Denim Art at Penn College Explores Changes in Labor, Landscape

Published 09.01.2014

The Gallery at Penn College

Art created from reclaimed denim is in the spotlight at the next exhibit at The Gallery at Penn College, on the third floor of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Madigan Library.

“Those of Us Still Living” will run Sept. 2 through Oct. 1. A Meet the Artist Reception is set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, featuring a gallery talk at 5:30 p.m.

Via his creations, artist James Arendt explores the shifting paradigms of labor and place. Influenced by the radical reshaping of rural and industrial landscapes, he investigates how transitions in economic structures affect individual lives. The body of work in the exhibition is made from reclaimed denim – often donated by those depicted – to bring a stronger bond to Arendt's content and the people portrayed.

“Mike,” denim, 70.5 inches by 26 inches“Artmaking is a way for me to explore our changing relationship with work. ... I’ve paid witness to the demise of opportunities to engage in meaningful work and seen cities ravaged by the absence of industry,” he said. “As the landscape of work and labor continues to shift around us, I use artmaking as a way to investigate how the division of labor and alienation from work have impacted individual lives.

“My early engagement with work that was whole and undivided has left me with a persistent feeling that our present economic configuration has alienated most of us from the finest use of our skills. … Artmaking is a way for me to echo the cycles of seasonal death, unemployment, natural disasters and loss I’ve witnessed,” added Arendt, who grew up laboring on his family’s farm. “The physical labor involved in the creation of these pieces mirrors the work I engaged in with my family.”

Arendt, who is director of the Rebecca Randall Bryant Art Gallery at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, South Carolina, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Kendall College of Art and Design and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of South Carolina. He has studied art in England and Spain and participated in residencies at The Fields Project in Illinois and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee.

“Greg & Ryan,” denim, 33.5 inches by 120 inchesArendt's work has been exhibited internationally in numerous group and solo shows, including Fiberarts International 2013 in Pittsburgh and the 2013 Museum Rijswijk Textile Biennial in the Netherlands. His work has won numerous awards including the $50,000 top prize at ArtFields 2013 and Best in Show at Fantastic Fibers 2012. He is a finalist for the prestigious “1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art,” to be awarded in late September.

“I choose materials to work with while seeking to create a greater relevancy between content and form,” Arendt said. “Denim seems created to be abused, worn out, patched, stained and burnt through. Its characteristics are mirrored in the individuals I choose to represent. Yet, jeans remain supple, and with the right pair of boots, can still go to the ball. I like that.”

The Gallery at Penn College is open Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 7 p.m.; and Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Saturdays and Mondays). Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public.

The Gallery at Penn College strives to be an important educational resource for students and a cultural asset to the college and local communities. The gallery is dedicated to promoting art appreciation through exhibitions of contemporary art and accompanying programs. The gallery supports the mission of Penn College and offers opportunities for personal growth, social awareness, cultural diversity and education through direct experiences with original works of art.

For more about The Gallery at Penn College, email or call 570-320-2445.

For more about Penn College, which is marking 100 years as an educational institution of national reputation throughout 2014, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.