York in the World: To Russia with love

For the second consecutive year, several students from York’s Department of Visual Arts were selected to participate in theState Hermitage Museum Young Artists Program in St. Petersburg, Russia.

One of the world’s largest and oldest museums, the State Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its holdings comprise nearly three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections are housed in six historic buildings including the fabled Winter Palace, formerly the official residence The State Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 and has been open to the public since 1852of the Russian royal family.

Right: The State Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 and has been open to the public since 1852

The Young Artists program, organized by the State Hermitage Museum Foundation of Canada in association with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, offers a series of intensive master classes in painting, drawing and photography, coupled with special access to the city’s legendary art museums. Visits to contemporary artists’ studios and day trips to cultural destinations outside of St. Petersburg round out the program. Participating students have most of their expenses covered, including airfare, tuition, accommodation and ground transportation.

Chosen for both their artistic talent and accomplishments and their engagement in student life, newly minted alumna Sara Moffatt (BFA ‘11) and upper-level undergraduate student Joshua Vettivelu spent two weeks this summer immersed in the historic art treasures and vibrant contemporary cultural scene of St. Petersburg.

Both Vettivelu and Moffatt have exhibited their work in galleries on campus and downtown. Moffatt, a painter, served as head curator for the Eleanor Winters Art Gallery at York last year. She has participated in shows at Twist Gallery and Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts, among other Toronto venues. Following completion of her visual arts degree this spring, she has returned to the Faculty of Sara MoffatFine Arts to pursue independent studies.

Left: Sara Moffat

Vettivelu is a sculptor and installation artist currently in his fifth year of studies towards his BFA. He served as vice president of the Visual Arts Student Association last year and is president this year. His exhibition credits include shows at XPace Gallery, Gallery 1313 and most recently, Khush: A Show of Love at the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives Gallery and the Queen West Art Crawl.

“The Hermitage Young Artists Program is a remarkable opportunity for our students,” said Professor Judith Schwarz, chair of the Department of Visual Arts. “It’s a great cultural and life experience that extends their horizons and their professional and personal networks, and supports the development of their own artistic practice.”

Being a part of the program afforded the young artists some very special privileges, like by-passing the two-hour line-ups to enter the Winter Palace and access to the Hermitage on days when it is closed to the public.

 Joshua Vettivelu spent part of his time sketching the works of the masters“Walking around those grand halls without the crowds was spectacular,” said Vettivelu. “I got the feeling that this is the way the Hermitage was intended to be experienced: encountering the works of art one-on-one in very a personal way, alone, or with just a few friends.”

Left: Joshua Vettivelu spent part of his time sketching the works of the masters

He spent part of his time in the museum copying works of the masters.

“One day, I was alone in a room with sculptures by Auguste Rodin. While my own work is not particularly classical, it was amazing to be sketching works by an artist with so much significance in the lineage of art-making and sculpture practice,” Vettivelu said.

“The highlight for me was visiting the live/work spaces of local artists, culminating in a master class held by an animation artist in his home,” said Moffatt. “His practice involved drawing directly onto blank strips of 35mm film, which he then spliced together to form short films without narratives.

“We were given strips of blank film and drawing materials to do the same. Although it was time-consuming, I loved the directness of this method. Once our animations were spliced together, the film was projected for us to watch. It was a very rewarding experience.”

For Moffatt, the intense educational experience afforded by the Hermitage Young Artists Program was truly inspiring.

“I’m the first member of my family to pursue a postsecondary education, and this was my first trip outside North America,” she said. “I feel as if the time I spent with students seriously engaged in their work and in meeting artists on different career tracks has elevated my expectations of myself. As sentimental as it may sound, somewhere in the wake of it all, I’ve granted myself permission to dream bigger and try harder. Whether I’ll fall flat on my face in the process remains to be seen – but I’m grateful for the reason to do so.”