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Love is More Powerful Than Either You or I

By: Olivia Ryckman | Published: May 07, 2024 | Categories: Crossroads
Love is More Powerful Than Either You or I

Whitney Fair’s art was displayed at the Graduate Student Showcase as a love letter, and a goodbye.

Born in Joplin and raised in Carthage, Fair became an artist in middle school by buying canvasses and cheap acrylic paint, but he found his true passion when he enrolled at Missouri Southern in 2005, taking sculpting classes from professors Frank Pishkur and Scott Murray.

“Sculpting just kind of grew and grew,” said Fair. “MSSU is where my creative side was nurtured and guided in a direction to where technique met ideas, and both grew to form the artist I am now.”

Fair graduated in 2009 with his Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in Sculpture. A week later, he met his husband, Todd. They instantly hit it off and eventually relocated to Georgia for ten years. While they dabbled in various industries like hospitality and real estate, Fair never stopped creating even with a lack of dedicated studio space.

“I had to make art around the house, even converting my closet into space occasionally,” said Fair. “But I never stopped being an artist. I was always creating something, and it became a kind of adventure.”

While many mediums and artists inspired Fair such as fashion designer Alexander McQueen, film  director Tim Burton, and visual artist Christian Boltanski, rewatching R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” music video sparked inspiration for his next big project.

“I was inspired by Director Tarsem Singh’s visually striking, saturated colors and the images of St. Sebastian with the arrow in his chest,” said Fair. “These elements made me consider the abstraction of arrows and hearts, which eventually gestated into the concept of a relationship’s breakdown. I was thinking about how to make these ideas into smaller sculptures, how can I create paintings that I can easily store, but I didn’t start working on them until I moved back to Joplin.”

In May 2021, Fair returned to Joplin to care for his mother with plans to drive back to Georgia to celebrate his and Todd’s birthdays and anniversary, their “birthday-birthdayanniversary” as Fair called it.

But that week, Todd unexpectedly passed away.

“It was rough,” said Fair. “I had a great support system in Georgia, but I had to leave because it wasn’t home without Todd.”

Upon moving back to Missouri, Fair visited MSSU’s art department in August 2021 and met Scott Murray once again.

“It was as if no time passed at all, visiting again,” said Fair. “Scott always made the classroom feel like home.”

By the end of the visit, Fair had enrolled in an art class. That’s when the broken hearts and arrows from “Losing My Religion” reemerged. Between socializing and grieving, Fair worked in secret. Just in time for Fall 2021 semester finals, Fair had three pieces prepared, perfectly lit and ready for display.

“No one knew I had them,” said Fair. “I don’t think anyone expected me to have them prepared, but Scott and Frank were impressed by the work, and both told me I had to be a part of the master’s program.”

For the past two years, Fair has been pursuing his master’s certificate, creating more pieces that still follow the theme.

Six more sculptures were made for the Graduate Student Showcase in addition to the three pieces from Fall 2021. Attendees toured a graveyard that explored the complexity of grief and love: Hearts were served on silver platters or in gold pedestal bowls with others pinned to the wall and pierced by an arrow or twelve. One hand rose from a bouquet of black roses while another presented a bleeding heart from beyond the grave. This exhibit was to push viewers to their limits, to make them think. The text circling the gold pedestal bowl states the message of the exhibit: “Love is more powerful than either you or I”.

“Todd was a good man, a caring man. He was the life of the party. Even if life wasn’t ideal, there was always something to be happy and positive about,” said Fair “Being around people and toying with this work is how I survived everything better.”

This exhibit invited attendees to experience the universality of grief. Fair hopes that others can view his art and find release from their own pain.

“I’m doing this for Todd, too,” said Fair. “I plan to pursue my MFA after this and teach college art courses. I’m carrying on and continuing the life that we wanted to live. Even though he’s gone, our connection will never die—I think he’ll always be with me.”