Painting Department Spring 2020 Virtual Exhibition
This year’s final exhibition represents students throughout the department with work that embodies our commitment to a diversity of ideas, materials, and subjects. It also represents the resilience of our students as they confronted the dramatic conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, by picking up and re-inventing their studio practice.
BEHIND OPEN DOORS: Senior Studio
The stay at home orders imposed in March of this year became the leverage for a re-examination and a clarification of these artists’ practice. The reduction in studio assets and the drastic social distancing protocols in our city forced a renewed focus on the meaning of making for these students. The portfolios offered here provide a glimpse of our students’ struggle and their ability to make sense of the situation through their work and process.
Constraints and limitations often push creative people to become more creative and adaptive in their execution of work. The side effects of this pandemic are no one’s ideal… but perhaps we can find opportunity in this to push our creativity, to adapt. This body of work grew from a limitation: being only at home. This collection of paintings found content in the minutiae of my home life, something I seldom examined previously. These paintings exist within a similar space to most of my prior work. They employ a familiar material process and consistent/adjacent aesthetic. However, these works are far more reduced, as I sought to pare down my paintings, to focus on color relationships, opacity, and shape language in a way I hadn’t (at least directly), in quite some time.
My work focuses on intense emotional experiences, often swinging between very positive and very negative affects. These are communicated through the creation of scenes fitted together by the adaptation of visual, emotional, and narrative material that I have gathered in watching films, particularly horror films. These scenes are often depicted in an incongruous, inconsistent way with the use of a variety of drawing and painting materials. These drawings and paintings are frustrated, forced into an ambivalent position non-consensually, which mirrors my own frustrated and ambivalent position as a transmasculine individual. The work, similarly to my own life, is uncomfortable occupying a position between two points, no matter how it may ultimately be beneficial. I try to channel my own feelings of vulnerability, desire, and hurt, particularly in regards to my own identity. I love a romance, and I love a melodrama. Going over and over a narrative and retelling it with various authorities and personas is both an analytical practice and a romantic means of getting closer to the desired object. There is a play between biographic distance and emotional intimacy between me and the source material I work with – the aesthetic and surface-level distinctions allow for psychological safety while I am working on the pieces. This safety allows me to engage emotionally even deeper than I could before, which makes the act of creating a scene deeply cathartic to me.
Stretched canvas is often mistakenly thought of as the beginning or origin when creating a painting. However, it actually must be created by human hands. Similarly, there’s no such thing as “virgin” wilderness. The landscape has been modified by human actions since time immemorial, long before the arrival of Europeans onto these soils. Turf grass is only the most recent iteration. My work, regardless of medium, is often concerned with surface and layers. In this most recent work I have “buffed out” the most recent layer, the imported European turf grass, in order to expose what lies beneath: native prairie.
My process begins with selection. I observe my surroundings and pick out the materials that hold my interest. A material can be anything, an object, an image, a video clip, or an idea. Materials like mirrors, rocks covered in glitter, and unusual coins are recurring subjects because they vacillate between the magical and the banal. The choices exist outside of conventional hierarchies. My collection of materials is a library that is constantly evolving as additions and subtractions are made. As things come into my studio they are absorbed into my practice, and they stay in the studio until they no longer serve a purpose. Works often begin as a pile of things and are formed simultaneously influencing one another. Tools are ways of exploring these materials, and are equally important. Tools can be things like cameras, mirrors, attachment methods, and rules or limitations. Tools and systems evolve with and sustain the process. Titles are a function of the work, and I collect titles just as I do any other material. My process is as controlled as it is intuitive. It utilizes discovery, and involves a collaboration between the materials, the space, and me.
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To wish, as an artist, is to desire what you don’t have. While shifting my practice into a completely different setting focused on the home, I played pretend and I read. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit has been my anchor to trying to make sense of the world right now. Diving into the unknown has been a substantial part of my moving forward. Considering the history of wish fulfillment with painting, as well as being inside, I started a series of furniture drawings. This avenue led me to explore the possibilities of design and function. The shift to the home reflects my desire to be comfortable in the situation at hand.
In exploring a non-binary self, my drawings and paintings use floral forms, internal landscapes and physical boundaries to express a range of personal experiences and playful experiments. I manipulate and translate aestheticized floral forms through overlapping imagery and complex patterns as a means of making the images more specific and personal. Using color, form, and reference of the floral, I navigate “feminine” aspects as a way to begin neutralizing them and expanding the definition of self. I use gestural lines and repetitive forms to confuse and complicate internal space. It is impossible for me to not engage with the rules and conditions of society when exploring a nonbinary state. These works are my way to gain a sense of agency while completely giving up aspects of myself that are deemed ‘feminine’. Celebration, acceptance, confusion, and anxiety are all states that my paintings and fabric forms convey. The allure of color and shape engages the viewer visually and personally, allowing for the definition of self and self-expression to expand. These playful and personal experiments allow for me to claim agency over my own identity.
In my work, I am focusing on what the world may look like in a parodied or a mutated version of our present day. In our current remote studio situation, I have most recently been appropriating famous pieces of artwork like the Mona Lisa and American Gothic to create characters loosely based on the bizarre creature I sculptured to interact with apocalyptic landscape sculptures. Those pieces were the main focus of my studio work on campus earlier this year. I chose the paintings I did because of their recognizability even in today’s modern media as parodies of themselves or homages as historical markers in the art world. I call these paintings the New World Series because they are meant to be a funhouse mirror reflection of our world in a sense. These creatures are reflections of what we could have been or what we truly are and leave open the idea of alternate variations of these works.
Growing up, I always had a hard time telling the truth. The first argument my mom and I had was about me expressing that I just wanted to be bad. It was only the second grade, and I was tired of being good. As a kid, I avoided conflict at all costs. I was so obedient my mom had no idea how obsessed I was with her biker and bartending friends, their tattoos, and leather jackets. I used to sneak away and watch her VHS of Grease because I assumed she wouldn’t let me watch it. However, I didn’t truly harness my “rule the school” energy until I realized I was trans, and that in order to get the help I needed, I was going to have to have some pretty uncomfortable conversations. Only once I understood the responsibility I had to myself, to be honest, was I able to make truly confessional work. After putting down the oil painting brushes and picking up art-making methods that allowed me to play with fire and noxious chemicals could I remember what it was like to make work for me, and not for someone else’s approval. My acetone transfers are autobiographical accounts of my life. I seek to create my own reality as much as I do my own fiction. As an adult, art no longer functions as a means to escape from life, but a reason to live it.
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Big Tex creates work that presents itself in a multitude of media through a radical and diverse tool belt of conceptual material. Tex uses archival research, queer histories, and childhood memories to continually variegate his array of attributing material. During the COVID-19 pandemic Tex has continued to build on this personal library of material. This attributing material manifests itself in literature, zines, performances, and personas. He assigns new queer meaning to western regalia such as cowboy hats, boots, whips, and spurs. Tex’s work rejects the common sentiment held by the post-AIDS era LGBT community who sought out to normalize themselves and assimilate into heteronormative culture after devastation. His work subverts adherence to heteronormativity by pastiching straight rituals and traditions such as the nuclear family.
My studio work revolves around acts of discovery, curiosity, and play, and consists of an interest in found and collected materials. Much of my work in the past has involved gathering available or accumulated items and assembling them as sets for still lives or as elements to be pared down and utilized in three-dimensional collages. With an underlying interest in hip hop music and sampling culture, my current work reflects upon the source of a material as well as my own personal interpretation of or experience with it. These reflections are translated through poetry and other writings, as well as in minimal line-drawings that act as a “key” to understanding pieces of the history of the objects or installation, or offer a different lens into the work. I enact a kind of “self-sampling” by utilizing scraps and bits from old paintings or studio experimentations, and then recontextualizing or replacing the objects in a new and fresh way. Change and evolution of form are important to the way I work in studio, so often the physical work shifts and takes different forms, however a keen interest in color, materiality, and provisionality are always present in my work.
This body of work examines ideas of anxiety and vulnerability. I am exploring the relationship between my hands and the use of non-traditional materials and the tension that comes with their use in unconventional ways. The work that I make alludes to the complexity of our bodies through ambiguous representations – the presentations of the work offer us a relationship with the forms while provoking undertones of trauma and tragedy.
Moving to a remote studio provoked a change of context in my work. In the form of photography, we can experience the work in public space, yet privately. Unlike public work, this context is intimate.
This work claims a space in which they can communicate remotely in a pseudo-human way. Whether it is shown thrown across a sidewalk, or hung from a knob as if it’s reaching but can’t open the door, this work explores moments of discomfort and confusion captured in the raw.
In my paintings, drawings, knits, and glasswork, I explore pattern and color and how they interact with perception. My process includes repeatedly sketching patterns to determine the proper canvas size and then using various watercolor studies to determine palette. My intent is to explore color and shape relationships while allowing room for new discoveries to appear naturally within the two visual processes in my work.
My process is largely inspired by my grandmother’s quilts. Growing up around her I was surrounded by colors and patterns. Through watching her process, I have an understanding of how all elements must be taken into consideration. The use of patterns and grids also stems from wanting to help her, so I would read quilting and sewing books. These things lead me to a methodical thought process where I break down my work into pieces and construct it layer by layer. From sketch to study to oil painting there are many moments of change, alteration, and discovery. Bringing to life the delightful feeling of working next to a loved one. My work connects to viewers visually but it connects to me like a tangible memory.
My studio practice is indebted to everyday phenomena. There is an emphasis on looking, analyses, and emotion within my work, as I catalog architectural forms and aspects of the interior landscape. The ceilings and floors of interiors, as well as recurring forms such as blinds and vents are primary subjects because of their neutrality. These sources have the ability to remain familiar once abstracted through digital and analog processes, layering, and mark-making, with material dictating the outcome. Translucent surfaces, neutral tones, and subtle shifts in color lend themselves to emulating phenomenological light and begin to soften these presented subjects. The work itself aims to convey a likeness of space and form, presenting what is familiar in an effort to redirect attention to the subtleties of the everyday.
Textures and colors have always attracted me. Within my work, I try to create or recreate textures around me through the interaction of color, thickness of substrate, and size. I add, subtract, and place my pieces within different sets. This idea of reorienting has more recently taken hold more substantially after the COVID-19 lockdown. With my little 4”x4” disintegrations I have been taking them out into the world seeing how they interact with the textures of which inspired them.
My work taps into psychological grey areas that exist within thoughts and situations embedded in our subconscious, some that may be deemed unethical or taboo. Using a blend of drawing, painting and collage, I interrogate memory, fantasy, and the meaning of power dynamics. I question what it means to have power, if power is inherently evil, and if abuse of power is inevitable. My work focuses on the perspective of girlhood, coming of age, and the disruption of innocence. Being impressionable to the world and hungry for experience, I aim to find where the boundaries of blame lie within public discourse. My work questions societal norms such as domestic, midwestern, and suburban boredom and what desire and longing means. I explore these themes using uniforms, old archived photographs, and sexually explicit content.
I’ve been considering the use of color to evoke certain emotions or mind spaces to impact the reading of the image as if to be looking at a moment from the past through rose-tinted glasses. I rewind the film of life experiences and pause in the turmoil that shapes us. I find there is often a foreboding, fearful and apprehensive mood in my work; a feeling that something bad will happen. On the flip side, I think moods that are welcoming and awe-inspiring, like delight, pleasure, admiration, and reverence to be potent emotions I wish to make up the foundation that the dread is built upon. I find the synonyms and antonyms of the word ‘menace’ to be particularly interesting in context of my work. Words like danger, risk, intimidation, and jeopardy live alongside words like comfort, delight, pleasure, and blessing. I think it’s that relationship between these positive and negative states that amplify the menacing mood and put a cloyingly sweet filter of color over something that might be otherwise horrifying.
By exploring the dichotomy between soft and childlike themes and then pain and danger, I try to tap into a realm in between the authentic conscience, how we remember and perceive things around us, to that of a world of fantastic narrative based in reality. I aim for my work to settle with the fact that it does not take a blatant side in tense situations but exhibits the situation for the viewer to partake in as a voyeur. It puts the burden of judgement onto the viewer, so the viewer is to discern what it is they are seeing and how they must come to terms with it; the things in life that happen that we do not want to acknowledge happening.
My practice is based on response and intuition. Since moving my studio home, this has become even more central to my practice. How will the current conditions of displaying work affect how my paintings are viewed? How can the documentation of a painting or drawing speak of the conditions in which it was made? In reaction to these questions, I started documenting my work in new settings. My work has always been influenced by the things around me. So, I’m showing those things in the documentation.
When making a painting, each mark is a response to the one made before. The conditions of only being able to show work virtually has added new layers of response to my process. Now, creating a set, documenting the work, editing or distorting the photo, and using the file to create digital collages are all-new ways for me to make marks.
My work has always had its roots in the Earth. A continuous theme within my work are representations of unethical systems and industries that have gone corrupt in our society at the welfare of humanity, animals, and the Earth, often representing subjects, mainly animals, humans, and plants oppressed by social and political forces beyond their control. Some large influences that have affected my work include environmentalism, animal rights, natural history and science- mycology, biology, ecology research – specifically plant intelligence and communication, science infographics, botanical illustrations, benefits of microbes and fungus, and mycelium networks. Growing up in the rise of global warming and late capitalism; watching the decline and disappearance of nature and economic corruption has had a huge impact on me and has ultimately been the heart of my work. I want to use art as a catalyst for social and environmental change through emotionally impactful painted subjects, which are often animals or endangered organic life losing their habitats. Activism for clean water, air, and earth are often resembled through the largest contributing factors of today’s climate change and city pollution problems. I work with images from the real world for grander impact, often appropriating images I find of the horrendous evidence of the traumatic climate change happening. Because of this, photography and collage has become a large part of my drawing process by compiling from ideas, imagery, and references from many places.
My practice revolves around the process of call and response between the external world and my own inner one. My work draws from the idea of a subconscious connection, a correspondence between the individual and a collective mind. Within this sphere is the exploration of the macro and micro: from the phenomenological experience of having a body, to the cosmological or metaphysical forces that control our universe. I mediate my classical training in representational painting with abstraction, which is concerned with a more direct, honest response to the world. Implementing chance operations, opening up my work to the possibilities inherent in chaos, I am indebted to both Surrealist philosophy and the improvisational action of abstract expressionism. Directed by my intuition, I follow a path of connections within material or concepts until some part of the mystery is revealed. The intention is not to produce a specific result, but to increase the likelihood of generating an empathetic response from myself and the viewer, a method of attracting ideas.
In my paintings, drawings, collages, and quilts I represent a process of world-building through the observation and subsequent resampling of the world around me. I think about representing my environment in a new way by curating a space that engages with the uncanny as well as topics of childhood and playfulness. I consider how a built space shifts with the shrinking of the viewers’ eye and how that affects a viewer’s understanding of imaginary space. How does a space become more or less believable when it undergoes changes in scale and material? I set up a non-narrative structure that utilizes specificity in mood and atmosphere to prompt an emotive response to imaginary spaces through the use of material, mark, and color pallet.
My studio practice has included making variations of paintings including forms built up to flat images based on botanical and minimalist aesthetics and their considerations. Lately I have alternated between utilizing both analogue and digital mediums. This has included newer processes for me such as digital painting that have different options that I had not considered previously. Thread based techniques have been aspects of my studio process included knitting, crochet, weaving, embroidery, basket making, Celtic knotting, and macramé. Integrating traditional and contemporary approaches in visual representation has been an element of what I find interesting. Themes that I have reflected on have included contemplation regarding low maintenance, daily life and its perceptions, simplicity, and ornamentation, and a reference to oasis, retreat, haven, & refuge. These topics and their themes have helped guide my recent studio practice.
This gallery offers a glimpse of the student work from our two sophomore studios. This work represents the students’ beginning explorations of a personal language and studio process. Their experiments in material and content that will inform their development throughout their time in the Painting department.