Student Spotlight: Kevin Soraci ’18, painter and engineer

Soraci sees painting as a way to engage with modern culture conceptually.

by Holly Sung | 11/9/17 12:00am


There are many people who paint, but there are not many who use emoji as a source of inspiration — Kevin Soraci ’18 is both. A studio art and engineering double major, Soraci has been painting for about seven years. Although he can’t recall how he got started, he remembers instantly falling in love with the sense of calm that painting gives him. For Soraci, painting is a way to engage with our culture conceptually, he said. 

The topics that Soraci chooses to paint vary greatly depending on what catches his attention at any given time. He has done a series of night paintings, focusing on cars and cities and light; he has also done paintings of farmers and workers. More recently, his theme has been contemporary social media, social language and how he sees them both affecting our interaction and society. 

“I guess I observed a lot of distractions coming from cell phones and certainly some downsides and side effects of social media — how it can be used to disparage people and how a lot of bad things come from that,” Soraci said. “There’s an overall superficiality coming from our dependency on it, especially now that it a big part of our lives.”

Soraci said that rather than simply painting something that he sees, he strives to engage with the message underneath and keep social context in mind. Such passion and talent for art has been felt by those around him as well.

Luke Brown ’18, one of Soraci’s close friends, said that he notices the strong sense of intension and meaning in Soraci’s artwork. 

“[Soraci] is someone who always loves being challenged,” Brown said. “I think his art is one of the ways that he pushes himself to grow as a person. He really wants to be able to communicate as effectively as possible what is in his mind to the people seeing his art. And he does this with a desire to challenge the observer to think or feel differently. He’s also always looking for feedback on his art, jokes, weird ideas and way of perceiving the world. He is also one of the most self-disciplined people I know.”

Studio art professor Colleen Randall, who has taught Soraci in studio art classes, called him a talented and hard-working student. 

“He showed exceptional talent and interest [in art] and worked it out so that he could do a double major, which made me very happy,” she said. “He is very mature in his conceptual grasp of art and his ambition for his work is very demanding of himself. He’s rigorous in his practice, and he contributes a lot to the caliber of work that goes on in the classroom.”

Randall said that Soraci’s passion for and connection with his art makes him a unique student.

“I think he loves what he does and you can see that he’s motivated by that passion and interest rather than it being a class or a job,” she said. “He connects to the work that way, which is what really makes him special.”

Besides his unique personal connection with his art, Randall said that Soraci is an original thinker when it comes to the topics on which he wishes to focus.

“He is interested in using contemporary ideas like emojis and images from animation or digital technology, but the challenge is to try to embody complex human emotions in his paintings using these imageries,” she said. “He usually has self-portraiture or some kind of figurative element that he composes with these emojis. [Soraci] uses interesting figure ground relationships and such to express the reality of contemporary life but also the humanity that is timeless for all of us.”

One of his recent pieces, a painting of an emoji-inspired lamb, hangs in the third floor hallway of the Black Family Visual Arts Center. The artwork shows the lamb’s relationship with a human, who is holding a rope tied around the lamb’s neck. According to Soraci, it was inspired by the power of symbols he noticed while studying another painting. 

“I was studying a painting where there is a lamb on the table,” Soraci said. “The legs are tied with rope, and the background is completely black — it was a painting that symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I was just really struck by how much meaning could come out of a single symbol.”

Soraci said the Guggenheim Museum’s recent decision to pull an exhibition that featured videos of animal cruelty also influenced his piece, and he considered the question of acceptable boundaries of art during the piece’s creation.

“So I decided to use the animal imagery to explore that question, and the painting resulted in two ideas coming together to express contemporary language — emoji and sheep,” Soraci said.

Soraci only has a few terms left at Dartmouth, but he hopes to continue painting after he graduates. Although his post-college career will most likely be in the engineering field, he plans to continue painting for the rest of his life. 

“One of the main things [Soraci] gets out of being creative besides being challenged is having a lot of fun,” Brown said. “He has a certain quirky sense of humor, and he loves entering that zone of beginning something creative not knowing what’s going to come out of it. He’s a risk taker with creativity.”