VADS 2021 Participant Profiles

Digital Frontiersman
By Xander Negozio

Ian O’Neill never doubted that he would be making art. With parents who were heavily involved in theater, and a heavy-metal drumming older brother, he was surrounded by creative expression at a young age.

Portrait of Ian O’Neill

Ian O’Neill presented a video sculpture titled “Image.RGB” at the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase.

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“I always felt like [my art] was something I wanted to protect, try to do it as often as possible outside of studies to stay grounded and focused,” says O’Neill, who hails from Columbia.

When he came to Mizzou, he knew he needed to pursue studies outside his normal interests.

“What is something I wouldn’t be able to teach myself?” O’Neill wondered when considering fields of study.

“Economics is like connecting the pieces of a puzzle,” says O’Neill of his major. “Using a whole other side of my brain, really getting me to think about things from a different mindset.”

Lately, his art has inspired by artists such as Nam June Paik, widely considered the founder of video art, who seeks to reconcile our understanding of humanity with the digital world.

In his own work, O’Neill has been most fascinated by the digital image of self and finding new ways to engage his audience in interactive exhibits. He is particularly interested in expressing new ideas with older mediums of technology that have been phased out.

“As we move along, I’d like to do pieces that really bring people in and allow them to disconnect from everything else,” he said.

Although he said he would love to be disinterested in his digital presence, he feels a lot of pressure to maintain it — particularly amid the pandemic.

“If I could live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, that’d be awesome,” O’Neill says. “But it’s not practical anymore.”


Music to the Eyes
By Owen Krucoff

Growing up in Wildwood, Missouri, Kyle Yerby was never too far from art. His mother, an artist who painted with oils and acrylics, started him thinking about visual art from a young age — and often at a pretty advanced level.

Portrait of Kyle Yerby

Kyle Yerby presented a set of acrylic paintings at the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase.

Most people are familiarized with the colors of the rainbow from an early age, but the Yerby family went deeper.

“My mom would point out colors and say, ‘What color is this?’ and she’d say, ‘Oh, it’s ultramarine, it’s phthalo blue,’” Yerby said. “So even now, I look at colors in a way that confuses my friends sometimes.”

Yerby first took to painting with a Crayola watercolor set. After much begging, by middle school he was allowed to use his mom’s acrylics. Painting has been a pursuit of his ever since, and it’s what got him into the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase. But it’s far from his only artistic pursuit.

“I would say that (visual) art is one of my hobbies,” Yerby said. “It’s not necessarily my main hobby. It used to be that music was my main hobby, until it became my major.”
Yerby, a freshman at Mizzou, plays cello. As a hobby, he also writes poetry, short stories and plays. In high school, while visiting MU’s campus for a state cello competition, he learned about a music composition summer camp.

“I went (to the camp) and I just absolutely fell in love with the composition faculty and with composition in general,” Yerby said. “I also heard that they had a big scholarship for composers, so that really excited me.”

Once Yerby had been accepted to Mizzou, he earned a music composition scholarship. That sealed the deal.

In college, Yerby is still surrounded with art. His paintings showcase his wide range of talent.

“I am so excited to have my art featured in any competition,” Yerby said. “I’m not mainly a visual artist, so it’s cool to have my art recognized by someone else. It means a lot to me.”


Wild About Learning
By Rashi Shrivastava

Evann Twitchell, a senior from Columbia majoring in documentary journalism, always wanted to pursue a career in musical theatre. When she started going to the world-renowned True/False Film Fest in her hometown each year, she fell in love with documentaries as a storytelling medium.

Evann Twitchell portrait

Evann Twitchell submitted her short documentary film “Wild Folk” for the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase.

“They just seemed more immersive than reading a book about someone’s life, or just seeing photos from a trip abroad or hearing music from a place,” Twitchell says. “You can integrate all of those elements.”

In the backdrop of several dire issues that the world is facing today, she believes people need to find compassion for one another. Documentaries can ignite empathy by offering a glimpse into another person’s life, she says.

“It can be a really beautiful tool to build bridges between people and groups that otherwise might not understand each other,” she says.

Twitchell’s eight-minute documentary Wild Folk centers on a nature-based nontraditional school for children in Mid-Missouri. Education and learning have played crucial roles in Twitchell’s life, and she even worked as an outreach teacher teaching fine arts.

“I remember playing with roly polies in the dirt when I was little,” Twitchell says. ”I didn’t really fall in love with nature until late high school when some of my friends got into hiking and went to Colorado.”

Although Twitchell attended traditional indoor public and private schools growing up, she is fascinated by new techniques of learning that are rooted in nature and featured in her documentary.

“I’m the kid who loves to learn,” Twitchell says. “I’m going to soak up what you give me. But that’s not how every kid feels about school.”

Though Wild Folk is no longer operating its programs, the documentary has captured some precious moments of immersive learning.

“I wish I had more of a community that values the natural world, the way that Wild Folk does and engages with it,” Twitchell says. “And really sees the magic of the world that we’re in.”


Celebrating Sustainable Sensibilities
By Elizabeth Okosun

Claire Schneider’s upbringing on a small farm in Hermann, Missouri, contributes largely to her architectural studies major. Her mother is artistic, and her father works in construction. As someone who loves and values family, it’s no wonder that Schneider’s path is the perfect intersection of her parents.

Claire Schneider portrait

Claire Schneider’s interior and architectural studies submission “The Alfresco Abode” fuses modern design, nature and sustainable elements.

Schneider learned to grow an appreciation for nature, which is evident in her piece, “The Alfresco Abode.” Her artistic style mirrors her personality. Just like her, her style is influenced by the past, while keeping an eye on the future and incorporating it in her lifestyle.

The future comes into play with Schneider’s focus on sustainability. While she did grow up in a town that focused and celebrated the natural world, it was the University of Missouri that taught Schneider the importance of sustainability as it pertains to architecture. She took classes that taught her about the environment and preserving it. From there, she decided to make it a part of her architectural career.

“The Alfresco Abode” fuses the comfort and simplicity she craves with more modern elements of environmental awareness. An urban garden, playground and rainfall collection site surround the residence, a sprawling modern building. Every facet of the building serves a purpose, a hint to sustainability’s tendency for everything to have a function.

Schneider plans to expand her architectural knowledge by pursuing a master’s degree in landscape architecture this fall.


An Artistic Foundation
By Emma Moloney     

For the Visual Art & Design Showcase, photographer Tristan Sheldon utilizes the reductive qualities of framed, black-and-white photography to observe and explore “the innate aesthetic qualities that are unique to the two-dimensional world around us.” Sheldon’s work, titled “Foundation,” creates art out of the mundane and ordinary while using techniques that isolate his “subjects from context and emphasize their form and composition” to give his images “a sense of completion that the real-world subjects would not otherwise have.”

Tristan Sheldon portrait

Tristan Sheldon explores manmade and naturally occurring structures in his black-and-white photography.

Contrary to his subjects, however, there is nothing mundane, ordinary, or two-dimensional about this artist.

A Columbia native, Sheldon arrived at the University of Missouri after taking a few years to travel and a couple semesters of trial-and-error as an art major to discover his passions. An intermediate photography helped him home in, and Sheldon began to pursue his newfound interest toward a bachelor’s degree in fine Arts.

Sheldon has spent the past few years learning how to operate photography equipment, improving on the more technical aspects of the craft, and working on smaller projects. While he has been able to explore multiple mediums through coursework for his major, photography remains the only one that has truly “clicked.”

Outside of the arts, Sheldon enjoys rock climbing and spending time in the outdoors, and he hopes to incorporate his involvement with nature and environmentalist concerns into his photography work. Without even realizing it, Sheldon conveyed some of his interest in the outdoors within “Foundation,” and would like to continue to do so in future projects before graduating in May of 2022 and applying for graduate school.


Sorting Through Life’s ‘Tabs’
By Evan Musil

Seth Steinman has been involved in art his whole life. He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, where he was enrolled in a well-structured arts program at Hannibal High School. His acrylic painting “Woman in Orange” won Best of Show at a Hannibal Art Council contest and the work was featured on a local billboard.

Seth Steinman portrait

Seth Steinman manifests digital identities on three-dimensional space for his 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase submission.

“It was one of the first times I had painted a figure onto a larger canvas,” Steinman says.

But Steinman branched out when he chose Mizzou. The resources in the fine arts department — and MU’s nearby location down the highway — factored into his decision. Through his portfolio class with assistant professor Anna Wehrwein, Steinman was granted a studio space to experiment with his artistic vision.

“I was always interested in trying to find a body of work that I felt I could identify with,” he says.

He took interest in computer and phone screens, the private virtual realities many of us spend most of our time in. His work “Hey Siri, remind me to clear my browsing history” portrays the scramble of our online behavior and how it might represent our personal identities.

“Everyone’s got a million tabs open in their lives,” Steinman says. “[The work] contextualizes who that page is coming from generationally.”

A 50-year-old’s tabs would look very different from a 21-year-old’s, he explains. The acrylic and matte gel on wooden panels transforms the digital to physical and prompts a reflection of what defines who we are.

Steinman plans to immerse himself in these themes through other media as well.

“That’s a constant back-and-forth with what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s a battle of trying to find what works best for that specific work.” He hopes his work being presented in VADS sparks conversation about the internet and our lives.

Seth Steinman is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in painting and minor in art history. He’s expected to graduate in May 2022.


Comfort, Coziness and Creativity
By Emmy Lucas

Senior architectural studies major Olivia Derucki wants everyone to feel comfort through her interior design project, “HYGGE,” which is currently on virtual display at the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase.

Olivia Derucki portrait

Olivia Derucki’s interior design project “HYGGE” is meant to engender feelings of coziness and comfort.

Growing up in the Dallas area, Derucki and her family relocated to Oswego, Illinois. MU was the perfect choice for her and where her passion for art blossomed.

“I’ve always been really creative, and being able to turn that into a job spoke to me,” Derucki says.

With an emphasis in interior design, Derucki draws inspiration from architects, magazines, old buildings and Pinterest, to list a few. Her HYGGE project is an adaptive project that repurposes an older building — in this case the International Shoe Factory built in 1905 in Jefferson City. Derucki proposes various design concepts like apartments and a food fall, all of which center around the concept of HYGGE.

Hygge is a Danish word that describes the mood of coziness and comfort. Contentment is meant to flow through the entire spaces.

“I want everyone to feel that coziness and comfort when they enter that space,” Derucki says. “Everyone’s definition of comfort is different, so I left space for people to elaborate on it themselves.”

Language Arts
By Ian McManus

Pamela Montano, from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and has been living in the United States for two and a half years. After seeing Disney films as a child, she was immediately fascinated with animation.

Pamela Montano portrait

Pamela Montano is pursuing a career in animation.

“I was probably 7 or 8 years old,” Montano says. “Once I saw Mulan, I was inspired.”
After completing a degree in graphic design in Bolivia, she sought to further her education with a digital-storytelling degree. Her parents urged her to go to the United States.

With almost no knowledge of English, Montano spent her first seven months in the country focused exclusively on learning the language. After a brief stint at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville in fall 2018, she settled in at Mizzou. In fall 2019 she began working on the skills necessary for a career as an animator.

Pamela enjoys stop-motion animation and using her own drawings, as can be seen in her video, “English as My Second Language” at the Visual Art & Design Showcase. Her favorite stop-motion movies are The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline.

She’ll finish her degree in December and hopes to keep pursuing her education to obtain the skills necessary to work for an animation studio such as Pixar or DreamWorks. Because much of the animation work available is in California, she is interested in acquiring her graduate degree in the area. She knows she’ll have to keep sharpening her skills because her dream career is probably in the United States.

In her free time, she likes to draw, paint and hang out with fellow international students. With English out of the way, she’s also working on mastering French. If you’re learning a new language, she recommends reading lots of books in the new tongue, watching movies without subtitles and listening to music in the language you’re learning.


Defying Labels, Exploring Routes
By Cey’na Smith

Jessica Tifase, a senior from Houston majoring in digital storytelling and double minoring in film studies and art, enrolled at MU planning to pursue journalism. Yet she discovered she wanted more creative freedom.

Jessica Tifase portrait

Jessica Tifase won the Sager Braudis Gallery Scholarship & Exhibition Award for her photography collection “The Harvest.”

Growing up, she discovered her love for the arts through the people around her and their stories. In high school, Tifase had three years of yearbook and photography experience where she realized her passion for capturing interesting memories. She explored her diverse neighborhood, discovering stories and silenced voices of marginalized communities. Tifase wanted to create a space to highlight them.

Tifase submitted her collection of black-and-white photography “The Harvest” to the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase. She uses her artwork in different media to disrupt the conventional purposes of storytelling. Her ultimate goal is the heal the relationship between these communities and society through her photography.

“The lack of representation has always been something that never sat right with me,” Tifase says. “The older I get, the more disruptive I want to become. I no longer believe in bringing my chair to the table. I’m just going to make my own table and invite who deserves to be at the table.”

Beyond photography, Tifase enjoys spending quality time with friends, watching basketball and football games, and recently started skateboarding.

“I’m against labels,” Tifase says. “I explore all the facets of me.”

After graduating this spring, Tifase will continue her education at Virginia Commonwealth University in a master’s program for photography and film. She plans to continue to explore her voice.

“This is only the beginning,” Tifase says. “I’m excited to see where this route takes me.”


Joining the Conversation
By Sydney Moran

Kylee Isom is a junior arts major with an emphasis in photography. She grew up having her picture taken by her mom and spent most of her time in front of the camera. But Isom’s love for art took some time to develop. She attended West Plains (Missouri) High School where there wasn’t a lot of art education.

Kylie Isom portrait

Kylie Isom’s submission “HOME/BODY” is a collection of black and white self-portraits made with a large-format 4×5 film camera.

“I didn’t even know photo art existed,” Isom says. “I didn’t know this is how people communicated.”

Isom entered Mizzou as a psychology major. It wasn’t until she started taking art classes and studio classes that she fell in love with it.

“The more I learned about art and art history, the more I wanted to make,” Isom says. “Now there’s this balance of learning and making.”

Growing up, Isom said it wasn’t normal to like art. She started as a painter, but felt forced to paint things because people recognized her strengths. She said her community thought going to school to be an artist was the worst thing she could do.

“I would tell people I would study art and psychology,” Isom says. “I felt like I had to say psychology because I knew if I said I wanted to study art they would say, ‘No, no, no! What are you doing?’ ”

One of Isom’s goals is to create something that sparks controversy. She has a strong presence of women in her life. When she started to learn how photography is a means of expression and representation accessible to women, she wanted to be a part of the conversation. She became interested in feminist art of the ’60s and ’70s when women used photography to reclaim their representation in the art world.

“I constantly want to advocate my truth and advocate for my opinions because I came from an area where I was silenced,” Isom says.

Isom’s black-and-white photos explore beauty and feminism using different fabrics and textures.

“Photography is made for communication,” Isom says. “What better way to make people communicate than to talk about something controversial, especially something like women’s rights?”

Finding Familia
By Joey Miller

Missouri sophomore Maddy Gomez is relatively new to the world of art, specifically as a career option. The Texas native came to Columbia looking to be an ophthalmologist or a computer science major.

Maddy Gomez portrait

Maddy Gomez’s short film “Mariposa” tells the story of her family’s immigration to the United States.

When Gomez began taking art electives, she discovered an interest in telling stories. She looked into the journalism school as an option, but she didn’t like the reporting and news element. She then decided on digital storytelling to visually move people and make them “feel uncomfortable” through her work.

Mizzou’s art classes opened Gomez’s mind to how she copes with mental health in college. She has a passion for painting, drawing and photography and employs them as an outlet to express herself through life’s everyday struggles.

“I was using art as a form of therapy,” Gomez says.

This passion would branch into documentary-style storytelling pieces such as her 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase submission, “Mariposa.”

“Mariposa” tells the story of her family and a situation her relatives faced while trying to immigrate from Mexico to the United States. The video includes VHS footage Gomez received from her mother and uses audio from a phone conversation with her aunt to add an intimate element to the story.

Gomez says it has been a surreal experience having people take an interest in her work. She went to a large high school in Allen, Texas, and never had the spotlight on her. The feedback she has received on her work encourages her to push toward a career she didn’t envision until college.

“This has really proved to me that I have a future,” Gomez says. “I’ve grown confidence that, you know what, maybe I can go somewhere besides an IT company.”

Gomez puts a lot of her own personality into her art. She puts all her effort into her work and has helped her find herself and what she wants to do with her talent beyond college.

“Everything I create is not just to submit,” Gomez says. “It’s part of me.”


Making Landscape Art
By Alaina Hand

Sometimes the best art we create is not in our original plan.

Baylie Elder’s landscape-design work is being exhibited at the 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase. But she didn’t start college with this goal — or medium — in mind. Elder submitted her work after encouragement from her mentor, Tim Moloney.

Baylie Elder portrait

Baylie Elder submitted her landscape design project “A Case for Bocce.”

“I’ve always struggled to feel good about what I’ve created,” Elder says. “But my mentor recruited me for this. He had a lot of faith in me.”

When Elder first became interested in art years ago, it was in what she calls “traditional.” Then she took an introduction to plant science and greenhouse class her senior year of high school in Columbia.

“I really liked it, and I was like, maybe I should keep going with this,” Elder says. “Now I’m fully involved.”

Her love of plants is infused in every detail of her landscape design.

“I’ve been struggling with calling landscape ‘design art,’ which sounds kind of weird,” Elder says. “But coming from traditional art, it didn’t really feel like you can have creativity and show your kind of artistic view.”

Elder is now a junior studying plant science with two emphasis areas: horticulture and breeding biology/biotechnology. Both emphasis areas set her up well as someone not sure which route to take.

Elder’s exhibition work consists of three drawings and two videos. She says the recognition from VADS has given her a confidence boost.


From Hobby to Passion
By Jacqueline Lemp

Noah Wich began his junior year at the University of Missouri in the fall of 2020 after leaving his home in St. Louis. He transferred from St. Louis Community College where he developed a passion for journalistic photography.

Noah Wich portrait

Noah Wich found his career calling at Mizzou’s J-School.

“I studied under a professor with extensive journalistic photography experience, Karen Elshout, at St. Louis Community College,” Wich says. “She showed me it’s a path I really wanted to take.”

His love for photography brought him to Columbia, along with the well-known reputation of the journalism program.

“I’ve always had a passion for photography,” he says. “I started out with nature photography, but I really started in journalistic photography and taking pictures of people two years ago.”

After coming to the Mizzou, Wich found an opportunity to showcase what might be his career. He submitted a photo story to the Visual Arts & Design Showcase after seeing the contest advertised through the J-School.

His submission is titled “Two Faces of America” and includes photos the perspective of police and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I didn’t actually expect to get in,” Wich says. “I think the photo subjects speak for themselves. “This project showed me that if I get paid, I will be set.”

Wich is grateful to Elshout for helping him develop and pursue this love for photography.

“She helped me overcome my personal fears of taking pictures, and to assert myself and get the best possible photos,” Wich says. “It will be something I carry with me throughout my career.”