Ariel isn’t the only mermaid hanging out at Theatre Baton Rouge these days.
Jennifer Carwile’s sculpted and collage mermaids are there, too, greeting audiences attending TBR’s summer musical, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”
And on June 17 and 18, the artist will introduce a new mermaid to the mix by sculpting it during the performances, giving audience members a chance to watch her sculpt before and after the show and during intermission.
“This is going to be a different piece, one that can be placed outside,” Carwile says.
While Emily Heck is playing Ariel on stage, Carwile will be entering a new phase of her artistic career that began as a painter.
She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the University of Kansas and her master’s degree in art education from LSU. Before 2012, her focus was abstract and landscape painting. That year, Carwile’s artistic direction would change through a visit to the Greek isles.
She still paints abstracts and landscapes, but mermaids entered the mix the moment she looked into the waters off the southern coast of Crete.
“I found the water such an amazing blue that I wanted to dive in and become a mermaid and surround myself in it forever,” Carwile says.
And that notion gave birth to a fanciful series of collages, “My Life as a Mermaid,” which are on exhibit in the theater, where her next step in her artistic journey — plaster mermaid sculptures — will take place.
The idea came about after Carwile took an “Artist as Entrepreneur” class offered by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. The instructor suggested that one way artists could get noticed would be to create a spectacle.
“I started thinking about that, and my collages weren’t spectacles,” Carwile says. “They weren’t big enough. Then I thought I could create a spectacle by making a 3-D mermaid.”
She had her friends model for Duct Tape molds, then filled them in with bubble wrap and covered them with plaster. Then she put the mermaids together in an underwater scene, which made its debut in Baton Rouge’s 2014-15 Prospect.3 show, “Notes Upriver,” in the downtown Chase Bank building.
Carwile has since taken a welding class at LSU and has cast several smaller mermaids in bronze. She’ll create her newest mermaid from metal and concrete. She won’t be welding in the theater’s reception room, but she will be shaping wire to create the mermaid’s body. She’ll pour the concrete mold in her studio.
“The audiences won’t actually see me pouring the concrete,” Carwile says. “But they will be able to see me working.”
Carwile’s work with mermaids also has helped her deal with alopecia, which caused her hair to fall out, and that developed about the same time as her trip to Greece.
“My ideals of femininity and beauty were clashing with my new look,” she says of losing her hair. “My mermaid artwork features odd-looking sea creatures interacting with mermaids, which bring me joy and introduced whimsy into my way of dealing with my new look.
“I enjoy playing with the juxtaposition of opposites, scenes that people might find beautiful and yet creepy, or scary yet fun, to explore and challenge typical views of beauty.”
For more information, visit JenniferCarwilePaintings.com.
Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.