Art doesn’t just happen. A finished work, regardless of the medium, is usually the result of inspiration coupled with process, both of which can be deeply complex and personal. For middle and upper school Visual Arts teacher, Alaura Nellos, such is the case.
Ms. Nellos, whose art takes many forms including photography, painting, drawing, collaging, and sculpting, recently had an opportunity to share her very personal artistic process with her students and invite them to adopt their own version of it as they created a finished sculpture. Together, Ms. Nellos and 16 of her ceramics students are being featured in the University of New Mexico Art Department’s “Alumni/Student Showcase,” which is currently on exhibit at the Masley Art Gallery on UNM’s campus.
“I did a special project with my students for this show,” said Ms. Nellos. “I showed them how I work three-dimensionally...how I integrate metaphor and symbols with the natural world and some type of concept. Love, power, humanity—concepts that humans deal with a lot.”
Ms. Nellos said her art reflects the intersection between things that are mysterious and often intangible and difficult to understand like nature and human experience—her human experience. “When things intersect, there’s a thing that happens there. You say ‘Wow, it’s a beautiful moment,’ and all of a sudden you know what to do,” she said.
Understanding the complexity of her process and working to emulate it wasn’t an easy task for every student. “Some got started right away, but for others, it was harder,” she said.
Ms. Nellos said she explained to her students the way in which her personal experiences influenced her process and fueled her inspiration, and reminded students that was her experience. “Yours will be something else,” she told them.
“This to me is very personal. I would say things like, ‘Ok, we’re going to make sculptures. I’d like there to be a human element...and then you’ll add other things to it—things you’re interested in,” she added.
The students’ finished works reflected their own experiences and channeled such topics as sources of joy, family, politics, and the ‘dark and twisted nature of humanity.’
“To see them grappling with things that are so complex and hard to talk about and be able to make something by channeling their feelings and thoughts and ideas into one thing—it felt really amazing,” she said.
In her own “Artist Statement,” Ms. Nellos describes her exhibit piece, entitled Three Messengers, as “exploring the intersection between the wisdom of flora and fauna, the complex and sometimes messy human experience, and the mysterious presence that permeates all things. These “three messengers” bring understanding of the lizard clinging to the earth, an alert and soft jackrabbit, and a hummingbird continuously returning to nectar to fuel its journey.”
Ms. Nellos admits that sharing her artistic process with her students and not knowing how they’d react to it left her feeling a little vulnerable. “They could easily just laugh,” she said. But they didn’t. In fact, she said they were very respectful and caring.
“This process was more true to how I experience it,” she said. So to see that this is actually possible, helpful, and cathartic to other people in the way it is for me, it was great.”
IF YOU GO:
UNM’s Alumni/Artist Showcase will be on display until March 1, 2019. It features the work of four UNM Art Department alumni, including Ms. Nellos, and their students who represent Bosque School, Public Academy for Performing Arts, Manzano High School, and Monte Vista Elementary School. The gallery is open on Mondays by appointment and Tuesday–Friday from 2–6 pm. There is no charge for the exhibit.
Ms. Nellos teaches 8th grade Art and upper school Ceramics beginning in 2004 at Bosque School. She earned her BA with an emphasis in Visual Art and Psychology and a master’s in Art Education with a K–12 teacher’s license from UNM. Her emphasis on multicultural education began in graduate school while simultaneously studying the pottery traditions of Mexico, Southwestern Pueblos, and Japan. In addition to being a sculptor, Ms. Nellos enjoys practicing yoga, being with her family, growing food, keeping bees, traveling, and feeding the birds at their cabin in northern New Mexico.