In a studio on the third floor of Meek Hall Liz Rathbone is feverishly stroking a blank canvas that will soon be the culmination of her art education in preparation for her final thesis presentation.
It’s after 10 p.m. when we meet. Liz works better at night, she says. I am greeted with a young woman wearing ultra-flared jeans something perhaps circa 1970. The jeans are covered in every color of paint under the rainbow and a white t-shirt colored the same.
Her brush strokes appear to be completely out of control, yet completely thought out. Every color placed exactly where she wants it and every shadow highlighting the features of her four giant self-portraits.
Liz’s recent success as an artist has led her to host three art shows before graduating college. Rathbone has showed her work both in Memphis and Oxford.
“Liz has come such a long way as an artist,” Ole Miss Art Dept. Chair Sherie Reith- Fleck said. “Although it has taken a ‘village’ to get to this point she has finally made it and what she has given us is absolutely beautiful.”
Each canvas is roughly five ft. by five ft. at the smallest. On them are paintings of Rathbone in somewhat awkward positions that reflect the feeling of loneliness and solitude. On others, Rathbone’s face appears much larger than life.
In all of the works there is a common theme throughout. A brightly colored bold stripe about 12 inches in width pierces through different parts of Rathbone’s body stretching from side to side.
Downstairs sitting on the concrete sidewalk in front of the art building that appears to have been built around the same time of her bell-bottom jeans we begin to converse.
We start from the beginning, the simple where are you from and so on and so forth. The Baton Rouge native lets me know that before Ole Miss she had never had a formal art class.
“I never felt like I had a natural ability to art,” Rathbone says. “Everything I’ve made has been learned.”
“In my first art classes, I noticed that I was taking a different approach to art than my peers,” she says.
Rathbone’s early work was mostly portraits of notable figures in history. One of her paintings hangs on the wall of Meek Hall, it is a portrait of an African-American man possibly a soul singer that is in the middle of his hallelujah in the hues of purple and black.
“For a Bachelor of Fine Arts the student must present their work in front of a juried panel made up of the Fine Arts faculty and staff and defend their work to be given the go ahead for their thesis dissertation,” Reith-Fleck says.
Rathbone had quite a bit of trouble with this first step.
“My thesis was denied twice,” Rathbone says. “The professors told me that the ‘chaotic’ brush strokes that I make are just as important as the person I am painting. The brush strokes tell a story that might not relate to the story of the subject.”
Rathbone took the criticism and found a new direction for her final dissertation. She needed her pieces to say something about herself, something more personal. The result is what she calls the ‘external forces that control my internal chaos.’
I wanted to inquire more about this ‘internal chaos’. Rathbone begins telling me about her childhood and specifically the ticks that she had to cope with growing up.
“When I was thinking of what I could paint for my thesis, self-portraits were the first thing to come to mind,” Rathbone says. “I needed to figure out how to make them all about me not just paintings of myself.”
“I got the idea of painting the stripes through myself at places on my body that I used to tick.”
“The ticks are gone now and that’s the reason for the calm, painterly-like strokes that go straight trough me and the chaotic almost messy stokes that fill the rest of my body,” Rathbone says.
“After doing this series it has given me a feeling of release,” Rathbone says.
“It’s been a long journey for Liz,” adjunct assistant professor of art Cory Lewis says. “Once she figured out what she wanted to say it was like being shot out of a cannon. I think that energy shows up in the paintings.”
Through hardship Rathbone has found inspiration. With the likes of other up and coming artists Rathbone has joined the ranks of artists to watch. Her alternative gracefulness has led her to a style of work that is different than others, but commands attention from all.
“The paintings give me goose bumps,” Lewis says. “I am so excited for Liz and her future.”
Liz’s plans after college are to continue to pursue art and make a name for herself in a world that is cutthroat and challenging.
“I feel that this series is really about me and I am thankful that I was pushed and urged to explore myself deeper and express that to the viewer,” Rathbone says.
Liz’s thesis exhibition will be up in Meek Hall at Gallery 130 during May 4th – 6th. The reception is Thursday at 7 p.m.
From DM by Philip Harrison