‘A form of self-love’: From fan art to self portraits, HMC student art exhibition highlights depictions of multifaceted women

A blue painting of a person is displayed in a gallery.
“Studies of Women” by artist Waverly Wang HM ’23 was displayed in Harvey Mudd College’s Sprague Gallery this February. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

Movement and femininity filled Harvey Mudd College’s Sprague Gallery as “Waverly Wang — Studies of Women” took center stage this February.

Facing the Shanahan Center courtyard, the gallery featured complex and dynamic artworks by Waverly Wang HM ’23, a computer science and media studies double major. 

As the name suggests, “Studies of Women” explored the many ways in which Wang portrays women in her work. Curated by Julia Hong, arts director of HMC’s humanities, social sciences and the arts department, the exhibition featured women in self portraits, fan art, visualizations of music, original characters and portraits of Wang’s family members. 

In the spring 2020 semester, Wang was supposed to display one of her artworks in the gallery after answering an open call for art, but the exhibition was postponed, then pushed online, because of the pandemic. When Wang submitted her portfolio again this semester, she was invited to do a solo exhibition.

“I’ve always wanted to paint something that imitated how the camera works and blurs things. I felt like that’d be a technical challenge.”

Waverly Wang HM '23

 

“It’s just been amazing,” Wang said. “I can’t believe it’s happening. And I heard a class visited, which is just crazy. I just am really fascinated by what other students think and whether they are analyzing my work. Just being treated like a real artist who has ideas and opinions that can be analyzed is just crazy. I never thought I could get into Mudd — let alone have an art exhibition at Mudd.”  

Wang’s drawings of a female version of Sherlock Holmes inspired Hong to suggest depictions of women as the main theme of the exhibition. In its description of “Studies of Women,” The Arts at Harvey Mudd College’s website highlighted the dynamism of the diverse women showcased. 

“As the women move and proliferate through the uncontainable backgrounds of time, space and art and embody interdependency of qualities and identities rather than collision between them, their complexity gains a new dimension,” a news release said. “These women are out of ordinary and out of continuity, yet extremely familiar and recognizable.”

For Wang, the exhibition was a way to show her love for multifaceted female characters in both fiction and in her life. Although women haven’t always been the main focus of her work, Wang said she was recently inspired to create women-centric artworks by her sister, who liked the way she portrayed female characters in her illustrations. 

“When I started drawing more women, I realized it’s like a form of self-love.” Wang said. “You’re recognizing your beauty. That’s why I really love doing this exhibition.”

In her exhibition, Wang explored herself and her sisters through portraiture in different media. Especially striking was “Self Portrait inspired by NFWMB (2021), an acrylic painting featuring Wang surrounded by a stormy ocean, water drops falling from her wet hair. Wang said she was inspired by the Hozier song NFWMB and one of her sister’s paintings of a tsunami wave about to crash into her brother. Her piece imagines the scene before the wave crashed. 

One of Wang’s favorite pieces is “My Sisters at a Night at the Zoo (2022),” the last of the exhibition and Wang’s most recent artwork. This acrylic painting portrays Wang’s sisters at the zoo in a bright pink and blue color scheme. Using a photograph as reference, Wang enjoyed trying to render the image’s blurry composition and the night lighting.

Four paintings hang on a wall.
The exhibition featured experimental paintings, such as artwork inspired by her family and fanfiction. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

“It’s just very exploratory,” Wang said of the artwork. “I’ve always wanted to paint something that imitated how the camera works and blurs things. I felt like that’d be a technical challenge.” 

“Studies of Women” also focused on fanfiction through a feminine lens, with part of Wang’s work reimagining characters from shows such as “Sherlock” and “Arcane” and films like “Lady Bird” through graphite renderings. Wang’s passion for fanfiction often makes these illustrations complex and imaginative.

“I really love how fanfiction is actually very female dominant,” Wang said. “You get topics in fanfiction that you don’t normally get in other books because it’s reflective of the real world events that are happening right now.” 

Wang noted that students who visited her exhibition were particularly drawn to fanart of their favorite TV characters, such as “Jinx (2022), an acrylic rendering of Jinx, a protagonist in Netflix’s new series “Arcane” and the League of Legends franchise.

“I think people are really fascinated by [the fan art],” Wang said. “I love the reactions I get to the Jinx painting because that came out like a month ago. And they freak out that I painted Jinx.”

In both her themes and media, which range from graphite sketches to mixed media collages, Wang’s artwork displays immense variety, as Wang enjoys exploring different ideas and techniques through creative expression.

“I just love changing,” Wang said. “Each time I draw something new, I’m kind of always changing, adapting. And I think it makes it more fun because I don’t want to stay in one box. Because then it gets boring.”

Waverly Wang — Studies of Women opened Feb. 7 at Harvey Mudd’s Sprague Gallery and closes today.

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