Last week, Burns Visual Arts atrium saw the opening of art major Greta Bieg’s senior thesis project, “Treading,” which she describes on the accompanying placard as an examination of nostalgia in the wake of post-graduation anxiety. Greta modelled her friends against sea creatures she observed on the beaches of Cape Cod and combines printmaking, lithography, and a bit of charcoal drawing to bring them to life. Bieg sat down to discuss how “Treading” has developed her creative passion.
Ben Lucas: How did you get started on “Treading?”
Greta Bieg: It started as a photo project, but then I realized that wasn’t enough for thesis. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, I wanted it to involve printmaking. I came to the decision to use lithograph because it is very conducive to drawing. So I came up with a few ideas, like putting Melissa in a seashell, or someone else in the seahorses and it started working. I realized I could keep doing this.
BL: You combined some charcoal drawings in there, too.
GB: There’s some charcoal in there to fix things that I couldn’t print. Registration is when you print to have the image on the paper and it’s hard when you have the image on the paper that you have to match up with the plate. So that was hard. I deleted much of the plate so as not to mess up the image. With the octopus, I didn’t want the tentacles going over Marley’s arms, I wanted them behind her because I wanted that three-dimensionality. Obviously it’s not three-dimensional but you want that sense of space.
BL: Was this something you had to think about while photographing your subjects?
GB: Yeah, I missed being able to photograph someone just to photograph them and not to fit them into my ideas. It’s a very different process. I had to do a lot more photoshoots and try out many specific poses to work with what I already imagined, and it distances you from the person you’re actively photographing a little. Because you’re like: “Okay, you have to be this creature. You have to be in a certain shape. I need to see all of your limbs.” It makes it very specific and a little less fun. But it’s not so much about the picture, it’s about the combined picture.
BL: You had some of your subjects wear stripes.
GB: Yeah, knowing I was going to print over them. The seahorse my friend and I caught on the beach, the ones native to Cape Cod, are called striped seahorses, so I went with that as a theme. And I told other people to wear pale patterns. It might not be interesting to photograph but I can print over it and it won’t mess with anything. Like, Annie’s leggings worked well because they were darker and they worked with the lighting.
BL: Are all the creatures native to Cape Cod?
GB: No, they’re Atlantic sea creatures. The jellyfish is just a typical jellyfish. Portuguese man o’ war is northern and more Mediterranean.
BL: Did you try to match your subjects’ personalities with the animals?
GB: It just made sense with a lot of them. I wanted playful friends for the seahorses because I see seahorses as little playful creatures. With Marley, I wanted it not to be too emotional. It’s called “Detachment,” it’s a lot more floating. Because that’s all jellyfish do. And with the man o’ war I wanted it more aggressive because Jane would be the baddest bitch of the sea. She told me she wouldn’t have modeled for me if it wasn’t that creature.
BL: Do you feel like you see your friends in a different light in context of the work?
GB: I don’t think it will affect the way I think about them, but it does make me more thankful that I have them. I didn’t pay them and it wasn’t for class. And a few people I had to photograph multiple times because the pose or the lighting wasn’t right, so it was great that they wanted to help. A few I didn’t get to finish beyond editing their photographs and I felt bad about that because I had these ideas for them that I didn’t get to realize.
BL: You only have so much time.
GB: I was definitely taking on more than I could. (Laughs) Especially when it’s something you really care about about. You say: “I can do it. I have to do it.” But no, you don’t. You can have eight pieces, although my thesis only needed six. So really, I went above and beyond. (Laughs)
BL: Do you think Treading has helped you with post-grad anxiety?
GB: Definitely. Making those pieces made me realize how much I want to keep doing art and how much I want to keep doing printmaking. That’s like, the dream now. I always thought I wanted to be writing and editing and stuff like that, but now I want to be a printmaking assistant.
Right now I don’t want to make my own art so much as I want to just learn. I want to build these ideas and these techniques. I want to get these pieces in other shows and maybe get commissions and people saying, “Hey, I like what you’re doing. Can you make me into this?” I don’t have to do this battle of, ‘oh, are they completing my vision?’ It can just be a beautiful piece that someone loves. I’m in the place here I need to start selling myself and I’m cool with it because it comes from my original ideas. I like what I did and I think it will keep me motivated for the future.