Collaborating with an eight-year-old: “Welcome to the Jungle Gym” brings surrealism and wonder to Savannah

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Art can be frustrating when taken too seriously. It’s easy to lose inspiration and be overly self-critical. Sometimes, the reinstatement of childlike wonder is just what an artist needs to fall in love with art again.

That’s the gist of Welcome to the Jungle Gym, a collaborative exhibit between SCAD professor Dick Bjornseth and eight-year-old Porter Stromberg.

Bjornseth and Porter’s dad, fellow SCAD professor Matt Stromberg, are close friends and used to share an office. The idea for the collaboration began when Bjornseth saw a Youtube video where an adult artist worked with a child to create a unique piece. Then six years old, Porter was the perfect choice to take on the project.

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“Porter showed interest in art pretty early,” Matt says, “and Dick has really taken her under his wing. My daughter doesn’t listen to me when I talk about art, but she listens to Dick.”

At first, Bjornseth provided Porter with a cutout photograph on a piece of paper, and she completed the drawing. Then Bjornseth added some color-rendering and other finishing touches, resulting in a truly unique and playful piece.

“Porter likes to draw a lot. We started with her face, and she finished the body. After a few drawings, I thought, let’s use a collage, so I used photos of animals. We ended up doing probably 40, 45 of these,” Bjornseth recalls.

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The pictures, fifteen of which hang in Gallery Espresso until April 1, are refreshingly simple and just fun, a wonderful and necessary departure from artwork that’s concerned with being technically perfect. Bjornseth notes that the art isn’t meant to be realistic or polished — it’s for enjoyment only.

“I think that’s the reason people like them; they show a kid having fun with drawing,” he explains. “And I do, too.”

To their credit, however, the pieces pay close attention to detail and have a strong, distinct color palette. Still, the innocent and simplistic quality endears them to any audience.

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For the exhibit, Bjornseth and Porter picked the pieces they liked best. Though they like everything they’ve made, Porter’s favorite is “What Does the Fox Say?”, featuring a fox looming over two tiny rabbits. Most of the images, like this one, also contain a common theme: a fried egg.

“I love to transform her suns and moons into eggs,” Bjornseth says with a laugh. “They look like fried eggs when she draws them, so I finish it up. I’m not sure she likes that all the time.”

Bjornseth studied the evolution of drawing styles at Florida State University before coming to teach illustration at SCAD, and the process still interests him.

“At some age, kids have certain stylistic ideas. They go through really predictable stylistic changes,” he explains. “They don’t have reservations like adults do when they draw. At some age they become more self-critical and lose that spark. It’s nice to see an evolution of a person’s drawing ability as they get older.”

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For now, Bjornseth and Porter are taking a break from drawing, but Porter keeps active doing art at her school, St. James Catholic School.

“It’s mostly the kids at my school who really helped me,” Porter says. “They’re really helping me and supporting me with my art.”

“It’s been a really good experience for her,” Matt adds. “It’s what she loves to do.”

Rachael Flora

Author: Rachael Flora

Rachael is a recent Armstrong grad and works as the Events editor at Connect Savannah. She's an Ohio native and likes being somewhere a bit warmer. In her spare time, she likes to read classic novels, perfect her photography, and watch Netflix in bed.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for a wonderful and insightful article about the exhibit. You picked up on the inspiration and the fun challenge.

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  1. Top 10 Art Shows of 2015 | Savannah Art Informer - […] This collaboration between a SCAD professor and an eight-year-old made for one of the most endearing, honest forays into…

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