Traveling around Novi Sad, Serbia, Galen Gibson-Cornell noticed a certain poster plastered on walls. The poster features a man—stoic with gray hair and large glasses covering his face. The man, Vojislav Šešelj, is a member of Serbia’s Radical Party and currently on trial for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Around the city, Gibson-Cornell noted the politician’s image 36 times—each distorted in some way, by elements of nature and by human hand.
“Any time you put a face up, no matter who it is, people will draw devil horns or people will mess with it. In some ways, it is natural, but in every one of these (posters) there is some sort of tear around his face. There is a lot of emotion in that,” says Gibson-Cornell, a third-year MFA student specializing in printmaking and lithography at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
He uses his printmaking to show the history represented by the stories and art he finds tagged to the walls of cities.
“At an early age, when my family and I would make trips to bigger cities like Kansas City, St. Louis or Chicago, there would be graffiti on walls or posters on certain things, like flyers for politicians or for a music band,” he says. “That just struck me as so strange that you would try to communicate by pasting something up on a wall because it deteriorates.”
Eventually, Gibson-Cornell found his artist path through printmaking and lithography. When he studied in France as an undergraduate at Truman State University, he worked with a printmaking shop that was using presses more than 200 years old.
In Novi Sad, Gibson-Cornell photographed each poster of the politician, enlarged and assembled his collection into a display, which covered the wall from floor to ceiling at his most recent art exhibit at UW–Madison’s Art Lofts.
“I see a parallel between this wall having this history and markings and whatnot and I see that paralleled with the printmaking process, having those lithographic stones that are reusable. They carry all those years of other images,” he says.
After graduation, Gibson-Cornell is returning to Europe, this time to Budapest, Hungary, on a Fulbright scholarship. Like his work in Serbia, this project, titled “Urban Portrait of Budapest,” will focus on the posters tagged to walls around the city.
“Budapest was just this fascinating city for me. I had known about it for quite awhile and I had this romantic view of it,” he says. “When I went there, I really felt something alive in the city walls—it sounds kind of cheesy but—there was this optimism in the city. I had been reading about the countries in the Soviet Bloc that had been beaten down emotionally. I found the exact opposite in Budapest.”
He received a warm welcome from people in Budapest’s printmaking community. While working on this project, Gibson-Cornell will intern in the well-known screen-printing shop called PRINTA and attend the Hungarian University of Fine Arts.
With graduation just weeks away, pieces of his Art Lofts show still sit in his studio in the Humanities Building. Taking time out to reflect, he believes that his experiences have pushed him to find the purpose in his work.
“I think a lot of art students and other people sometimes can get real caught up in what they are doing and sometimes forget to look for an overarching theme or purpose. For my own experience, that was a real problem for me and it still can be. Applying for this Fulbright, going through the process allowed me to get a firmer grasp on what I was doing.”
Gibson-Cornell will travel to Budapest in August, and plans to return to Madison after his Fulbright year to display his work.
— by Jeff Cartwright