Kenyon College

Tess Matthews


Tess Matthews

Milton, MA

Kenyon Class of ’15, Studio Art major with a concentration in environmental studies


When I am at home in Boston, I spend lots of time on public transportation. It started in ninth grade, when I switched to a new school and had to take two different MBTA lines, a train and a bus to get there. Sometimes, as I made my way to school, my mind would wander to the stranger sitting across from me. What was he doing on the orange line at 6 AM? There was one girl who I noticed a lot. She had a plaid jacket and was probably around my age. I felt sort of attached to her, because we were both tired kids with heavy backpacks filled with textbooks and soggy turkey sandwiches. At least, that’s what I imagined was in her backpack. Now, when I take the orange line, it’s different. I listen to a Radiolab podcast and play Doodle Jump on my iPhone. I’m glad my 6 AM commuting days are over, but I don’t really notice the strangers as much.

Even within a small community like Kenyon, I am surrounded by people I do not know. In Impressions, I have challenged myself to pay attention to the fleeting encounters I have every day by creating portraits of different faces in the crowd. Each stranger I observe is transformed into a unique linoleum print. Displayed together, they evoke the countless, constant interactions I have with individuals who are unfamiliar to me.

It is not possible to fully understand someone in a matter of seconds or minutes, but the encounters I have with strangers rarely exceed this amount of time. My portrait prints draw attention to this lack of understanding by reflecting my immediate perception of the people in them rather than what they actually look like. Each print in Impressions begins as an instinctive contour line drawing of a person I observe. Usually, it is not long before the stranger I am drawing turns around or walks away, so I force myself to work quickly and resist the urge to alter and erase. The process of transforming the initial sketches into individual linoleum prints mounted on plywood blocks allows me to produce objects with weight and intentionality. I want to emphasize the tension between the momentary interactions I have with strangers and the permanence of these portrait prints.

I hope that viewers of Impressions will discover something uniquely whimsical about each person I depict. To me, these people are strangers, but perhaps they will recognize a friend among the faces in the crowd.


–Tess Matthews, ‘15