UAB painting student uses museum show to spotlight peers

When senior Abby Henderson was awarded a Gadsden Museum of Art exhibition, she chose to curate a second exhibition within it to show her classmates’ paintings.

Abby CLIMB IVAbby Henderson, "Climb IV"Not every young artist is willing to share the spotlight.

But when University of Alabama at Birmingham senior Abby Henderson, who is earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, was offered a chance to shine, she wanted to share the spotlight with her classmates too.  

Now Henderson and three other painting students will be featured in an exhibition by the Gadsden Museum of Art. They are all students of Professor Gary Chapman, who teaches painting in the UAB College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Art and Art History. It began as her solo exhibition, and she chose to curate a second exhibition within it to elevate the work of her classmates.

Henderson, of Gadsden, Alabama, is scheduled to graduate in spring 2024 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is currently a graphic design intern for UAB’s Department of Health Services Administration. A recipient of the Edith H. Frohock Memorial Scholarship and the Presidential Scholarship at UAB, she has been on the presidential honor roll since starting college. 

She previously worked as the business manager at the museum and handled the budget and finances. However, she also got the chance to learn how to hang shows, handle and sort the archives, and create an exhibition, and she used her graphic design knowledge to create text panels, flyers and social media posts. 

“After being awarded the opportunity for a solo exhibition with the Gadsden Museum of Art, I realized how large the exhibition venue was and became concerned about filling the space,” Henderson said. “Then the idea came to me; why not curate a second show to include some of the other incredible painters studying here at UAB? Izabella, Alexa and Sydney were the obvious choices.”

Izabella 3“What's Yours is Mine” by Izabella Janush-HernandezThe students, junior Izabella Janush-Hernandez of Montgomery, Alabama; senior Alexa Lee of Dothan, Alabama; and senior Sydney Marlin of Birmingham, all met through their UAB Beginning Painting class taught by Chapman. In the class, they learned the basics of painting through the shared sequence of assignments. As they moved through the upper levels of art classes, they each developed their own distinct styles and started working with different subject matter. Common in their work is a deep respect for skill, craftsmanship and the use of oil paint as a vehicle for expressing their personal conceptual interests, Henderson says. Her exhibition is titled “Amalgamations.” The name of the second exhibition is “Shared Beginning/Diverse Creations.” Both will open with a free reception 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, and be on display for two months. 

“I am so proud of these four painting students,” Chapman said. “As I near retirement, I can think of nothing more affirming than to see these students garnering important attention for their work.”

Janush-Hernandez is a figurative oil painter whose paintings portray the vast female experience, incorporating religious and pop culture symbolism. Her pieces employ surrealist elements that enhance her fantastical worlds. She is a psychology major and art minor who is expected to graduate in spring 2025.

Lee’s artwork is centered around memory and how it embeds itself into the body and mind. She expresses this through figurative paintings of everyday moments in which the subjects appear lost in thought or “somewhere else.” The three paintings by Lee deal with the basic need for sustenance and reveal the emotional state of the figures as they go through the tasks to meet that need. Lee will graduate in spring 2024.                                                                                                                                                          

Marlin is an oil painter who focuses on objects of her childhood to evoke feelings of sentimental longing. While commenting on nostalgia, Marlin’s paintings also include commentary on life as a female from childhood to early adulthood. By using bright colors and obliterated edges, her works are portrayed as realistic while also being larger-than-life. Marlin, who is earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in art, will graduate in spring 2024.

Alexa YOUR SIMPLE NOVELAlexa Lee, “Your Simple Novel,” oil on canvas, 2023, 30" x 30"For Henderson, this exhibition focuses on two distinct bodies of her work: “The Climbing Series” and “The Amalgamation Portraits.”

The first series takes human figures out of their natural environments and places them into a realm where reality is obscured. They are seemingly trapped in time, playing through a sequence of movements while at the same time completely still. The second series is an exploration of identity, idiosyncrasies and the universal longing for individualism. Historically, portraiture is a way of keeping a likeness of important figures, or conveying a deeper message about the sitter, whether flattering or not.

Sidney EYES PEELEDSydney Marlin, “Eyes Peeled”“With each portrait, I refer to my own experiences, memories and pop cultural references,” Henderson said. “Collectively they reflect who we are as people, and the influences that make us who we are. Although we see ourselves as unique, we all take influence, whether we know it or not, from everything around us.”

Ray Wetzel, director of the Gadsden Museum of Art, says Henderson is one of the most naturally talented artists he has ever met.

“While her work seems effortless, a tremendous amount of work goes into each painting,” Wetzel said. “I was honored to show her work not just because she worked at the museum, but to give her the opportunity to share her artwork at this point in her college experience. Hopefully, this will be the first show in a long career in the arts.”