University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Alum Comes to Aid of COE with Architectural Artwork

Alumnus Paul Palmgren, who graduated from UMass Amherst last year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, has been using his artwork to improve the College of Engineering in both an artistic and a humanitarian sense. Earlier this year, Palmgren worked with Executive Secretary Linda Smith of the Dean’s Office to exhibit five of his striking abstract works, all dealing with the relationship between humans and the architecture they create, in the newly upgraded conference room of Dean Ted Djaferis. Palmgren is also donating three works of art to the UMass Amherst chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Those three pieces will be auctioned off on May 1, during the annual EWB Kenya Night fund-raiser, to be held from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 18 Harkness Road in Pelham.

Smith characterized the college's collaboration with Palmgren as an opportunity to enhance the dean's space in an artistic manner for minimal cost, while promoting the artistic efforts of an alumnus.

For Palmgren, the Art Department at UMass Amherst allowed him the freedom to find himself after a long journey of self-discovery. “I graduated from Greenfield Community College in 2000, where I studied a wide range of fields that revolved around the arts," Palmgren says. "When I started at the community college I considered architecture as a possible career choice. I then started to think that graphic design would fulfill my urge to create while making a living that had a stronger connection to the arts. I soon discovered I did not want to create images based on other people’s ideas, I realized that I need to follow my own way. This only took me nine years to figure out, and in 2009 I graduated from UMass with my B.F.A.” 

The five works now hanging in the dean’s conference room provide five different lenses into Palmgren’s “own way.”

Four are in the same series of gouache-on-paper paintings. “The Refracted City” is the first, based on the idea of skyscrapers catching, bending, and reflecting light. “The World We Feel” is the second painting in this series and is derived, as Palmgren notes, “from Mother Nature and pipe lines.” A third and fourth work, “What’s Behind the Architecture” and “The Wall We Hit,” were both created to communicate the structures that humans make and the emotions that are involved.

The last work in the dean’s conference room is an acrylic-on-canvas painting called “Through the Glass.” As Palmgren explains, “This is the second painting in a series based on the idea that I could merge the metamorphic form I use with the architectural structure that has become a necessity for the composition of my paintings. This painting is not a new idea, but rather a new way of expressing the same idea.” 

All of Palmgren’s work conveys the intense philosophical thought behind it. “To me the paintings have always been about the human race and the environment we live in,” he says. “I am not trying to make a statement, but rather put forth a question about us and the way we live. It’s not about passing judgment, it’s about making people think. What I really find intriguing about painting in this manner is that everyone has a unique perception of events and images within the paintings. Just like looking into the clouds, one person may see a horse in the green grass, another may see the rabbit going down the hole. It all depends on the looking glass we see through.”

Anyone interested in viewing Paul Palmgren’s own Wonderland through five distinct looking glasses, on display in the dean’s conference room, can visit Linda Smith in Marston 125. (April 2010)