The MFA and MDes Thesis Exhibition now on display at the Henry Art Gallery marks the culmination of these talented graduates’ studies at the University of Washington. But as Lauren Palmor states regarding the term “culmination,” the exhibition “is but a way station on the road towards ultimate accomplishments, deeper reflection and heightened confidence.” The diverse works reflect the students’ exploration of artistic dialogues, personal narratives, and the creative process, often breaking the mold of the majors in which they were created. The artists discussed here are Vanguard Seattle’s selections from the thesis exhibition.
The mediums of concrete, steel and motor oil instantly conjure mental images of labor and industry. Jared Bender’s piece speaks to a personal family history and the seemingly impending death of the bookbinding industry. The tools and items captured in concrete act as hieroglyphics of the artist’s family’s lineage in manual labor. Bender creates an abridged version of this history by playing with texture and form. The recessive and advancing elements create interesting shadows and dimensionality effects. The items incite questions of presence while the medium deals with permanence. Lineage: Five Chapters is a monument to the changing landscape of industry and labor as well as the artist’s specific background. Bender’s unique language is poignant, but the visual appeal of the piece stands on its own as well.
Dakota Gearthart prioritizes the physical experience of viewing artwork. Her piece The Observatory of One to Another Without Doubt, Hesitation, or Fear, extends beyond the typical limits of her Photomedia major to create a space that envelops viewers. The piece is from repurposed spruce, watered down collagen, and silvered polyethylene, and covered in a Xeroxed photograph by the artist, creating a visually and conceptually alluring exterior. The interior is illuminated by videos that explore the concept of the defined or undefined “self,” in terms of both the artist and the viewer. The looping audio encourages the viewer to “challenge the condition of the other and its relation to the self.” The piece occupies the corner adjacent to the entrance and although it is not site specific, Gearhart feels that it does respond to the space.
Dave Kennedy’s photographs in the thesis exhibition may be difficult for some to decipher at first glance. Kennedy’s close observation of objects separates them from their traditional contexts. The works in this series capture cigarettes in portrait style photography, bringing a sense of humanity to everyday, ephemeral and discarded objects. This sense of discard is juxtaposed with the beauty and sensitivity employed in capturing these “portraits.” Kennedy continues with his exploration of objects in his video, which explores interactions with various objects. These interactions emphasize the role of inanimate objects and the ability for some to become highly animate. Kennedy closely considers these objects, changing meaning and value from the benign to the beautiful.
Travis David Smith
The works presented by Travis David Smith for the thesis exhibition explore themes of remembrance, loss, place and emptiness. The works are emotionally charged by a personal narrative of loss and grief. They are in various mediums, which allow these topics to be confronted through multiple angles and lenses. Smith unites poetry and the visual arts in a ritual manner as he repeatedly wrote and rewrote the words of one of his poems. The remnants of creation and deletion that cover the ground indicate ritual, conversing visually with the meditative piece that stands beside it. The frame, entitled Two Worlds Touched, acts as a container for emptiness and thus is still the evidence of something.
Ryan Weatherly’s oil on canvas works dominate the gallery space with their bold colors and expressive facial representations. Weatherly’s work presented in the thesis exhibition deals with the human and societal constructs of personality and identity, while delving deeply into the role emotion plays in both. The works evolved from various source materials and integrate the fragmented emotional and physical states of human beings. The rendering of the figures in Weatherly’s works relies on a sense of visual and conceptual tension. This tension fits within the same canon of Abstract Expressionism. The concepts of human psychology and human nature that were core to the movement are very much at play in Weatherly’s work. He states, “DeKooning is really my guy.” DeKooning’s influence is evident in Weatherly’s work—but his rendering of human expression is quite unique to him.
The thesis show is on display at The Henry Art Gallery through June 23, 2013.