Professor presents thoughtful film discussion as part of art exhibition

By Jacob Baker

The NIU Art Museum hosted studio art professor Nina Rizzo who spoke at a thought-provoking film screening of “At Eternity’s Gate” that bridged the film to her own work as a painter Jan. 28 at Jack Arends Hall.

The film “At Eternity’s Gate,” starring Willem Dafoe as renowned painter Vincent van Gogh, takes a look at van Gogh’s later life. Julian Schnabel, the writer and director of the film, is also a painter himself. 

The way Schnabel tells van Gogh’s story is unique and surreal. The audience spends a lot of time alone with van Gogh, mostly through a shaky camera. This puts the viewer alongside the artist to experience his life firsthand. Schnabel uses the shaky camera technique in a lot of different ways like point-of-view shots, extreme close-ups and distorting the lower half of the frame throughout the film. 

Rizzo’s path as an artist started in high school painting theater sets, Rizzo said. After some time away at the American University in Washington D.C., she came back to pursue her bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while pursuing her artistry more seriously. It was in 2006 that she was hired as a professor at NIU.  

Rizzo said she went back and forth while picking a film for the event, but the core of “At Eternity’s Gate” served all the purposes she needed in terms of an artist who paints. Van Gogh’s work may not have been a direct inspiration, but color theory, the influence of nature  and the expressive and emotive use of color have all played a major role in her paintings, she said. 

Most of her knowledge about van Gogh resided in a combination of films and books. During the discussion before and after the screening, Rizzo opened up about her vast knowledge on van Gogh.

As a person who didn’t know much about van Gogh besides the basics and his major works, the combination of the film and Rizzo’s discussion allowed the event to be an enjoyable and learning atmosphere. 

Rizzo said she dedicates what time she can to continuing her passion in art and painting. 

“Because of the academic schedule, the busiest time is the summer and the winter break where everyone’s in the studio.” Rizzo said, “We get a lot of solid work all at one time in the studio and that makes a big difference, and it’s very valuable. 

Rizzo said she wants to continue hosting events like these with the Art Museum, and the year of 2020 is already planning itself.

“Van Gogh with his 75 paintings in 80 days is extremely prolific,” Rizzo said, I’m in the beginnings of 2020 now where I’m trying to set out the year for this body of work.”