Exhibit combines professors love for architecture, art

GVL / Eric Coulter
The Red Wall Gallery located in Lake Ontario Hall is featuring Building on the Land: Works by Lorelle Otis Thomas

Eric Coulter

GVL / Eric Coulter The Red Wall Gallery located in Lake Ontario Hall is featuring Building on the Land: Works by Lorelle Otis Thomas

Stacy Sabaitis

Appreciating architecture doesn’t always mean designing buildings. For Lorelle Otis Thomas, Grand Valley State University professor of art and design, architecture is about painting a piece of her history.

Her exhibit, “Building on the Land: Works by Lorelle Otis Thomas,” blends the skill of painting with architecture, and is displayed in the Red Wall Gallery inside Lake Ontario Hall on GVSU’s Allendale Campus.

Otis Thomas’s father was an architect. As a child, she dreamt of being an architect too, but her father advised her to find a different career path because not many women were pursuing that field at that time.

She decided to turn her love for architecture into her latest art exhibit.

The “Building on the Land” exhibit is a group of watercolor paintings that are snapshots of places Otis Thomas took on road trips over several years. She said the structures she saw had a great effect on her while she was painting them.

“You know a really interesting thing happened while I was working on the exhibit – I realized I’m very, very lucky that when I would be painting a picture, like the farm in Omaha, Neb., I get so involved in the painting that I feel like I’m back there, I’m back at that farm, on that day, with the people I was with and it’s like I get to relive every vacation,” Thomas said. “I mean you can take a road trip, but then you can relive the entire road trip by just painting what you saw on the road trip. It’s like vacation doing double duty.”

The majority of the watercolor paintings are from around West Michigan, but there are some from other states, too.

“The show statement says that I started painting a lot of the things in West Michigan, and then I realized that if I stuck to painting just West Michigan structures, I was going to have an awful lot of paintings of barns and farmhouses,” Otis Thomas said.

So she decided to travel to other places, such as Florida, Illinois and California, where she knew the architecture had to be diverse from the things that she was taking pictures of in Michigan.

“I started seeking out things that I knew would be different design, that I didn’t already have because I wanted the variety,” Otis Thomas said.

The structures that most people ignore while going on a road trip were the most interesting to her.

“What I ended up liking the best was some of the old farm buildings sitting in the middle of nowhere that no designer or architect had anything to do with,” she said. “And I was really interested by that, by the fact that buildings that happen naturally can be really attractive buildings.”

She said this gave her a new perspective on viewing things that might be boring to other people.
After finishing the paintings, she used Google Maps and the street view option to see if her paintings were distinct enough from the original structures.

“It’s interesting because Thomas has combined the traditional medium of watercolor landscapes within the context of digital satellite imagery,” said Paris Tennenhouse, GVSU Art Gallery exhibition designer.

Otis Thomas wants people to look at things more than once and think about what is behind them, which her exhibit displays.

“I think that we as a society tend to walk around with our eyes closed,” Otis Thomas said. “If I do anything with these paintings, I hope I make people look.”

Cathy Marashi, assistant director of galleries and collections at GVSU, said the paintings in the gallery were collected over a long period of time.

“Lorelle’s long road trip in search of subjects for her paintings and her deep passion for a wide variety of building structures, their architectural styles, and how they relate to their surrounding environment are the heart of her exhibition,” Marashi said.

For more information on the gallery, call the GVSU Art Gallery at (616) 331-2563.
[email protected]