This article is part of The Diamondback’s 2021 Senior Edition. Click here for the rest.
Nia Parks’ art studio in Baltimore is anything but ordinary. Three large tables covered with vibrant paint colors, markers, paint brushes and newsprint adorn the small space.
And though some may call that space messy, it’s where the mixed media artist makes her one-of-a-kind pieces.
Parks’ work largely consists of mixing different mediums such as paint, old project scraps and found objects to create something new. She said the work reflects the “artistic freedom” she had to find while in the University of Maryland’s studio art program.
“In art school, you’re not really learning that creative aspect. You’re not really learning that self-expression part,” the senior studio art major said.
For some student artists at this university, art programs have taught them basic techniques and design principles — but it’s ultimately up to the artists to allow themselves to blossom into the artists they want to be. That path, however, isn’t always straight and narrow, and now, senior artists are reflecting on how their passion developed during their time in college.
Parks ingrained herself in art during her elementary school years. When she started, she said that passion came from a place where she needed to find her voice. Her parents were divorced, and as the youngest child of six, she recalled it was difficult to have her voice heard and express her feelings.
Now, after spending her childhood in Baltimore and moving through college, art has become a vital part of who Parks is.
“Every piece of art that I do … it’s an expression of your everyday life, it’s an expression of who you are,” she said.
Earlier this year, she won first place in the Sadat Art for Peace competition, which is held annually and allows students to submit art that encapsulates peace and reconciliation.
This year’s competition focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, and in her piece, Parks highlighted the history of police brutality and violence in this country.
“As an African American artist … I definitely felt compelled to participate this year,” she said. “There’s room in abstraction to evoke thoughts for other people.”
One day, Parks hopes to have her own solo art show, but until then, she plans to work on networking with other artists and curators, visiting more exhibitions in Baltimore and getting more eyes on her work.
It took Parks six years to reach graduation due to personal reasons, she said, but during that time, the growth was unimaginable.
“I learned a lot about presence like showing up and being engaged,” she said. “Having to make sure I show up, and not just kind of relying on talent, but showing up and being present in the moment, and taking advantage of every opportunity.”
Daniel Merkowitz-Bustos began his pursuit of the arts through videos he made as a child.
It wasn’t until high school that he started to take art more seriously and added photography to the mix. And when the time for college came around, he decided to major in computer science and studio art — a path he chose because he likes “creating,” whether that means coding programs or making artwork.
Entering college, Merkowitz-Bustos wanted to pursue digital art but instead decided to make sculptures after a class he took. To make his sculptures, Merkowitz-Bustos uses a process that requires welding, cutting metal and casting.
“It’s really hands-on, and it’s a really unique opportunity,” he said.
Although his work largely consists of metal sculptures, Merkowitz-Bustos is also expanding his mediums. He most recently worked with tulle, a fabric commonly used to make ballet tutus or wedding dresses, to explore the duality of masculinity. He said he has incorporated tulle into “darker, tougher” sculptures to examine this idea.
“I’m kind of just trying to distill this idea of a man can be … anything he wants to be,” he said.
Merkowitz-Bustos wants to focus on careers in computer science and sculpture, but he hasn’t decided which path he’ll choose. If he knew for certain he would succeed as a sculptor, he would jump right into art, he said.
“As I create more, I discover more what I’m trying to say,” he said. “None of these themes or rhythms are completely concrete in my work yet, but it’s just things I’m thinking about and discovering as I continue to make [art].”
Shelby Goodman decided to major in public health science — but her field has collided with her artwork.
In one of her classes, she was tasked with designing an Instagram campaign to tackle suicide among men. Her knowledge of design principles and other visual art techniques made it easier for her to craft an overall visually appealing campaign, she said.
“Being able to use my ability to create artwork that’s aesthetically pleasing and visually captures the audience’s attention is really meaningful to me,” Goodman said.
Goodman is also from Baltimore, and she began her art journey around the age of eight or nine. She would watch step-by-step YouTube videos that instructed viewers how to draw animated characters.
In high school, she focused on photography and oil painting, but she took a particular interest in working with oil paints, which extended into college.
Goodman often paints for hours on end, sometimes spending over 10 hours a day in her Baltimore home’s basement studio. Her older paintings decorate her basement’s white walls, juxtaposing the paint stains in the carpet.
“[The studio is] a part of the fun,” she said. “It really tells its own story.”
With graduation approaching, Goodman plans to take a gap year or two before heading off to school to be a physician’s assistant — but she said her art background lends itself well to her interest in public health.
“Being able to incorporate both into my life has been really rewarding to me because when I create a piece of artwork I feel like there’s like a personal aspect attached to it,” she said.