August 23, 2014

Unearthed: 2014 Senior Art Exhibition

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By Katie Dezes, A&E Editor

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The opening reception of this year’s Studio Arts Senior Thesis Exhibition took place Saturday at the Hand Art Center.

From 6 to 8 p.m., people gathered in the gallery to observe the artwork on display and support the graduating seniors.

The exhibit featured art by Gisela Fernandez, Rachel Mathes, Megan Mollé, Venezha Noriega, Ashleigh Stuart and Sam Valdez.

According to Valdez, this year’s art show was one of the best in years.

“I think that we all worked really hard and it showed; there was a really strong group of girls this year,” Valdez said. “Everyone had a voice, and even if you don’t know the person individually, I think you can really see a part of who that person is through the show.”

When describing the process of creating her senior project, Noriega said the senior artists bounced ideas off each other for a long time. “We all are on a search of what makes us us,” she said. “I think in this show everybody found that we are different, but kind of the same.”

Valdez compared her senior project experience to having a baby. “This entire project I felt like I was pregnant, and towards the end I just wanted it to be over with,” she said. But now that I see it, it does feel like I birthed something. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect, and I just really love it.”

Valdez and Noriega both explored ideas of death within their pieces. Noriega’s collection of pen and ink drawings, titled “Unavoidable,” was inspired by the loss of her cousin. “They are my way of getting over what happened,” she said.

Although her art includes death-like imagery with particular emphasis on skulls, Noriega explained in her artist statement that she did not want her artwork to produce fear.

“I prefer to maintain a jovial familiarity, a distinctive trait from my heritage, where Death is celebrated and welcomed as an old friend,” Noriega said. Instead, she said she wanted her viewers “while fixated with the visual components presented, to come to terms with the greatest certainty in our lives from which there is no escape.”

Similarly, Sam Valdez’s “Analysis of Death Through Material” reflects her feelings toward death. However, she does so in a very different way. Valdez wanted to use sculpture to achieve the same effect a painting does when it can “extract emotion from an audience beyond the elements and components it’s compiled of,” she said.

To do so, she created her own “ism” known as “Material=ism,” in which she breaks down and fragments materials.

“Throughout the work, everyday material is stripped from its original definition and significance and is transformed into texture, color and shapes,” Valdez said in her personal artist statement. “This allows the viewer to get lost in the work and no longer see individual objects, but instead feel the work engulf them.”

Continuing with the theme of death, Mollé’s “Nostalgic Daze,” which juxtaposes empty liquor bottles and photos, was inspired by the loss of her father as a child due to alcoholism.

“Working with these objects helps me deal with his absence by reminding me that being an alcoholic isn’t a flaw in his character, just an unfortunate situation that he lost control of and wasn’t able to escape,” Mollé explained. “Including realistically painted portraits of my father gives me an opportunity to form a sort of connection with him and experience him on my own, without the influence of my family’s stories and opinions of him.”

Using the transparency of glass and the transferring of images, Mollé also expressed the dreamy nature of memories. Overall, Mollé wanted to depict her own journey coming to terms with her fathers death, while producing a sense of loss others can relate to.

Fernandez’s “Native Foreigner- A Fragment of My Identity,” was also inspired by family memories.

“My work is a manifestation of my struggle to adapt to the mainstream values and expectations of U.S. society as a second generation immigrant,” Fernandez said in her project description. She expressed this idea by placing photos and documents representing her parent’s immigration behind windows of a small wooden house.

Just as wood reveals its history with its rings, Fernandez wanted to show her own history.

“Wood and I are alike,” Fernandez said. “My history is revealed through the values that I have acquired from my parents.”

Mathes also used natural elements in her work, “Recomposed,” but for a different reason.

In her artist statement, Mathes explained, “natural cycles of dispersal and reformation of matter defy human ideals of permanence, which we struggle with as living things intimately aware of our own imminent decomposition.”

She explored this idea of decomposition by creating clay sculptures of feet and exposing them “to various environments to begin their decay before exhibition.” This process is demonstrated with the exhibition of photographs along with the sculptures on display.

“The industrial grey sculptures are filled with organic elements visually bridging the gap between man-made and natural,” Mathes said. After the exhibition, Mathes plans to put the feet back into the environment where they will naturally decompose.

Stuart said her project, titled “Entanglement,” uses nature “as a means to depict the more self-destructive aspects of our personalities” in her oil paintings.

“The need to bury our imperfections and failures is more destructive than the transgressions are themselves,” she said. “I depict the human figure caught in a conflict between trying to escape these imperfections without being consumed by them.”

Stuart uses parasitic vines to “represent inner psychological struggles” that people find so difficult to escape.

The artwork of these six seniors will be on display in the Hand Art Center until April 5. The gallery’s hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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