Local professor starts tattoo art project to honor late husband

MU professor takes on the idea of grief in a project dedicated to her husband’s memory.


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On April 6, 2015, adjunct professor Eric Sweet died suddenly from a heart attack, leaving behind his wife and many loyal students. His wife Catherine Armbrust, a fellow artist and educator, began her project 500 Tattoos of 500 Drawings of One Cup as a way to preserve Sweet’s legacy and artwork.

“It was his project to begin with,” Armbrust said. “Often artists get stuck in their projects and look for [a] way to get out of their rut. So, he decided to take this book, 500 Cups: Ceramic Explorations of Utility and Grace, and he traced all the contours of these ceramic cups. He essentially appropriated someone else’s work and turned it into a drawing.”

Sweet’s art explored the ideas of appropriation and creativity. His opinion was that there is no such thing as originality or creativity, that all ideas are influenced from what came before it. The original 500 Drawings of One Cup project highlighted this, serving as a commentary on these thoughts.

“What Eric and I talked about a lot was the idea of originality,” Armbrust said. “He would always say there’s no such thing as originality. That refers to the fact that we’re always influenced by everything that came before us. He did quite a few tracing projects based on this idea.”

Armbrust included the original 500 Drawings of One Cup project in a book at one of her first shows after Sweet’s death, titled Visible Mending. The show also included other pieces inspired by Sweet’s work, life and death. During the show, some of his students came up to Armbrust asking if they could get his cup drawings tattooed on them and that is when Armbrust’s take on the project was born.

“A couple of his really special students came up to me and said, ‘We love these drawings,’” Armbrust said. “‘We’ve been wanting to get tattoos. Would it be okay if we got tattoos of a couple of these cups?’ One of them did, and it was beautiful, and a few others started getting tattoos of his other pieces. We were laughing about it because Eric always said anything could be an art project if you could talk about it, so I decided to turn that into my art project.”

Armbrust then started a (Facebook page)[https://www.facebook.com/500tattoos/] as well as a section on her own art website as a place where people could claim a cup to be tattooed. As the project began to pick up traction, people also used the page to share the results and comment on others who had participated. Her art project, which had originally began as a way to honor her husband, took on its own life and meaning as the page and project slowly transformed into a community-wide space for people to share and express their grief.

“Culturally, we don’t train people on how to deal with grief,” Armbrust said. “We touch people, we send our love, but we aren’t taught how to confront it. So we often feel like we have to keep quiet about it. I think that making myself vulnerable was a huge part of the project. I want that to be intentional because I want others to know that it’s safe to be vulnerable and to grieve.”

To get involved in the 500 cups project, Catherine’s personal website, which contains pictures of the cups as well as a link to the Facebook page, can be found (here)[http://faculty.missouri.edu/armbrustc/catherinearmbrust/Collaborations/Pages/500_Tattoos.html]. If someone is unable or unwilling to sign up for a tattoo, Catherine also started the Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship that, when it meets its $25,000 goal, will fund future students who decide to study printmaking or printmaking traditions. The website to donate can be found (here.)[https://mizzougivedirect.missouri.edu/Item.aspx?item_id=252]

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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