Student captures terrestrial beauty in Cadman art exhibit


John Darr

“Organized Chaos” by Estes-Christ is showing at the Cadman Art Gallery in the Rhatigan Student Center until Dec. 14.

There are many reasons someone might go out to a farm: to get fresh fruit, pet some cows, or perhaps deal with a mid-life crisis by living off the land. Ashley Estes-Christ, a senior studying art education, goes for a different reason – to create a universe.

“When I was working on other paintings, I had a few that looked like planets,” Estes-Christ recalled. “My husband looked at one of them and said, that looks like Mars. And I said hmm, what can I do with this information?”

Estes-Christ is showcasing her exhibit “Organized Chaos” at the Wilson K. Cadman Art Gallery in the Rhatigan Student Center through the end of the semester. Among the gorgeously textured, abstract works — each of which is created with layers of acrylic paint — are eight to-scale representations of the planets. The base material for each planet is a piece of plywood cut at Estes-Christ’s parents’ farm.

“Plywood is really interesting because you can make it whatever shape you want,” Estes-Christ said.

The freedom of shaping gave her the flexibility she needed for the project. However, size was just one aspect of differentiating the planets. Estes-Christ said she had to improvise when creating representations for moons and planets that naturally look similar.

“I redid Mercury like four or five times,” she said. “I just couldn’t get it right. It just didn’t want to be Mercury. It kept looking like a moon.”

Ultimately, she found a solution through color — bringing Mercury’s great surface to life with subtle copper and blue shades.

Estes-Christ’s love of color is apparent in all her work. Across “Organized Chaos,” she used different base materials and palettes of color that recall all sorts of environments. Her pieces evoke settings from forests to seas to deserts. The huge variety stems from both Estes-Christ’s painting process and her aesthetic tendencies.

“I don’t stop working on something until I’m happy with it,” said Estes-Christ, referring to “Panama,” a piece that features painted leaves over a swirling wash of tropical shades.

She starts most paintings by creating shapes of color, then fills in the gaps and adds layers until the work feels complete, she said.

That’s how Estes-Christ created “Reef,” one of her favorite pieces in the exhibit.

“I started with a base color, and then I took a pink and a blue and made out these shapes,” Estes-Christ said.

As she added paint and used materials such as latex extender to create rich color patterns, she moved closer and closer to the final work — a rippling, warm, aquatic piece that entices the viewer with purples and pinks that jump out of the deep blue.

“I just kept manipulating it until I was happy,” she said.

Joy radiates through much of the work, which Estes-Christ says is bound up in her personality. She’s an experimental artist, but she also doesn’t take herself too seriously. Explaining her tendency towards abstract work, Estes-Christ laughed. “I make messes a lot,” she said.

Estes-Christ said she hopes her experimentation will both inspire others — she’s studying education, after all — and help Wichita State students in a practical way.

“It’s finals time. People are stressed out,” Estes Christ said. “It’s fun to walk around and look at art and forget that you have a test in an hour.”

Whether students want to get lost in the galaxy or simply gaze on colors that remind them of home, they’re sure to find something to love amidst the paint.