North Java artist first student to receive solo exhibit at GCC

Jan 27, 2019

BATAVIA — Six years ago, Matt Liebler picked up a graphite pencil, stared into the steely, majestic gaze of Aragorn and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring and started to draw.

He dragged his pencil tip across the paper to form the deep creases of worry on Gandalf’s forehead, the resolute calm of Legolas and the everlasting annoyance of Gimli.

In that first drawing, a copy of a “Lord of the Rings” movie poster, Liebler found his “precious.” He would let Frodo carry the Ring of Power to Mount Doom and begin his own quest to become an artist.

Now, he gets to show everyone how far his talent has come.

Liebler, 19, of North Java, is believed to be the first Genesee Community College student to receive his own solo art exhibit the school. A collection of his work can be found in the foyer of the Stuart Steiner Theatre, just outside the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery. That exhibition space is primarily used for group student shows.

“Generally, I reserve the lobby gallery to showcase student work,” said Mary Jo Whitman, director of the Steiner Gallery. Usually, it is a course instructor that approaches me to display a class project or a group of students’ work.”

But Liebler approached her on his own.

A simple question — “Can I show my work here?” — led to a review of Liebler’s work and a quick and enthusiastic “Yes!”

Whitman saw talent and potential. But more, she appreciated his initiative in displaying his work. That made her want to help him.

“I think it is a great opportunity for Matt to exhibit his work,” she said. “He wants to pursue a career in the arts, and this is a great learning experience for him. There is more to being an artist than just creating art; you have to learn how to display your work, how to find exhibition opportunities, what galleries are looking for in terms of proposals and portfolio submissions, and how to market yourself as an artist. Assisting him with a solo exhibition of his work has enabled me to work one on one with him and touch upon the other aspects that factor into a career in the arts.”

Liebler, a homeschooled student who graduated in 2017, works mostly in pencil, but also paints in watercolors and acrylics. His favorite subjects are landscapes and portraits.

The wall between the two entrance doors to the Steiner Theatre is lined with Liebler’s pencil portraits of his friends and family members. From his 9-year-old sister, Maria, to his cousin, Hannah, the faces are the ones Liebler sees most often. There is one exception: the portrait of Mother Teresa. But that drawing is visually striking, as the deep wrinkles in her hands and face illustrate Liebler’s great attention to detail.

“If I can make a portrait that looks like someone I know, and I can really recognize it and see that person, that’s satisfying,” Liebler said during a break between classes on Wednesday. “I love just getting the expression and the life in the portrait.”

Liebler began as a self-taught artist, doodling on any piece of paper he could find and creating cartoons with his brother. But when she showed an aptitude for art, he started taking private lessons. After finishing high school, he enrolled at GCC as a fine arts major. He recently switched to a digital art major and plans to pursue an arts career after school, even if he doesn’t know exactly what that is yet.

While he finishes his degree at GCC and tries to figure out what lies ahead after that, Liebler holds the distinction of having the first student solo show at the school. And he hopes that as his fellow students walk through the foyer, they stop to appreciate the time and effort he has put into his art.

“What I want to promote is beauty,” he said. “I hope they notice that. Even though life can be hard — it’s college; it’s hard — there can be beauty outside and in other people.”

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Check out more Liebler’s work at his website, Mattsterpieces.com.

By Matt Krueger, Batavia Daily News