Professor’s “Blossoms in a Sudden Strangeness” Showcases Pandemic Paintings

The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery kicks off its season with Ying Li’s series of 47 paintings depicting life and nature at Haverford amid the silence of the pandemic.

In March 2020, when Haverford’s campus closed under the looming shadow of the pandemic, it may have seemed that life on campus had come to a sudden halt. However, the movement of nature, as well as the lives of those who remained on campus, continued. This movement amid a strange new reality was chronicled by Phlyssa Koshland Professor of Fine Arts Ying Li, who created a series of 47 paintings over five months, each a representation of nature and life on the suddenly empty campus.

On view through Nov. 13, Blossoms in a Sudden Strangeness showcases these 47 works, painted outdoors on campus, foregrounding her depictions of the aesthetics of the silent campus. The depictions range from natural sights, such as Haverford’s Duck Pond and array of tulips and cherry blossoms, to depictions of ordinary objects like Kleenex boxes, an item with bolstered significance given the increased focus on health and  germs in the time of COVID-19.

While from far away, the untrained eye may interpret the works of art to be planar paintings, upon closer inspection, the distinctive topography of each is revealed. Something as elementary as a tree might be a product of layers and layers of oil on linen, drawn in a style indicative of Li’s decades of artistic experience and refinement.

“It felt like the perfect exhibition for the fall, as everyone on campus had collectively experienced the dramatic shift of the shutdown, yet Ying’s work during the shutdown was prolific and beautiful and hopeful,” said Matthew Callinan, Associate Director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, VCAM, and Campus Exhibitions, “and so it made perfect sense to share this work with the campus community when they returned; the perfect bright light to lead us all back.”

For Callinan, the great work of engaging the entire Haverford community in the operations of the Gallery has only begun, as he has already formed a queue of exhibits and events, both virtual and on physical display, to further involve the community, regardless of location.

“We’ve been doing a lot of virtual programming as part of our ongoing Contest of the Fruits project with Berlin-based artist collective Slavs and Tatars, and we’re going to have a virtual artist talk by Ying Li in conversation with curator Andrea Packard on Thursday, October 1, at 4:30 p.m.,” Callinan said. “On October 20 at 4:30 p.m., we will host a virtual event with the curator and several of the artists from An Alarming Specificity, the exhibition we were unable to open in March. And, in conjunction with VCAM, we are hosting a number of alums for virtual talks, many of whom are previous gallery employees, like Alliyah Allen ‘18, Janet Yoon ‘10, and Pia Chakraverti-Wuerthwein ‘16.”

“In my dual-role with VCAM, I’ll also help with additional programs, exhibitions, and displays throughout the course of the year including projects with specific courses like the visual studies capstone led by Professor Erin Schoneveld,” said Callinan. “Keep an eye out on the Haverford College Exhibits, Hurford Center, and VCAM social media accounts for the latest details.”

Blossoms in a Sudden Strangeness will be featured in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery from Sept. 22 until Nov. 13, 2020, and is available for visiting to campus community members only. Registration for artist Ying Li and curator Andrea Packard’s discussion on Oct. 1, which is open to all, can be found here.