Student artist unveils installation in local gastropub

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The exposed brick walls and naked light bulbs hanging from high ceilings of The York give the Highland Park bar a modern, minimalist feel. But as of last Thursday, the space has been transformed by an installation of Art History & Visual Arts major Jacqueline Surdell’s (senior) work, adding warmth to the hip hangout.

Surdell is known on campus as the creative mind behind the “boondoggles,” multi-colored woven objects that function as goggles and headbands. The “boonies,” as they are affectionately known, took Occidental by storm when students began wearing them to on- and off-campus events. Surdell also created a knit tent city in lower Herrick with fellow studio arts major Hannah Rindlaub (senior) in Spring 2013. The installation at The York is Surdell’s first major opportunity to showcase her art beyond the Occidental community.

The walls of The York are decorated with Surdell’s macrame rope pieces, reminiscent of the boondoggles, along with some of her oil paintings. The majority of the paintings are abstract water landscapes in muted, natural colors, but one large oil painting stands out from the rest. Directly to the left of the front door, the piece depicts a woman’s chest and abdomen in shades of orange and green. Though this piece is more defined than the others, the surreal colors maintain the abstract element.

“I wanted [the oil paintings] to be abstract, because what I like about the macrame is that it looks like the texture of a painting,” Surdell said. “I liked that they could feed off of each other.”

Creating the pieces takes time and dedication, but the idea for the installation itself came about by chance. Surdell was at The York one evening when she was introduced to the bar’s manager, Patrick Duniven. A musician himself, Duniven quickly identified with Surdell as a fellow artist. The York rotates the artwork on display, and Duniven offered to schedule a period to show Surdell’s work.

“Her stuff has a very peaceful, serene quality,” Duniven said. “We like supporting local artists in the community at The York. When the opportunity came about to feature such a talented young local artist from the college at our establishment, for me it was a no-brainer.”

For the official opening on Thursday, Surdell extended an open invitation to friends, acquaintances and Highland Park locals alike to celebrate. Between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., the bar was filled with Occidental students and other patrons admiring Surdell’s work. Among the visitors was long-time supporter Kate Johnstone (senior).

“I’ve been watching her work so hard on these pieces for months,” Johnstone said. “Seeing it all come together like this is amazing.”

The macrame pieces attracted the most attention at the opening. Macrame is Surdell’s preferred medium, and the focus of her senior comprehensive project. Her love of macrame began in middle school, when she enrolled in the after-school macrame club at her alma mater, the Latin School of Chicago.

“I just love the feeling of the rope and using my hands,” Surdell said.

The largest macrame piece in the show measures approximately five feet by five feet and took 48 hours to complete.

“Her work is really, really labor intensive,” Rindlaub said. “Sometimes that time isn’t valued enough. [Jacqueline’s] work is based in honing a skill set.”

Surdell hopes to continue this line of work beyond graduation. She feels that there is a market for rope work in Los Angeles, unlike in her native Chicago or other cities around the country. For this reason, she plans to stay in L.A. after graduation and continue her macrame work while considering graduate school.

Surdell’s artwork will be on display and available for purchase at The York until Dec. 31.

Ximena Santiago
Ximena Santiago
Ximena Santiago
Ximena Santiago