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Open Studios

Updated: Apr 23

A continuation of the print piece titled "Open Studios" in our spring 2024 magazine.

By Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

In the Visual Arts building, a studio smaller than the others that surrounds it houses scraps of denim, polyester, and cotton stacked so tall they’re nearly toppling over. A sewing machine covered in stickers sits next to giant spools of thread and a wall full of patches. Frayed clothing covers the floor, the room appears narrow due to the sheer volume of fabric held inside. Toriana Sauro, otherwise known as Princessporkypines, a junior sculpture major, has embraced the freedom that comes with having a private studio. 

As the studio got more cluttered, space wasn't a concern at all. “I’m sorry, you’re not a real artist if you don’t have a mess,” says Sauro. “Not saying you can’t be organized, but when everything is pristine and the same color and you have matching wallpaper and shit, it seems like you’re going for more of the aesthetic of looking like an artist and not actually being an artist.”  

The Visual Arts studios, open concept cubicles, only exist as they are for about two semesters at a time. When the academic year ends, each artist is expected to paint the walls white for the student who will inhabit the studio next, creating a never-ending cycle of fresh starts. In some studios, the walls are layered so thick with white paint that thumbtacks can't puncture the drywall. This unrecognized creation is the start of their life after Purchase, as their time in the studio space and the community it built will be lost with time.  

Each student enters a lottery and draws numbers to see who gets to select these spaces first. Some students select spaces with windows for natural light. Some find a quiet corner to retreat into. Once these are chosen, the artists can do almost anything they wish with the space. It seems many students, particularly in the sculpture studio, embrace the loose rules and create spaces covered in wax, clay, paint, or whatever medium speaks to them that week. 

Sauro’s studio feels more private than most, partly due to the cloth curtain hanging over the opening. Originally, the curtain was used just to prevent garments from overflowing from the studio, but they kept it up due to the privacy that their artistic process requires.  

“When I have my own little confined space, I can focus as much as I want on one particular emotion,” says Sauro. “If you don’t create art with emotion, it’s not gonna come out as a strong piece. If you just make it to make it, that’s cool. People do crafts all the time. I do crafts all the time, but not all my emotions go into it. When you're making something with a specific meaning or narrative, I feel like you need to have that deep connection for it to come out its best. Having your own space definitely helps with that process.”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Most of the studios in the sculpture department are cluttered and chaotic, but right upstairs tells a different story. The senior painting studios are kept surprisingly clean for a place covered in paint, charcoal, and pencil shavings. An example of one of these studios is Maggie Halloran, a senior interdisciplinary major. Her studio is nestled in the furthest corner away from everyone, yet somehow still gets so much natural light.  

Most of the paintings on the wall depict a self-portrait with a warped perspective, “I sort of started doing all of these during a time I was overthinking a lot.” Says Halloran, “It’s about overthinking what other people think of me. The possibility of perspectives and the possibility of different interpretations.” 


Many of the students in the painting department have a specific artistic vision they carry throughout most of their work. Halloran explained that the curriculum is set in a way that encourages students to pick a topic and stick to it. You can see that carried throughout, whether it be stars, toys, cats, etc.  

When it comes to Halloran, being an artist was always what they wanted to do. “I was always drawing.” Says Halloran, “I still have the ‘Learn How to Draw’ books. It would be amazing to be an artist in the real world.”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Each painting and drawing in Cat Labriola’s senior painting studio is delicate and full of feeling. The tiles on the floor are individually drawn and each strand of hair is placed with care. Her work is incredibly personal, centering around family and loss.  

Labriola doesn't have many paintings in her studio, she explains it's because they can't fit. “I’m a large-scale painter.” Says Labriola. “I couldn’t fit any of my stuff in my studio. That’s how big they are. I'm on the ladder painting as much as I can.”  

The walls are lined with drawings of family and funeral flowers, grief is what inspires Labriola. “The passing of my grandparents and how it's affecting my world now is my inspiration.” Says Labriola. “I try to capture the moments where I am totally disconnected from that part of my life. These ensure I’m the camera.”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

In another corner of the sculpture studios, an old Dell desktop computer whirls to life. A Raspberry Pi circuit board connected to the computer controls a talking, fully motorized silicone head sculpture of Spock from “Star Trek.” You can even speak to him using a microphone that's controlled by Character AI. 

Hex Geissinger, a senior sculpture major, has an odd array of items in their studio — a handmade furry white puppet, wind-up teeth, a book on Star Trek, and a refrigerator with a printed-out image of a computer monitor and a keyboard glued onto the freezer door. Many of these pieces were used for their senior project, “Public Access Clown Hour,” which was partially filmed in their studio. 

When VA students first enroll in classes, they are placed in a shared studio with their peers and are expected to create many projects quickly. This process changes in junior year when most students get assigned private studios alongside others who share the same year and major. Having a private studio creates a stress-free environment where artists can create with unrestricted time and access that they didn't have before and may never have again. For many, this could build expectations of what their career could be like after Purchase College. 

Having a studio has allowed students like Geissinger to change the way they create art. “I think I’m able to make bigger stuff for sure,” says Geissinger, “It’s still kind of a mess in my studio, but I can do things that aren't totally on top of each other. It’s hard when you make a project and you’re still working on it, but you wanna work on another one. It was very cramped my sophomore year when I didn’t have a studio.” 

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Knick-knacks, pictures drawn by friends, and pages of colorful sketches line the wall of Anne Arocho’s senior painting studio. Arocho’s studio is a labor of love, there isn't a wall that doesn't have at least one thing that they hold dearly. Her work often depicts soft images of cats. They started doing this after their cat passed away. Pictures of friends, both current and past, are also common.  

Stored under their desk is a large unbound canvas depicting a deer shrouded in earthy colors and wispy light. Arocho explained they were inspired by old prehistoric deer, “I think they’re really magical but scary.” Says Arocho, “They’re very still and peaceful. There’s a lot of indigenous stories about them being something they’re not.”  

Arocho’s Puerto Rican heritage is a point of pride and inspiration for them, “I won’t get more Puerto Rican, I can only get further from it,” says Arocho. “I don't want it to be something sad. I want to be able to live and create within that. I wanna dance in clothing and live authentically.”  

Scattered on shelves and desks and piled into bags are various books. “Literature definitely plays a role in my work.” Says Arocho, “I was connecting through literature with this dead cat lover [Ernest Hemmingway]. I shouldn’t have anything in common with him but I do.”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Upstairs, junior painting major Lillia Haus’ studio sits behind a large window overlooking a sink covered in oil paint that never seems to dry. Heaps of half-sculpted clay figures and drawings from friends line the wall, along with multiple paintings that appear finished but will continue to be worked on. 

“I don't believe in good or bad. I believe there’s more complete things that resonate with you and less complete ones that don’t,” explains Haus. “I think there’s something that feels like this final push that really makes it feel like something I wanna present. It’s just a feeling.”  

In almost every studio, there is a pile dedicated to artwork and supplies that don’t fit anywhere. The focal point of Haus’s corner is an unbounded and unpainted canvas. The canvas is splattered with blue, green, and black fabric dye. “A lot of my work is really inspired by bacteria and being alive,” says Haus. “So, I was thinking bioluminescence, algae, and the black reminds me of the spread of disease.”  

The canvas fabric was cut into star shapes for a project. Instead of discarding the excess material, Haus decided to keep it in their studio and pin it on the wall underneath supplies given to them by others in the studio.  

“The negative space and the freeness of it really let me just go crazy and unleash on it,” says Haus. “I had to stand the whole time while making it, which made it a super gestural thing.”  

A shared sentiment between almost every artist with a private studio is how beneficial extra time and independence are. In their freshman and sophomore years, VA students share an open studio where they have about one week to complete a single project at a time. The private studios eliminate this common stressor.  

“I was really struggling,” says Haus. “I was expected to make a painting once a week, and not only that, I’m expected to make large paintings in the span of a week. I’m saving time and energy by having a studio because everything is basically ready. I go to my locker and grab what I need; the deadlines are farther apart, and I work on multiple things at once.” 

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Giovanna Hernandez's studio is a mixture of small silly colorful paintings and large works done in black and white pinned on the wall. Everyone in the senior painting studios seems to be connected. Drawings from a friend across the hall and paint borrowed from your neighbor are common practices. Art made by people interviewed in this very article can be seen lining the walls of many studios. It works as a sort of art collective.  

Culture plays a part in Hernandez’s work, although it was more gradual and unintentional. “In Latino culture, we focus a lot on family.” Says Hernandez. “I wasn’t outright including it but it was always there. I was going through pictures of my mom's family and that’s when it hit me.”  

Many VA students don't find the time to indulge in sketchbooks anymore, but Hernandez’s was full. The sketches mimicked the small toys and trinkets scattered around the studio and shelves. “When I first got here I stopped sketching,” Says Hernandez. “When I started being in a studio last year that’s when I really started again. I’m not gonna be painting something for 6 hours straight so this is a good distraction in between.”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

The entrance to Camryn Stella studio, who is a senior painting major, is blocked off by a table covered in fabric scraps, computer paper plastered with planets, and crayons. Diagrams depicting the moon and stars lay covered in paint on the studio floor.  

Stella’s studio is very unapologetically messy. The oil paint pallet in the back is caked in old paint dripping off the sides, the walls are splattered, and the floor is covered with loose threads and fabric scraps. 

“I like the birth of the universe and the beginning of things,” explains Stella. “I think the star is the beginning of life. We all have this light source, the sun, that we grow from.” 

On the right wall stands a shelf packed to the brim with textile scraps and embellishments. Fabric squares are stitched and decorated as various stars and planets are taken off the shelf and shown off.  

“There’s a lot of stuff in my studio that people just give me as donations,” says Stella. “Someone gave me a box full of beads. At first, I didn't know who it was. I was asking around like ‘Who could this be?’” 

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

Upon first entering the senior painting studios, Shauna Meehan's is one of the first you see. A studio covered in pink paint and seashells stands clearly against the white studios surrounding her. Large canvases taller than the artist painting on them crowd the room and make it seem smaller.  

Pink became a fixture of Meehan’s art when they created a piece in junior year that just drew them in. This color is used to cover some of the biggest canvases in the room, “I like the physicality of it,” says Meehan. “I grew up playing competitive sports. It’s kind of like I'm fighting with the painting. I like the challenge.”  

The white drywall of the studio is painted bright red. Meehan says it’s because her paintings don’t wanna live on white walls, “I find them confining.” Says Meehan. “Why not expand past it and cover it with something good?”  

(Photo by Elizabeth "Liz" Baldino)

A window ledge covered in soda cans, beads, and a doll look-alike of its owner Ella Donahue looks over their senior painting studio. A ceramic hand holding a dead fly and a box full of fake resin teeth give a feeling no other studio has. It’s dark but funny, serious but silly.  

Multi-media collage work is what takes up most of Donahue’s studio. “I have a lot of teeth that I love to collage with.” Says Donahue. “I also love dead bugs and dead leaves that people pick up outside.”  

Insects play a large role in Donahue’s work. Familiar characters from Charlotte's Web are pinned onto their wall. “I’ve always loved spiders.” Says Donahue. “I feel like spiders are artists in their own way. I’m really inspired by the webs they make. Stringing together something has always been an integral part of my work.” 

When this semester ends, dozens of seniors with studios will graduate. The rooms they spent hundreds of hours in will never exist again, and some will never inhabit a private art studio of the same scope again. However, for two years, that space became whatever they needed it to be, for as long as they needed it. The freedom to create in a space that belongs only to them, no matter how finite, allows artists to feel like their art is worth creating. 



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