11/13/2019 ASHLAND, Ohio – Somewhere inside Kiana Ziegler’s childhood home in Ashland, there is an envelope full of her earliest artwork.
Her mom kept a lot of what she did then, Ziegler said, including “a SpongeBob that I did with Crayola markers when I was like 5 or 6.”
She’s been through a lot since those days, in terms of both life and art.
Ziegler, who will graduate from Ashland University in December, will have her work featured in the AU 2019 Senior Art + Design Exhibition, which opens Thursday, Nov. 21, with a reception from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. at the Coburn Art Gallery in the AU Center for the Arts. The exhibition, which runs through Dec. 14, will include painting, printmaking, photography and digital art.
While Ziegler had opportunities to create art while still a student at Ashland High School, she often was ill, culminating with a thyroid cancer diagnosis when she was just 16. Her thyroid and some surrounding lymph nodes were removed. Radiation followed.
And while a second-year student at AU, Ziegler was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. Because the diagnosis came early, she required no surgery or chemotherapy, but is on targeted treatment medication and immunotherapy drugs, which she admits make her feel like she has food poisoning.
There are other chronic illnesses as well. “Basically,” Ziegler said, “all the health problems in my family have accumulated in me.”
She turned to her art for both therapeutic and creative reasons. “I think it’s kind of a drive to not let (the illness) completely take over my life,” said Ziegler. At first, the art was representative of her actual health struggles, canvases of a young woman in a hospital bed, consoled by her boyfriend; other pictures centered in a hospital setting.
“It was,” Ziegler said, “like looking into someone’s life as if through a window.” And it was fine, for what it was. But she admitted it wasn’t evoking any kind of emotional response from the people who encountered it. It was Michael Bird, a professional instructor of digital art and graphic design at AU, who sat her down and gave her some frames of reference that would result in her going deeper into her exploration -- not leading the viewers, but challenging them.
The result is canvases of acrylic and oil, the forms based on photos Ziegler had taken of dying flowers, natural but decaying. There’s a contemporary, post-modern influence at work, the fleshy quality unavoidable. “It’s ambiguous,” Ziegler said. “The viewer has to do some work.”
For Ziegler, who admits to “overthinking things sometimes,” the work often starts as a meditation about how her illness has affected her life, how it will continue to affect it going forward and the anxiety she has a result. For someone analytical, as Ziegler said she is, “when I get upset sometimes, I don’t even know what I feel. This was my way of connecting those feelings.”
The exhibition, appropriately titled “Meditation on the Flesh,” will consist of three prints, four photographs, five paintings and four digital paintings, the latter being anatomical diagrams filled with words that Ziegler painted using Photoshop. “Words are very personal to me,” she explained. “But I kind of wanted to move away from words.” The images are more of a way to bridge the space between her early work and the paintings that evolved as a result.
“(Ziegler’s) growth as an artist has been impressive in the time she has spent at Ashland University,” said AU art Professor Keith Dull. “That growth can be attributed to her willingness to engage with the artmaking process and experiment with new techniques. Her determination to find new ways to communicate her ideas and challenge herself with new concepts has led to the success of the artwork you will see in her senior exhibition.”
Ziegler will leave AU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a painting concentration, as well as Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Art with a graphic design concentration. The next stop is graduate school and then maybe teaching art, and definitely entering shows.
There would have been art even if there hadn’t been illness, Ziegler said, just not the kind of art she came to. “I probably would have gotten swept up by some other something,” she said, maybe the portraiture that she still loves. But without the journey, she said, “I may not have found my strength.”
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###