Art Major Marshall Wilcox studied abroad in Vienna for the first time this past summer. He decided to use his feelings of homesickness to inspire his artistic creations.
By Andrew McMunn
A disembodied leg hangs from the ceiling. The words “GET WELL SOON” run down its plaster-wrapped shin in red paint. Across the room stands a wooden head with a stern expression on its face, supported by a long wooden spine.
These strange objects are two art pieces created by Marshall Wilcox, an art major at Webster University. They share a barren, white room with the works of other art students, a few dozen illustrations adorning the otherwise bland and battered walls of the room.
Wilcox is one of seven students who took part in the art program offered by Webster University Vienna in partnership with Kunstschule Wien, the Viennese School of Art. The program takes place over six weeks and had the art students working on projects every week using a different medium. Week one consisted of printmaking. Sculpting took up week two. Weeks three and four were ceramics and painting.
At the end of the program, the students held an exhibition displaying all of the art pieces they had produced over the four weeks in an abandoned electroshock therapy museum.
“It was just in a cold basement and two floors of what were probably once offices or something,” Wilcox said. “It looks like an old insane asylum and it was just a really cool place for a show.”
Wilcox said his creative ideas are directly inspired by what he goes through in his life as well as what goes on around him. His third art piece hung from the ceiling in a dark room on the main floor. He painted images on a window frame, with two panes of glass stacked vertically on top of each other. On the top panel, he painted the image of a hand. On the panel below, a face. Wilcox said his feelings of homesickness inspired this piece.
“This was the first time away from my family for this long, so I started getting homesick. I wanted to capture that homesickness,” Wilcox said. “And one thing I realized that I missed the most was the food.”
Wilcox said his homesickness not only inspired the concept for his project, but also his art materials for the project. Picking the foods most enjoyed in Vienna, he painted with wine, coffee, honey and ingredients for bread, such as flour and cornmeal.
“I had to throw it out because it started deteriorating. Pretty gross,” Wilcox said.
Assistant professor of art Brian Zimmerman has taught art in Vienna for the past two summers. He said traveling and taking in new sights and experiences challenges artists like Wilcox to stay in the moment. Their time to process and create something based off of their experiences is much more limited.
“You process what you’ve seen, done and felt and often the expression of those experiences is art, though it can come out in many forms,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he witnessed Wilcox react to his trip in Vienna by changing his artistic methods and trying new things like using new materials for his projects.
“In Marshall’s case, he took the opportunity to really question his own method,” Zimmerman said. “In a painting class, instead of using paint he bought honey, flour and coffee grounds. The new materials, in addition to painting on an old window rather than a canvas, illustrated just how much he was able to be in the moment and try something truly new to him while in a new place.”
Wilcox said his other sculptures also have meanings behind them. The disembodied leg represents the struggle that comes with cooperating with others. The sculpture of the head on a stick addresses fear and the term ‘spineless.’
“If you ever feel spineless, just think of yourself as nothing but a spine. Spineful instead of Spineless,” Wilcox said.
The art of Vienna was both overwhelming and highly influential, Wilcox said. He was particularly taken by the plague memorial, a large column covered in statues. This monument was erected in 1693 after a contagion of what was thought to be bubonic plague swept through Europe again in the 17th century. Wilcox was intrigued by how the plague was personified as an old, demonic-looking woman and later created a few art prints of similar images.
Wilcox also found inspiration in the works of Austrian artist Maria Lassnig. The Albertina, a famous art museum in Vienna, hosted an exhibition dedicated to the life works of Lassnig. Lassnig was known for her minimalistic pencil and paper drawings and water colors.
“This is one of the few times I’ve seen a display at a museum that was mostly drawings,” Wilcox said. “That was her whole life, mostly just doing drawings.”
Besides working on his artwork, Wilcox said he spent time the local bars and hangouts. He also befriended some of the locals including Peter Frei, one of the employees at the hotel which houses the study abroad students, and his painting teacher Sylvia Kummer.
“She was just the right amount of out there as a teacher,” Wilcox said.
Zimmerman said seeing new cultures is important to artists like Wilcox. Places which are culturally very different from an artist’s home are a challenge for the artist to process and produce from.
“Any new place challenges what you think you understand about the world. This is a very positive thing and is what helps to stretch and grow as people and artists,” Zimmerman said.