WHEELING - As artist Sophia Kayafas of Wheeling puts the finishing touches on a painting, she hopes that audiences will see what she sees when looking into the face of her subject.
The West Liberty University senior is showing her artwork at the Wheeling Artisan Center, 1400 Main St., from Thursday, Oct. 3, through Thursday, Oct. 31. The solo exhibition, titled "A Self Portrait," opens with a reception from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3. The reception and show are free and open to the public.
The title of the show, however, does not refer to the traditional understanding of self-portraiture. Instead of seeing an image of the artist's face, visitors will be viewing portraits that Kayafas has painted of people who are important and influential in her life.
Photos by Linda Comins
Working in her studio at West Liberty University, senior Sophia Kayafas puts finishing touches on a light-hearted portrait of her mother, Maria Kayafas of Wheeling, to be exhibited in a solo show opening Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Wheeling Artisan Center.
Kayafas explained, "The overall theme of the show is about connections and relationships. It is called a self-portrait because I am the connection among various people. It is my perception and understanding of each person that connects them all. They are all self-portraits really."
The show, she said, "includes these 15 portraits of people that I know and love in various ways. I wanted to showcase something specific about people and kind of create a window or a moment into their lives."
Family members featured in the portraiture include her father, Wheeling architect Gus Kayafas; her mother, Maria; her sister, Angelena; her brother, Tino, and her grandfather. She also is showing portraits of her best friend and teachers Brian Fencl and Mark Fleming.
"I'm trying to share with an audience my perspective of them," she said of her portrait subjects. The works are done in oil paint on wooden panels.
In all of the portraits, the subjects are looking directly at the viewer. "That's the one thing they have in common," Kayafas pointed out. She sought to create "down-to-earth" scenes so that "you could imagine being in front of them."
The artist said, "I worked mostly from photos for these portraits." She took photographs of the subjects in their own environment, positioning significant personal objects around them as she composed the scene. "I like the process, but I like the meaning behind them," she remarked.
She recalled, "I had a lot of fun envisioning the composition." Opting for natural poses, "I wanted it to be very real," she said.
"I'm challenging you as an audience to see what I'm seeing," she commented. "I've done a lot - gone far for you - in painting. All you have to do is reach out."
Kayafas, who is completing a major in fine arts and public relations at WLU, also plans to display still lifes and landscapes. "The show is going to have about 50 to 60 pieces in it," she said.
"Before I'm a painter, I'm a teacher in some small way. The audience can figure it out," she commented. "I'm trying to show something valuable, which makes me a teacher."
She hopes that seeing the images will inspire and challenge visitors. "It's not just about me, or the art, it's about them, too," she remarked.
"I'm super-excited," she said regarding the show. "I'm a little nervous. I think it's a good thing."
As an artist and a person, Kayafas commented, "I value truth. I love my church and my family. I love truth, and I see beauty in truth. I see truth in God, and I see God in all people. They're vessels of deep meaning for the world and for each other."
The upcoming show at the Artisan Center is Kayafas' second solo exhibition at an independent gallery, which represents a significant accomplishment for an undergraduate. Last year, she had a solo show at the Shaw Galleries in Pittsburgh.
As part of her college degree work, Kayafas was "required to go out and find a place (for an exhibition). That's real life," she said.
At West Liberty, she will participate in the senior show with her peers in the spring. She also has entered group shows off-campus and has participated in competitions at Oglebay Institute's Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling since her days as a student at Wheeling Park High School. "I've won a few awards there," she said modestly.
"I've been painting probably since I was 12 ... I never took it seriously until I was a junior in high school," Kayafas related. "I thought I was going to be an actress, a singer. I'm gifted in the arts. I can draw and paint and I understand people. I love the communication aspect."
Noting that she also had "great teachers" at Wheeling Park, she remarked, "I learned a lot as a junior and senior in high school. It fueled a passion and it can never stop."
Her art instruction has continued at West Liberty. "This school has given me a lot of freedom to explore, to experiment," she said. "I've grown from the teachers I've had. Every time I have a question, I can come to them."
"Sophia has been preparing this show for a while now," said Fencl, associate professor of art and chair of the department of journalism, communication studies and visual arts at West Liberty. "Her work is exciting and her audience should expect something big."
This past summer, Kayafas received a Naomi Winston scholarship to attend workshops at the Studio Incamminati School in Philadelphia to learn the techniques of portrait artist Nelson Shanks, whom she calls "my ultimate hero."
Crying tears of happiness on the first day, she said, "I discovered how perfect a fit it was. It was where I was supposed to be."
Working in an atelier-style atmosphere at the private, skills-based school, she learned to pay "specific attention to color and structure and building value as a whole." She added, "I learned so much at this place. It affected the show."
Regarding the workshop experience, she said, "It enforced all the things that I thought that I knew. It enforced that I knew them."
At the workshops, "there were people inspired and excited about the same thing I was," she said. "It was inspiring. I was with teachers who were also amazing artists. I wanted to paint like them."
Standing at an easel in front of a life model all day at the school, "we got great instruction from the beginning to the end of the painting - they took us through (the process)," she said.
Asked how she has evolved as an artist, Kayafas reflected, "Over the years, I would say it's not just the painting. It's the idea of what art is and what it can be that's changed significantly."
She admitted, "I didn't always love to paint." She explained, "I'm a drawer. I love drawing. The detail, the control, that's what I loved."
But, as she has developed as a painter, she has embraced "the lack of control in painting ... There's a looseness to this quality of painting - it's a good loose. This is all you need, and that's a good thing."
To illustrate that point, she showed the differences between her initial oil painting of Fleming - "I thought it had to be like a photograph" - and her current depiction of Fleming for the new show - "This is completely different. It's so free," she said, adding, "I would never go back."
Since the idea of being a painter "clicked" for her in Philadelphia, she said, "I do enjoy it now. I have more ideas for the future." She added, "I'm excited to see where I'll go, what my paintings will look like in five years."
Looking ahead, Kayafas said, "I have a long way to go. I have my whole life. I can paint until I die. It's the best ... I want to always improve, always learn."
After graduating from West Liberty in May, she plans to apply to the New York Academy of Art, where she hopes to pursue a master's degree in painting. She also might return to the Studio Incamminati School for additional study.
"I do see painting as a career, as a valued career, that I can do a lot," she remarked. "I can learn how to market myself and sell myself as a brand and to promote fine art to the public."
Kayafas also envisions the possibility of starting a public relations firm to promote other artists or opening a gallery. "I'm not fearful of the future - usually," she added.
"I want to make some work. I've got to travel around and make a name for myself and then maybe come back," she said.
"But I love Wheeling. It's not that I want to escape."
As an artist, Kayafas said, "I always want to do people. I'm totally dedicated to it. I don't want to paint animals or objects or places as much as I want to paint people."