The University of Washington MFA and MDes exhibition, on display last week at the Henry, showcased the extensive explorations of this year’s graduates. The University of Washington School of Art Graduation was held on Thursday, June 12, and I was thrilled to see many of these students walk across the stage and awarded for their hard work. While much of the exhibition was intriguing, a few artists were especially compelling.
Much of Abraham Murley’s work on display was done from memory, documenting recent and long-past experiences. The majority are mixed media, smaller works resembling quick sketches, seeking to capture that unattainable, illusive origin of memory and mind. Charlie’s Walk, a large oil on canvas piece is somewhat of an anomaly among the other pieces. It depicts Murley’s father on his daily walk through the woods and was added to over the course of a year. The result is layered and complex while simultaneously strikingly simple. Although abstracted, the viewer is able to understand both the forested space and the deeper emotional content. The artist’s bond with his father and other autobiographical elements play a central role in Murley’s work, and are expressed in various visual forms.
Jonathan Happ’s large, detailed drawings of cadavers are hauntingly beautiful once one gets past any initial shock one may have. The scale of the works gives a “zoomed in” focus and attention to detail, and though the pallor of death is strong in Happ’s palette, the works retain a sense of vibrancy. Studying and drawing alongside medical students at the University of Washington, Happ developed works that allude to the vanitas style of art popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Northern Europe. Traditionally, vanitas works evoke the fragility of life and the transience of earthly things through stock symbols, such as bubbles, fruits, skulls and flowers. Happ has a much more literal approach, depicting the decay of human flesh in a calm and almost comforting manner.
Xinchen Xie’s work for the thesis exhibition is immediately eye-catching, dominating an entire wall with bright colors and abstracted forms. The piece, entitled Living Room, depicts a typical living space: a bedroom that is cozy and comfortable, documented after only one night spent in it. Xinchen Xie explains that this fairly average space allows viewers to insert themselves into the environment. It is captured in detail on canvas, but abstracted forms extend from the canvas edge onto the wall. This exciting choice extends the space beyond the confines of the rectangle and allows Xie to experiment outside of the traditional concept of the still life.
Food System Visualization, by Jason Petz, is true to its title, concise and accurate. The topic generates heated debate—often not fully informed—but Petz’s clear design seeks to circumvent a sense of accusation or indictment while promoting ecological literacy and correcting false assumptions about our food system. Petz initially surveyed shoppers and did countless hours of research on the subject in order to develop a method and style that was both coherent and aesthetically appealing. Petz’s Food System Visualization, in a way, acts as a public service announcement. An attempt to educate and raise the awareness of our community. In my mind, it is truly a success.