6 Boston Art School Stars to Watch in 2022

“Our present influences our past in subtle and undetectable ways,” reads a caption in Sam Witherow’s film, “Talking the Fire Out.” The camera wanders through the landscapes of the artist’s hometown of Ayer and his late grandfather’s hometown of Brookville, Pennsylvania, as if searching for ghosts among the trees.

Witherow’s grandfather lived across from her when she was young. He died when she was 11 and she mourned his passing. But she had never asked him about his youth, and she had been surprised to learn as an adult that he was from Pennsylvania. She wondered why he left.

Sam Witherow, a still from the film “Talking the Fire Out”, HD video, color, sound.Sam Witherow

Witherow wondered because trauma had driven her away from Ayer. The film does not talk about this trauma. she does not reveal this; and his silence opens the door for viewers to insert their own stories. The film is more about the aftermath of trauma. Witherow’s return to Ayer is a settling of scores with her younger self – a self she’s kind of abandoned.

“Life becomes before trauma and after trauma,” she said. “There may be a wall being built between these two things.”

In the film, nature is a soft place to hold back the effects of trauma.

“Just because it happened to me doesn’t mean I have to be that other person,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m still me.”

Smwitherow.com, @withe_sam

Oscar Morel, 24 years old

Painter, Boston University

Morel arrived at BU in the fall of 2020 with enough money to pay apartment rent — and that was about it. So he scavenged paint supplies and found materials that artists had left at BU studios during lockdown. By cutting them out and gluing them, he discovers his medium.

His works, often made with paint, depict scenes from his life in the Bronx: his extended Dominican family, figures from the apartment building the family has occupied for decades, and mythical and historical tales. Morel, who also dabbles in music on his computer, sees a connection between collage and hip-hop.

“They both take things that were there and rebuild them and create chemistry,” he said. “It becomes something completely different.”

Oscar Morel, “Camino a casa”, mixed media on canvas.Oscar Morel

The works have a tinkered grain and a touch of love. “Camino a casa” (or “way back”) depicts the artist as a toddler, walking with his father. The boy is lively; the man is solid. The verticality of the father echoes that of a lamp post behind him.

The artist’s recent paintings present facets of the urban landscape. Morel said he wanted to work at the wall scale. He has an upcoming residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art this summer, and that lifestyle suits him well.

“In a room in the middle of nowhere to paint,” he said. “Put food out the door. A shower. That’s all I need.”


Katy Rodden Walker, 37

Installation Artist, UMass Dartmouth

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Katy Rodden Walker and her husband had a new baby. Her grandmother had just died. And she was trying to maintain her ongoing art practice during quarantine. She started working with gauze.

“I was pulled in a lot of different directions. I wanted material to express some of these ideas,” she said.

Her installation “Enmeshed” reflects her desire for community. Made of gauze, clay slip and glue, it hangs above the head in a protective embrace. It is inspired by the interconnectedness of rhizomes and mycelium, plants and fungi whose roots form underground networks.

“What would a large-scale rhizome look like? says Rodden Walker. “I wanted to try to put someone inside of that.”

Katy Rodden Walker, “Blooms”, detail.Katy Rodden Walker

For another installation, “Blooms,” the artist first focused on micro-plastics, then factored in the increase in jellyfish blooms into warming oceans. Jellyfish and seaweed made from recycled plastic bags and packaging materials float and float in a nauseating environment lit with yellows and blues.

“I want the viewer to feel submerged in it and see the dystopia, even though there’s still beauty, slowness and appreciation for nature,” Rodden Walker said.

www.katyroddenwalker.com, @katyroddenwalker

Alonso Nichols, 47 years old

Photographer, SMFA/Tufts

Alonso Nichols grew up in Smoketown, a historically black neighborhood in Louisville since the Civil War. He has a photo of his great-great-great-grandparents, Richard and Emeline Griffin.

“They emancipated themselves and followed the Union Army out of Virginia before the Civil War ended,” he said, pointing to his great-grandfather. “This man was a carpenter. He helped build some of the houses in Smoketown.

For his thesis project, Nichols intended to photograph Smoketown, documenting local residents and businesses. Then the pandemic hit. Unable to travel, he turned to the internet to investigate the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification.

Alonso Nichols, “Disappearances”, image from a video projection.Alonso Nichols

“The more I looked, the more I began to realize that I could actually see the stages of deconstruction as the neighborhood came apart,” Nichols said.

His photo-collage of internet images from 2008 to 2019 captures the process – old shotgun houses, empty lots, new developments. It sits on a Smoketown brick pedestal.

When Nichols visited Smoketown last year, he screened a video on the old St. Peter Claver Church of a 1938 photo of the elementary school children and staff there; it later closed when the schools were integrated. The picture was of her grandmother — she’s one of the kids in the picture. In the video, people slowly disappeared.

A video of this loss projection can be found in his thesis show.

“This whole place was a community, it was a maze of families and people leaning on each other to survive tough lean times,” Nichols said. “It is now being dug.”


Juyon Lee, 26 years old

Interdisciplinary Artist, SMFA/Tufts

Lee filled the space for his thesis show, “There’s Mystery in Everything,” with video, sound, glass, and an S-shaped wall of one-way mirror film. The project is about what we think we know and how little we actually do. The videos feature glass balls on a reflective surface. Project them onto and through the glass and the wall to abstract them.

“[The glass balls] are real things that seem quite definable. But then I abstract them, and it gets muddy. Like, ‘Oh, what is this? What am I looking at? “Said Lee.

Viewers are immersed in a space of unknowing, making their own associations.

The artist’s work asks questions about why we are quick to define and categorize, and what lurks in the chasm between binaries.

“What is between A and B? And then, what is the limit? And how can I imagine it through my work? she says.

Juyon Lee, “There’s Mystery in Everything”, two-channel video with stereo sound, steel, one-way mirror film, glass, water. Juyon Lee

Lee represents this limit in image and in light.

If it’s hard to grasp, that’s Lee’s point.

“I play with the notion of transience and transience with three-dimensional objects,” she said.

In short, even concrete things are ephemeral.

www.juyonlee.com, @juyon_

Travis Flack, 33

Photography, Lesley University

Flack’s thesis project mixes cheeky humor with existential angst. He looked at all the photographs he had taken during his master’s program at Lesley and put them together in a story.

“I wanted to do a series of self-portraits loosely based on [the idea of] crime scenes,” he said. “I looked at my previous work as if I had opened a cold case.”

Travis Flack, “Wildness Semed Right”, composed of physically manipulated photos.Travis Flak

There are comic images of bagged evidence: a camera, the artist’s own head (two of them, in fact, in plastic bags in the desert, appearing to be chatting). But then, oblivion is a theme.

“I’m that kind of extreme person. I like really spicy foods. I like very loud music. I like skateboarding and surfing. And I had issues with substances,” Flack said. Her photographs explore the desire to disappear in such experiences.

He repaints certain images with solvent, giving them impressionistic auras. In the final image, “Wildness Semed Right”, he layers several of the same shots and applies solvent. Previously sequenced images swirl and collide in a final self-portrait.

Other shots are more traditional, like that of an old Joshua tree in California.

“I completely identified with it. It’s just this old Joshua tree refusing to fall,” Flack said. “He’s dying, but he’s not quite dead yet.”


Cate McQuaid can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.

Kayleen C. Rice