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"Choice of the Dreamwatcher" by David Stenulson. Oil on panel.
“Choice of the Dreamwatcher” by David Stenulson. Oil on panel.

The latest exhibit in the Asbury University Art Gallery features work by Asbury alumni Joel Mangin ’01 and David Stenulson ’10. The show, which is called, “The Figure, Nature and the Unconscious,” explores different areas of perception. Stenulson’s work focuses largely on the archetypical suggestions of ordinary objects, while Mangin’s work traces stages of artistic development.

Though the artists have not met in person, they share an artistic experience beyond their training at Asbury — both completed their master’s degrees at the New York Academy of Art.

Stenulson heard about the New York Academy of Art through Asbury professor Chris Segre-Lewis, and his interest was piqued by the school’s focus on the traditional figure.

“The thing that I like about it was that it was loosely based on 18th-century French Academy,” Stenulson said. “It was very traditional. We had live models in every class. They had the big names in the art world and the figural community who taught there.”

Mangin discovered the New York Academy of Art through what seemed like coincidence, but he believes that God orchestrated the events that led him there.

 “Looking back at it, the very first time I heard about the New York Academy of Art was when I was walking out of class one day at Asbury, and at that time there was a big bulletin board of brochures and posters from different schools across the states,” he said. “One was from the New York Academy, and in the corner of it was a handwritten note in pen that said, ‘Wish I had gone there.’ I don’t know who wrote it, but it just caught my attention and I began looking into the school.”

While at the New York Academy of Art, both artists developed their common interest in the human figure. Beyond that shared interest, though, their artistic emphases differ widely. 

Stenulson is interested in what he calls “hubs of unconsciousness,” through which he tries to bring hidden or unconscious meaning out of everyday objects.

“There are certain things people seem to know, certain archetypes that aren’t based on their background at all, just encoded into them,” he said. “Perhaps from that I was thinking that there are these creative hubs already.”

Stenulson says that he uses art to bring light out of darkness and to express iconic meaning — iconic “in the sense that they refer to another thing of a greater significance.”

“There’s a lot of unrest in the American public and a lot of yearning for melodrama,” he said. “There’s this weird ecstasy. I just combat dark out of void as much as I can, and try to take demons and turn them into something good. It makes a different way to look at heaven — giving a visual reality to my inner reality.”

Mangin’s work has been influenced by the five years he spent with his wife, Rebecca, teaching art in Kabul, Afghanistan. One of his pieces, “King Zohair,” is based on a man who worked as a cook’s assistant at the school in Kabul. The man belonged to a minority ethnic group called the Hazara, a people Mangin says have never held much power in Afghanistan. The work is a large portrait of the man’s face, but it is made up of many smaller faces belonging to kings of Afghan history

"King Zohair" by Joel Mangin. Photocopies and walnut ink on paper.
“King Zohair” by Joel Mangin. Photocopies and walnut ink on paper.

“By using the kings’ faces I was asking questions about social class, ethnicity, the opportunity for the Hazara to gain power someday,” Mangin said. “In the eyes of that particular piece there’s a woman, and she’s the only woman in that piece made up of many kings. She’s the first woman mayor — a woman, and a Hazara, and a mayor, so that’s a milestone.”

Keith Barker, Asbury professor and Art Department chair, says that the Asbury community should recognize the significance of Mangin’s and Stenulson’s achievements, academically as well as artistically. 

“All of us can be proud that our art program produced not just one but two students worthy of this important graduate-level institution, that their work is significant on its own merits, and would be sought after in any art context,” he said. “The show delivers technically inspiring as well as conceptually astute artwork; the kind of exhibit that can mold and inspire our current students.” 

Senior art major Logan Phillips says that the exhibit has been an encouragement to him.

“I think that as an artist at Asbury, it gives me a positive way to gauge my potential as an artist,” he said. “Seeing really quality work come in from graduates and seeing how well done it is kind of brings a sense security in a way, and a sense that I can probably do that too, hopefully.”

Did you know?

Asbury University Art Department faculty are artists and exhibitors as well as mentors for the students they teach each day. Currently, the Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati is now showing “VISTA: Landscape in Contemporary Art,” a juried exhibit featuring Professor Chris Segre-Lewis. The show runs through October. Also, Spot5 Gallery in Louisville is now showing Process:Affect:Reconsider, an exhibit featuring Professor Keith A. Barker and other photography faculty in the region (including alumnus Darrell Kincer ’98). The show is part of the Louisville Photo Biennial running through November.