterly sculptures” modeled after the works of Robert Rauschenberg and Lynda Bengalis, and were all done by students in a Fine Arts 102 class. The featured works emphasized using only black, white and gray.

Painterly sculpture is a style of art which has artists “work with materials on the canvas that are more three-dimensional,” said Bawa. In the gallery, these can range from pieces of glass to Christmas lights.

Most students in Bawa’s class found the gallery’s title amusing and creative.

“I think it’s very clever, and it describes all the art pieces really well in my opinion,” said Sarah deVincenzi, a fine arts minor. “We’re a university campus in the middle of a town that has really great people. That association (with the book) distracts people from the good things that are happening here.”

“I love the title, its obvious connection so people instantly recognize where that’s from, but it also says something about what we did, in terms of playing with black and white and value,” said Stephen Palermini, a senior in Bawa’s class.

“The gallery shows what our campus is really doing, which is creating,” said Amanda Bondurant, a fine arts minor.

Palermini, 34, said that “Better Shades” also represents the university’s diversity.

“We are a commuter campus; it’s a different group than you’d see in a traditional university. Everybody is going to produce different art.”

WSU Vancouver has a diverse age range compared with more traditional college campuses. At WSU Vancouver, the average student age is 26, while at the Pullman campus the average age is 21.

According to Bawa, the school’s diversity can be seen in the various styles evident in “Better Shades of Grey.”

“What’s nice about being at this campus is the variety of students; what would be even better is if we had even more students interested and able to do art,” she said.

Harrison Higgs and Bawa are the only full-time fine arts faculty at WSU Vancouver. The campus only offers a minor in fine arts, not a major.

Bondurant, 31, hopes there will be a fine arts major offered at the campus in the future.

“Even with just two full-time faculty, we are doing this much,” she said. “I’d rather major in it if I could.”

Many students in Bawa’s class said they wanted more fine arts classes offered on campus. Bawa believes that “Better Shades of Grey” may help to get more students interested in art.

The gallery will be in place until Dec. 5, and is open to the public during regular building hours.

50 Shades of Grey WSU-Vancouver Art gallery

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