Artists explained the hidden meanings behind their pieces in Stamp Student Union Gallery’s “Placeholder” exhibition at its opening reception and artist talk last Thursday.

The exhibition, which opened last Tuesday, showcases four artists’ work: James Williams II, Richard Hart, Danni O’Brien and Elliot Doughtie.

Maura Callahan, the exhibit’s curator and an art history doctoral student at the University of Maryland, began planning the exhibit last year through conversations with Williams, an interdisciplinary artist with an emphasis on painting. 

“I approached [Williams] about doing a show sometime, and he said that he’d love to exhibit in the space,” Callahan said. “He had been interested in doing a group show.”

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Later on, Doughtie, O’Brien, and Hart joined the project. Doughtie and O’Brien displayed sculptures in the gallery, while Hart created stop-motion videos of his paintings on rocks. 

Callahan said the conversations between herself and the artists formulated the theme of “Placeholder.” The planning and preparations took nearly a year, something Callahan said is quite common in art curation.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, because a lot of times the artists will make new work for the exhibition,” Callahan said.

South African interdisciplinary artist Richard Hart painted rocks with water and filmed stop-motion videos. If Hart was dissatisfied with how the water paintings looked on the rock, he would start over, letting the water evaporate off of the rocks. Hart said the stop-motion paintings took a few hours at most

Hart said his water-rock paintings were a departure from his traditional figure paintings. Simplistic and abstract, Hart said the figure paintings he typically made tended to carry a lot of meaning and began to feel problematic because of how much of a message they conveyed.

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“That can feel very heavy and very inflexible,” Hart said. “It feels nice to make work that has a lightness to it and isn’t weighed down by symbols or meaning or messages.”

Williams, a Baltimore-based artist, said his art embodies his experience with what he calls the Black construct. For Williams, the theme “Placeholder” is a metaphorical play. He utilizes allegorical imagery to express his thoughts on systemic racism and the othering of Black people, as shown in his interdisciplinary piece, God Don’t Like Ugly.

Williams used the allegory of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to express how Black people have often been given the label of ‘monster’ in the same painting.  

“Frankenstein created the monster, and the term monster was given to him, but it wasn’t necessary. The intention of it wasn’t meant to be a monster. It’s supposed to be a wonderful creation,” Williams said. 

Williams’ pieces have previously combined oil painting with velcro, plexiglass and wooden panels. Some of his inspiration comes from his daughters, who he hopes to educate about the constantly changing world by exploring concepts through his art.

“There’s a part of me that is kind of like writing in a journal,” Williams said. “I’m thinking about everything when it comes out in a way that’s more personalized, rather than a larger conversation that I think we have in social media and the news.”

“Placeholder” opened in Stamp on Oct. 10 and will run through Dec. 9.