If you wandered into the Castleton State College library the weekend of March 25, and then into the student lounge, you would have found yourself in the middle of an explosion of color and expression.You had just stumbled upon Michelle Harshbarger’s senior art show.
“I think the show is tight and funky – it rolls,” said Professor Marna Grove.
It’s colorful, contemporary, wacky and wild; I like it all.”
Even if you didn’t attend the show, if you’ve flipped through a recent edition of The Spartan you’ve seen Harshbarger’s work – she has been drawing the Dorm Fish comic since the beginning of last semester.
Harshbarger, a 22-year-old Burlington, Vt., native, says the idea for Dorm Fish originated from her own fish. “I looked at them and wondered what they were thinking about us and it just grew from that.”
“It’s pretty darn good,” said Harshbarger’s father, Trevor, of his daughter’s show, proudly mentioning that she has been drawing since she could hold a pencil.
Not only is Harshbarger inspired by her dreams and personal experiences, but on occasion they are the subject of her work. She describes her favorite piece, titled In between “as being a dream about life, about being in between that past, present and future.”
As far as Harshbarger’s own future goes, she hopes to be a graphic designer or illustrator.
Her father thinks she’ll go far.
“She’ll be a successful artist that people will appreciate. She is able to prove that she can go any way – very versatile,” he said.
Some feel Harshbarger herself is an inspiration. Her roommate, Alicia Harrington says that Harshbarger moves her to be creative.
“I’ve been her roommate off and on since freshman year and I’ve watched most of these paintings come to life. She thinks out of the box, you can just see her energy from her paintings,” Harrington said.
And other artists inspire Harshbarger.
“Réné Magritte had definitely inspired me. His art evoked what he felt about the world – a lot of art therapy – reflects things that have happened to him and that’s the way with me, too.”
Her father touches upon this, too, saying that when something happens in Harshbarger’s life, she “does art” to reflect it.
She cites sculptor Louise Bourgeois as another inspiration.
“Bourgeois does surreal work that reflects society, which is something I’ve only been starting to do,” Harshbarger said.
As far as Castleton professors, Harshbarger credits Marna Grove and Gary Fitzgerald for helping her think differently and Rita Bernatowitz for changing the way she thinks about her compositions.
“I think about all of the things they all taught me and I try to collaborate them,” Harshbarger said.
Harshbarger’s mother, Jean, says Harshbarger has always been interested in art.
“We even have these two pieces in the car from third grade, but she wouldn’t let us bring them in,” she said.
It was Harshbarger’s love of art that brought her to C.S.C.
“I heard the art program was really good and going to Castleton I’d be able to stay in state and be part of a program that had gotten a lot of good reviews. And I could afford it,” she said.
Harshbarger’s art has clearly flourished during her time at C.S.C. The pieces in her show range from surreal paintings and realistic pencil drawings to a sewn bunny and a clip of an illustration she did for the Rutland Herald.
“Michelle’s superior,” said Professor Gary Fitzgerald, pointing to a piece titled Salenbeeda. “She has an instinct for graphics – an instinct for laying in just enough intricacy to keep you from forgetting it.”
“Michelle has an undercurrent of the absurd that goes along with exquisite color sense and design placement, which makes her art edgy and preposterous at the same time,” she said.
Harshbarger’s art may be unusual, but people agree that it’s first-rate.
“My wife and I comment all the time,” Harshbarger’s father said, “her art’s a little strange, but great.
“She draws wildly,” he says, “but her imagination seems to be all there.