She doodled so often she didn’t even realize she’d done it: Drawn a tiny image in the margin of her English paper.
Anna Prezioso ‘09 was a junior at the University of Mary Washington, on track to become a high school English teacher, when she turned in the assignment.
The absent-minded doodle would change the course of her life.
Prezioso still remembers the words of the tough-to-please UMW professor. It was an “A” paper. But Prezioso belonged in the art department.
From that advice, Prezioso switched majors, earned a bachelor’s in studio art and became a working artist. Today, she creates large-scale installations and mixed media work inspired by her early life as a trauma survivor.
This week, she returns to the place where it began as one of two featured artists in UMW’s alumni exhibition. Origin: Celebrating UMW Studio Art Alumni Abernathy Bland and Anna Prezioso opens in duPont Gallery with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Mid-Atlantic New Painting biennial exhibition will also open at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Ridderhof Martin Gallery. Hosted by UMW Galleries, the competition features paintings by 24 artists from the mid-Atlantic that will be on display through March 18.
Prezioso and Bland ‘05 met last week at duPont in preparation for the exhibition, which marks only the second year of a UMW alumni art show.
The purpose is twofold, said Department of Art and Art History Chair Jon McMillan: Support UMW graduates and show today’s students what’s possible.
“It can really promote the value of what we do here in a very impactful way,” McMillan said.
Bland, a 2005 studio art graduate whose work includes painting, sculpture and illustration, grew up in a household in Richmond where creativity and cleverness were highly valued.
“That translated into being an artist,” she said.
At UMW, Bland found more than she ever dreamed of: Professors who not only helped her better her craft but taught students to think deeply and communicate.
“We’d stay up all night making art,” Bland said. “We’d spend our three-hour studio time talking about it.”
Today, Bland works as a teacher and art director at a collaborative theatre arts program in Richmond for students with and without disabilities. She also works as an artist mentor at a studio that supports adult artists with disabilities.
Her own art is inspired by pain and suffering and loss, she said, which often translates into flowers and birds and animals.
“In the world today, there’s so much darkness,” Bland said. Her goal is to find beauty in it. “My painting is a direct response to that.”
Prezioso’s work, too, is a moving reflection of her life experience.
“I feel like my art is still an ongoing representation of what I’ve come to find out about myself and other people,” said Prezioso, who settled in Washington, D.C. after earning a master’s from American University. “Everything in my life I wanted to make black and white, good or bad, easy or hard.”
From that doodle in the margin of an English paper more than a decade ago, she said, “I’m living in the gray now.”