Stop-Motion Animator Visits University

The final installment of Monmouth’s “ART NOW” series came to Wilson Hall on Thursday, Feb. 6, showcasing the work of accomplished stop-motion painter, Jennifer Levonian. Much like the previous guests of the visiting artist series presented by Professor Michael Richison, Levonian’s work is accomplished through multiple mediums. Her presentation, which involved both a lecture and interactive workshop, highlighted the process of animating paintings to produce short films.

Levonian first became interested in this unique medium while she was studying painting at the graduate level and signed up for an animation course taught by recent Oscar nominee David Sousa. This introduction to the world of short film opened up new doors for Levonian, who quickly fell in love with the medium.

She began painting puppets that required multiple moving parts, which were then filmed and edited to give the illusion of motion. Using this stop-motion technique, Levonian went on to create films that have been featured in places like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

Some of these short films were screened during the presentation on Thursday, including a very relatable piece called, “The Poetry Winner.” This short featured a character named Caitlyn, who had just finished college for the semester and was spending her summer as a grocery store clerk. The story culminates with Caitlyn’s declaration to a fussy customer that she is, in fact, a poetry winner, thus validating herself among a mundane hometown life.

Levonian dealt with a lot of powerful themes in this seven-minute short, and each one of them had something that all college students can relate to. Most prominent was the discernable gap between the teenage years and adulthood, showcased by the juxtaposition of philosophical paper titles and ordinary cash register functions. For many students, this was a very accurate representation of the common transition from a childhood home to. a dorm room.

“I work retail every summer, so ‘The Poetry Winner’ made a lot of sense to me,” said senior Kevin Wells. “There’s a real difference between life at college and life at home, and I think the film really captured that.”

While “The Poetry Winner” had universal themes, Levonian’s next short was directed more toward women and told a story from a feminist perspective. This short, set during a bridal shower, was called “Her Slip is Showing.” Levonian explained that her goal was to highlight female friendships, which she accomplished by using flashbacks to show how the relationship between two women had changed over time.

This commitment to strong female characters was inspired by The Bechdel Test, which passes or fails movies based on an adherence to the following characteristics: the movie has two or more female characters, the female characters interact with each other, and the female characters interact with each other about something other than a man.

To one student, telling a story through a feminine voice is a very worthwhile cause.

“I hadn’t heard of the Bechdel Test before today,” explained Maddie Renner, a junior, “but it was amazing to hear how many movies actually didn’t pass the test. I really admire [Levonian] for sticking to the Bechdel guidelines and featuring female characters in her stories.”

Levonian went on to screen two more shorts, each from a uniquely entertaining perspective. The first was “The Oven Sky,” a testament to real occurrences in Levonian’s neighborhood in Philadelphia. The final short screened was called “Buffalo Milk Yogurt,” which featured a humorous look at the happenings of an innocent grocery store. Both films were well-received by the audience, and helped to expose many students to an up-and-coming medium that isn’t yet represented by popular culture.

“I’m not really into art,” said freshman Brian Olson, “so I didn’t think I would get a lot out of this program. But a lot of the shorts were pretty funny, and they really held my attention. I was surprised by [Levonian]’s work.”

The “ART NOW” series, as a whole, was designed to expose students to transcendent new mediums, and Levonian’s work has surely done this. Her impressive use of multiple mediums serves not only as an artistic marvel, but also a distinctive and powerful storytelling voice. After Levonian’s lecture and extensive work shop, one can only hope that the audience was inspired to pursue this medium, and use it as a vehicle to tell their own stories in the future.

PHOTO TAKEN from jenniferlevonian.com