Ainsley Bruton ’21 is an artist who cares deeply about her subjects. This is obvious in her series “Coming to Terms,” which was a project supported by the Student Arts Fund and recently exhibited in the Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) Building’s Create Space. The series of portraits is an exploration of the subjects’ self-identities as first-years at Haverford; as Ainsley says in the exhibition label, “each painting or drawing is an individual representation coming to terms with how they understand themselves within a new place with new experiences.”
In celebration of the completed project, I contacted Ainsley with a few questions about her experience with “Coming to Terms.” Her answers, unsurpisingly, were more thoughtful than I could ever summarize; so from here, I’ll leave the talking to her.
The title of the project is “Coming to Terms,” and you use that term in your introductory statement and the exhibition label of your self-portrait. What does “Coming to Terms” mean to you, both as a project and a statement?
For a long time I really agonized over what I was going to name the project, and I didn’t have a name up until a few weeks before the exhibition. I floated a few uninspired ideas, but “Coming to Terms” first came to me when I was thinking about Robbie (who uses singular they/them pronouns), one of my portrait subjects. I was thinking about my interview with them and also what I already know about them, and I realized that all of last year they had been coming to terms with their identity and who they were at Haverford, and then I realized that idea of coming to terms and realizing your identity was a common theme across my interview subjects. I think as a statement, “Coming to Terms” is representative of the process both of becoming and of accepting that it has happened for me and likely many of my peers upon coming to college. It continues to happen as both our lives and our communities experience change.
As a project, “Coming to Terms” has been very important to me in how it has allowed me to reflect upon my own identity and process of change, while also being able to learn about my classmates and create something about and for the Haverford community. While this project is by no means perfect, I feel that it has also allowed me to grow artistically both in my technical and conceptual skill.
You’ve spent a long time with this project; how does it feel to see it exhibited?
It feels really great! I’m so excited that I get to share these pieces with the community, especially considering how long I’ve been working on them. It’s very cool that this thing that used to just exist with me in my room can now be seen by so many people. I find painting so often to be a very isolated act because even if other people are in the same room with me it is something I can only do myself. Exhibiting my pieces allows for me to see my art as more than myself and to understand my act of creating in a broader context.
“Coming to Terms” began, in part, as an exploration of being a first-year at Haverford. Now that you’re a sophomore, do you hope to continue the work “Coming to Terms” started? Or have you found new interests that you want to pursue? Or both!
I would definitely say that I consider “Coming to Terms” to be a finished project, at least in its specific relationship to first-year students at Haverford. However, many of the themes that I was thinking about when I was working on this project continue to influence the work I am creating now and plan to create in the future. A lot of my work still centers around themes of identity, change, and, most importantly, self-reflection (I’ve been really fascinated by self-portraiture lately, and have found myself very preoccupied with painting myself in different ways). I also have lots of new ideas and interests that are informing my work as well; when Eli interviewed me last year I talked about wanting to do a series centered around fear, which I’m still very interested in and have been thinking about. As a portrait/figure painter, I also find myself thinking a lot about physicality and bodies. Along with my thoughts on fear I’ve been thinking about temporality and impermanence in relation to the figure.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work, whether it’s related to this project or about other work you’ve been doing?
I originally wanted to try to do a larger scale series through the student arts fund because in my first year I found that in my art classes (especially because I was just in intro courses) I was not able to do the same level of conceptual work as I had previously been doing or that I had hoped to pursue in college. This year I’m really trying to focus on improving artistically as my first priority, and spend as much time in the studio creating new work as much as possible. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to pursue this project through the student arts fund, and I think I learned a lot from jumping right in and doing a large project in my first year here.
I think I’ve given myself a really good place to work off of and move forward from. I’m also just generally really thankful for everyone who let me interview them for this project or helped me complete it in any way, and it has been so humbling to share it with the community and to see this project in a broader communal context.
Written by Eleanor Morgan ’20.
Edited by Matthew Ridley ’19.