An immersive fairy tale experience in the Hugh McPeck Gallery

“Enchanting Artistry: Virtues and Vices” is the latest exhibit to be displayed in the Hugh McPeck Gallery.

The entire exhibition of sculptures and paintings was created by Rhiannon Fleener throughout 2019, who recently graduated with a major in visual art. The larger pieces, such as the columns and vines that tie the exhibit together, were made in the weeks leading up to the opening.

“I’ve gone nonstop these past two weeks, working until 3 a.m. for a lot of it,” Fleener said.

“Excalibur” by Rhiannon Fleener. Photo by John Novotny.

“Virtues and Vices” examines classic fairy tales such as King Arthur and Cinderella for moral lessons, which Fleener says are useful regardless of age.

“I’m just a person who loves cautionary tales, they’re a fixation of mine. So a lot of things that I’ve done have kind of gone along that theme. I just decided to actually plan and make a show that was specific to it,” Fleener said.

Fairy tales have become a staple of childhood entertainment as a result of Disney classics such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Cinderella.” Flenner says that although some of these tales may be watered down, there are still lessons to be learned from them.

“Our society treats fairy tales as things for children and I think they’re for everyone,” Fleener said.

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The exhibition is more than just paintings on a wall, it’s an immersive experience. Posted outside the entrance are printouts of classic fairy tales. When moving through the exhibit, visitors walk through a dark and winding path. Each piece of art is purposefully lit.

Throughout the gallery, there are diverse pieces visible at every turn. At one point, there are several colorful tea cups made of sugar, at another, a painting of a wolf that spans almost the entire length of the wall.

“White Roses” by Rhiannon Fleener. Photo by John Novotny.

There are also more distinctive pieces such as a diorama of a sleeping princess located in a hole in the wall. In order to view the entire diorama, the viewer must get incredibly close. On an adjacent wall is a video portrait of a girl speaking in a distorted voice.

The artwork encourages viewers to look at them from various angles. Fleener’s former professors praised her creativity and thoughtfulness.

“She was one of those, as cliche as it sounds, that really thought outside of the box. She’s very versatile with her tools,” Garry Mealor, Chair of the Department of Art, said. “The viewer is going to have to stick their head in a box to see it.”

Thomas Chung, associate professor of art, also noted Fleener’s impeccable talent.

“When Rhiannon [Fleener] was in my painting classes, she was highly self-motivated, driven and thoughtful. Memorably, she asked is she could make an 18-foot long painting to work on in class. We found a space for it and it inspired everyone else in the studio. I am thrilled when I have students as ambitious as Rhiannon [Fleener], that deeply understand all limits and rules of art are up to the artist,” Chung said.

“Enchanting Artistry: Virtues and Vices” is on display in the Hugh McPeck Gallery in the Student Union until June 12. The gallery is open from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday.

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