Professor Tilly Woodward talks art as personal and political

Photo by Qianxu Zhao

By Teresa Fleming

flemingt17@grinnell.edu

Tilly Woodward shared the intersections of her artistic and personal lives to a group of colleagues and students last Wednesdays, tracing a narrative of art as a means of connection and learning.

In addition to serving as Curator of Academic and Community Outreach for the Faulconer Gallery, Woodward has explored notions of community and expression through her work. She first found herself drawn to art as a mode of processing trauma and dealing with the isolation she experienced growing up on a farm. But agricultural life also proved a catalyst to her work, as Woodward engaged in her early work with the materiality of the welders and power saws she grew up with.

But as Woodward attended school and developed her artistic practice, she expanded her scope to address global issues of political shifts and human rights that characterized the 1980s.

“I had spent all this time making work that’s personal to me and I started engaging with news media,” Woodward said. “Creating new work made me step out of this insular space of making art about my own experience.”

Woodward exhibited many of her large scale chalk pastel drawings on billboard space along the I-70 highway, where they drew a varied range of responses from passing motorists. One local woman confronted Woodward about the apparent ambiguity of a drawing that depicted a scene of a hanging in Minsk, explaining that she would prefer a piece that offered explicit moralizing instructions to the viewer.

Woodward spent years depicting Iowa residences in large chalk pastel and oil portraits, showcasing demographics that fall outside the typically imagined Iowan identity. All the while, Woodward continued to bring her artistic practice outside the studio, working with community art organizations to “give people permission and a way to express themselves.”

But of late, Woodward’s work has turned away from portraits, refocusing on oil paintings of still lifes featuring the natural materials and forms that characterized her early efforts and which appear luminescent against dark backdrops. Woodward continues to spend her evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. working on her paintings.

“The world is huge and confusing, and so to have two hours to focus on one thing and try to see it and reproduce it, is important.”