This Saturday, the third annual 8 to CREATE event took place at [co] [lab] in downtown Urbana from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., during which eight artists had eight hours to create eight artworks. The event and the University of Illinois registered student organization responsible for coordinating it (both called "8 to CREATE") serve as a way for UIUC students to gain professional art and design experience and to network with organizations in the Champaign-Urbana community. The event’s mission statement also puts forth two secondary goals: to make the typically private process of creating artwork accessible and open to the public for observation, engagement, and participation; and to break down institutional and social hierarchies by bringing together a mix of artists from a variety of experiences and affiliations in one creative space. In the past, 8 to CREATE has featured artists with local connections like Angelo Ray Martinez, Matthew Watt, and Sara Paige alongside bigger midwest names like Matt Woodward and 2016 featured artist Shelby Shadwell. In addition to collapsing institutional and social hierarchies, the event collapses the boundaries between studio space and gallery, allowing visitors to interact with the artists as they create in real time. 

This year’s roster of artists represented a wide variety of styles, media, and locations. UIUC studio art graduate students Nicole Brunel and Kathleen Durkin both make installations using found objects and vibrant palettes, but while Brunel’s work is inflected with humor and pop art graphics, Durkin’s work uses nature imagery to explore ecological themes. Northern Illinois native Neurotik and Urbana native Maya Bauer both take their inspiration from street art. While Pittsburgh artist Shannon Tomanovich tends towards highly detailed drawings reminiscent of maps or botanical charts, Texas Tech professor Ghislaine Fremaux makes vivid, impressionistic compositions of nude figures in paint and oil pastel. Fremaux’s work deals with bodily self-knowledge and the practice of nudism. Chicago artist Jason Michael Bentley’s style is characterized by quiet, naturalistic watercolor paintings of people in moments of distraction. The 2017 feature artist was Hong Chun Zhang, whose work  has been exhibited nationally and internationally from Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, The Museum of Contemporary Art Norway in Oslo to The 9th Shanghai Biennale in China. Her current work, which was part of Parkland College’s 2016 State of the Art: Drawing Invitational this fall, focuses on huge, technically impressive drawings of hair in graphite, charcoal, and ink.

(Inset: Neurotik begins his day with 2 partial canvases, 1 fresh, and 1 do-over ; Ghislaine Fremaux puts the finishing touches on her enormous composition near the end of the event)

I arrived at 5:00, shortly before the 6:30 reception and after the artists had been working for almost a full day. The small [co][lab] space was packed to the gills, with 8 to CREATE committee members running bottles of water to the tired artists, a live band playing at the front of the space, and multiple photographers and even a videographer or two weaving through the crowd to catch a perfect shot of the action. Still, people managed to find pockets of solitude amidst the craziness. Some artists sported headphones to block out the noise, and some visitors became completely absorbed in observing the creative process. I noticed one student captivated by Jason Michael Bentley’s painting for almost the whole time I stayed. Other artists actively engaged the crowd, like Maya Bauer whose piece featured collaged portraits of audience volunteers. Though the presence of so much environmental stimuli made it difficult to take in the pieces themselves, I enjoyed seeing art in its creative context: everything from the artist's’ work stations to how they considered their “canvases” contributed to the experience.

(Maya Bauer's work by the end of the evening)

Some of the pieces stood out for me more than others. I hadn’t heard of Shannon Tomanovich prior to the event, but her intricate, information-dense drawings turned out to be right up my alley. She used large lino-cuts of flowers and grasses to create a kind of botanical bar graph, and when I arrived she was in the process of adding “data,” which included seemingly unrelated tidbits of cultural commentary like the number of people in penal systems around the world and the amount of fresh water currently existing on the earth’s surface.

(from left to right: Tomanovich's work at 11 a.m.; artist's materials; the work at 5 p.m.)

I was already a big fan of Hong Chun Zhang’s work from 2016: State of the Art, and I regret that I got to the gallery too late to see her hair drawing in its early stages. When I arrived she seemed to be working only with a piece of charcoal and a reference photo.


(Left: Zhang's work at 11 a.m. ; Right: Zhang and work at 5 p.m.)

I also managed to learn a bit about what went into organizing the event from club president Hannah Jihyun Kim, who told me that the club was originally the result of a collaboration between UIUC professor Patrick Hammie and a graduate student. According to Kim, the club reached out to Hong Chun Zhang on the recommendation of 2016 8 to CREATE feature artist and 2016: State of the Art curator Shelby Shadwell. Kim also informed me that the 8 to CREATE committee is made up of students from a diverse range of academic backgrounds, from art history, to psychology, to electrical engineering -- another way that the annual show traverses traditional boundaries and categories.

Because 8 to CREATE is meant to showcase the creative process, the event is the only chance to view the artwork: all of it is temporary, and none of it is sold. Overall, it’s a fun event that offers a rare opportunity to ask artists questions about their creative process as they work. If you go next year, I recommend both researching the artists beforehand and visiting multiple times throughout the day to see the work at various stages and to talk to the artists during a lull in gallery traffic.

Images taken with permission of 8 to CREATE; 11 a.m. photos taken by David Bellmore, 5 p.m. images taken by Marika Christofides. 


Kathleen Durkin in morning (left) and evening (right)









Nicole Brunel just after starting (left) and just before finishing (right)







Below: Jason Michael Bentley in the morning (left) and evening (right)