The Department of Visual Studies Student Society hosted the final stage of the Pen Pal Project, an opportunity to showcase art, meet one’s pen pal, and get to know other visual studies students, last Wednesday at UTM’s Blackwood Gallery.

The project, which was launched in early October, involved matching about 80 UTM students, teachers, and alumni to pen pals with whom they exchanged art rather than letters. The artwork they exchanged was displayed at the Blackwood Gallery for all to enjoy at this concluding event.

Not all the initial participants attended, but the smaller turnout actually created a more intimate setting to meet other people with a shared interest in visual art. Those who didn’t get a chance to meet their pen pal were able to leave a message for DVSSS to pass on to them. Even though the pen pals were strangers to one another, the messages spoke to the new friendships that had been made.

The types of art ranged from an ink and watercolour jellyfish to Arabic letters painted on a blue background. One piece that stood out was a striking close-up of a reptilian eye painted by Michaela Lucio, a second-year art and art history major. “I really like textures in things, and [putting] nature into my art,” she commented. Lucio decided to participate in the project because it was an easy way to stay involved and would build her artist CV.

As a participant in the project, I’ll shamelessly admit that I checked my mailbox every day for about a week before getting my pen pal’s art. Upon its arrival, I opened it immediately and was awed by the beautiful, intricate pattern he had painted on his canvasboard using watercolours, a very thin paintbrush, and what must have been a lot of patience. My pen pal had aply titled the piece “Blue Flames”.

My reaction was mirrored by that of the DVSSS executives at the event. They concluded that it must be the work of Robert Fones. Although I already knew Fones was my pen pal because I had sent him my own canvasboard, I was surprised that someone else could tell just by looking at the art. As it turns out, Fones is a Toronto-based artist and visual and performance arts professor at Sheridan. After some investigative Googling, I found his website and learned more about him and his various projects and a little bit more about who he was. (I learned that he also works in a variety of visual media, including photography, sculpting, and photo installation.) “Thanks for the lovely introduction to your art,” was the message I left him at the event, since he didn’t attend.

Filling Blackwood Gallery with beautiful things made for complete strangers, and friendly people to talk about them, was a great idea by DVSSS. Not only did I get to meet new people, but I also have a lovely piece of art to hang on my wall.