Student evokes compelling stories through Persona exhibit

Alex Cunningham said she’s always been creative. About six years ago, she started painting, and now her artwork is being displayed at the Penny Gallery in the Charlotte Street Arts Centre.

The third-year St. Thomas University student is doing a double honours in philosophy and Great Books. She said art is something that brings her joy and gives her a break from studying.

“I’ve always liked having a busy schedule, so I’m used to that, but it can still be a struggle sometimes. I did a lot of my preparation for this exhibit in the summer, which was manageable, but balancing the exhibit with school the past couple of weeks have been hard,” said Cunningham in a Facebook message.

The Penny Gallery at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, which is specifically open to young, emerging artists, accepts applications for artists who want to feature their work. A committee approves a few artists to showcase their work each year. Cunningham applied and was accepted two weeks before opening her exhibit. This is the first time her art has been on display at a gallery. 

Alex Cunningham paints portraits of people because she things portraits evoke a compelling story in the viewer of that piece. (Mary Gannon/AQ)

Cunningham titled her exhibit Persona because she believes portrait paintings have a unique ability to tell stories.

“That’s what I hope to have achieved in my pieces, to produce images of people that evoke a compelling story in the viewer of that piece.”

Cunningham’s exhibit will be in the Penny Gallery until March 4.

Cunningham’s pieces vary in size and texture. The exhibit consists of 11 pieces ranging from small to large acrylic canvases to charcoal drawings. Cunningham’s portraits include children and young adults.

“I usually work in acrylic paints, I find that’s just what I work best in. I also enjoy doing charcoal drawings in white and black chalk, so that’s what all the drawings are.”

Cunningham said she’s been working on the pieces on display for the past three years. She chose to show a mixture of different types of art and chose her favourite pieces. 

Cunningham’s portraits include children and young adults. (Mary Gannon/AQ)

“I typically like to work with bigger canvases just because I can get more in-depth, whereas I find it difficult when you’re working with smaller canvases, it’s harder to get details,” she said.

“Spotted at the Pool” is Cunningham’s favourite piece, and most expensive at $750. It took her two months to complete.

“It took a long time in comparison to some of the others, so that’s why it costs a lot more. It’s also probably why it’s my favourite.”

Cunningham plans on using her experience at the Penny Gallery to move toward more advanced venues, including the Charlotte Glencross Gallery, a gallery also in the Charlotte Street Arts Centre where professional artists display their work. 

“Most galleries are reserved for established artists who’ve made a lot of progress in their careers, so I’m lucky to have found a space that supports emerging artists,” she said.

“It’s also a great stepping-stone for future applications for other exhibits.”

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