Four artists – one from the Quad-City region – with vastly different stories in different media are featured in the annual Senior Art Exhibition at Monmouth College.

Titled “Step Closer,” the exhibit will be on display in the Len G. Everett Gallery on the upper level of Hewes Library through May 3. There will be a gallery reception at 2 p.m. April 29.

Free and open to the public, the exhibit features the works of senior art majors Ian Castellanos of Miami; Satyr Keeling of St. Louis; Jennie Nichols, a transfer student from Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg; and Elikem Ogba, formerly of Ghana, who now lives in London.

From left are Nick Castellanos, Satyr Keeling, Elikem Ogba and Jennie Nichols. (Monmouth College)

Monmouth to Morocco

One of the inspirations for Ogba’s stunning photography, which includes vivid magazine cover-worthy portraits, came from the style of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Fittingly, working as a photographer for a publication such as Vogue is on her career radar, as is working for a “super big company” such as Nike or Adidas. However, Ogba didn’t come to Monmouth with photography in mind.

“I took a photography class and borrowed the first camera I used from my professor,” she said. “In 2021, I invested in my own camera, a Sony a6400.”

As she’s grown more comfortable with the camera, Ogba said her style has evolved into “editorial stills and documentary photography.”

The stills can be an elaborate process, taking several hours to perfect. Her iconic photograph Oud finally came together after her friend, who Ogba photographed in several outfits and poses, had her nails done.

Another photo, Jody Red, was her lone photograph in the show taken outside of Monmouth. She shot it in Morocco after approaching a stranger in colorful clothes.

“It was a big step for me, getting out of my comfort zone,” she said of asking permission to photograph a stranger in a strange land. “Now we’re best buds.”

Best of Show

After winning Best of Show at last fall’s annual juried exhibition, Keeling said the honored work, Deflowered, which also appears in the senior show, was “one of my most symbolic pieces to date.” Bugs appear in that work, as well as other pieces that Keeling has displayed.

“All of the bugs have symbolism, such as listening to your intuition and being careful with who you trust,” said Keeling, adding, “My inspiration is my childhood and things I went through as a kid. My show has transformed into talking about healing from what I went through and my growth now as a young adult.”

A pleasant memory from that childhood is, as a fifth grader, having an artwork displayed in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. That lifelong interest in art will likely guide Keeling’s post-Monmouth plans, but the first item on that agenda is to not leave Monmouth.

“I plan to stay in town about a year, maybe volunteering for the Buchanan Center for the Arts and helping with the theater department,” said Keeling, who developed new skills in oil painting and sculpting at Monmouth. “I feel like I lost a year with COVID. I feel like I have more growth to make here.”

Best of shoe

The day before being interviewed about his shoe-based artwork in the senior show, Castellanos joined a group of Monmouth students at a screening of the new movie Air. In telling the story of how Nike pursued a partnership with NBA rookie Michael Jordan, the movie featured the creation of the first Air Jordan shoe.

Castellanos, who played football for the Fighting Scots, can relate to the appeal of designing footwear.

“I’d like to pursue the hobby of custom cleats and custom shoes,” said Castellanos, who plans to attend graduate school. “It would be a way to show my art off the wall and put it on the field.”

Air Jordans revolutionized footwear in the 1980s. Castellanos hopes his designs appeal to a new generation.

“I want them to show some kind of ‘drip,’ as they say. … It’s very easy to express yourself through shoes.”

And there’s certainly a market for it. For example, many NFL players annually have a pair of eye-catching custom cleats designed to support their favorite charity.

Castellanos said his exhibit pieces focus on “my steps through life and my experiences, and using shoes as a way to show that. Most of my pieces talk about my background, my experiences, my friends that I’ve lost.”

Focusing on mental health

Like Keeling, Nichols may find herself in Monmouth – or at least a place very much like it – after she graduates.

“My goal is to be a college art professor,” she said. “I’m planning on taking a gap year, then go to grad school.”

Also like Keeling, Nichols works with oil painting and ceramics, and has set her sights on art for most of her life.

“I’ve always had an affinity for it,” she said. “My mom says that when I was 5, I drew a dragon, and it was well above the scale and detail of a 5-year-old. She said, ‘Yep, the kid’s an artist.’ She really fostered that.”

Within art, Nichols has begun turning her focus more toward mental health, an area that she feels she’s been able to address better in a college setting.

“When I was younger, mental health was kind of addressed, but the schools I went through did not actively give the help that they were supposed to,” she said. “In college, there’s been more of an awareness of how society affects us and how to navigate it better.”

As a junior, she created a piece titled Overwhelmed, which remains one of her favorites and is in the show.

“That’s when I decided, ‘This is what I want to do,'” said Nichols. “‘This is where I want to take my art.'”