2024 MFA Thesis Exhibition features 7 artists

Carrying on a tradition that began in 1970, seven graduate students from the School of Art will present their work in the 2024 MFA Thesis Exhibition in collaboration with the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

The exhibition, “Leaving to Arrive,” with installations in UAMA and in the school’s Joseph Gross Gallery, will run from April 15 to May 10. A public reception is scheduled for May 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the School of Art’s lobby and atrium.

Featured will be the work of graduating MFA students Jacqueline Arias, Nathan Cordova, Drew Grella, Hanan Khatoun, Tessa Laslo, Anita Maksimiuk and Dana Smith.

“The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction,” Dana Smith (in UAMA)
“The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction,” Dana Smith (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
Entrance to Joseph Gross Gallery
Entrance to Joseph Gross Gallery
“Infinity Stone: American Prawda,” Anita Maksimiuk (in Gross)
“Infinity Stone: American Prawda,” Anita Maksimiuk (in Gross)
“Imprints,” Tessa Laslo (in Gross)
“Imprints,” Tessa Laslo (in Gross)
“No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing,” Drew Grella (in UAMA)
“No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing,” Drew Grella (in UAMA)
“Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
“Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
Part of “Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
Part of “Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
“Sheer” Hanan Khatoun (in Gross)
“Sheer” Hanan Khatoun (in Gross)
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This annual MFA Thesis Exhibition, the culmination of the Master of Fine Arts Studio Degree, is presented during a graduate student’s final semester in the three-year degree program. During the last year of their coursework, graduates work closely with faculty to develop a body of original art to present to the public in lieu of a written thesis. The result offers visitors the opportunity to see new, cutting-edge art in a variety of mediums and styles.

“This is the next generation of artists who will be going out and impacting the discipline and thinking about what their next chapter looks like,” School of Art Director Colin Blakely said.

A look at each student’s installation and their artist’s statement:

Jacqueline Arias

  • Title: “A Lived Experience”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Jacqueline Arias

The monumental engineering feat of the Panama Canal came at great cost: 40,000 people were displaced, and their villages submerged forever. During the construction of the canal over twenty thousand men and women, brought from the West Indies, lost their lives. Decades after these tragedies, I found myself on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, as an adoptee from Costa Rica, inhabiting foreign soil with a new identity and language. It was here where I forged a profound connection with the people and the culture of Panama.

This installation tells the story of these interconnected experiences. Utilizing rope and pulleys, I interrogate the ramifications of power structures on individual bodies and collective identities. The constructed knots reveal the ongoing legacy of imperialism. Rope and AI technologies are transformed from their roles as signifiers of power and control to find meaning and connection amid the tumultuous currents of displacement and cultural erasure. The individual strands and fibers of the dismantled rope reflect the complex paths carved by my lived experiences. My hands and body recode history both materially and digitally through embodied knowledge critiquing unethical adoption practices and labor exploitation in Panama.

“A Lived Experience” grapples with the trauma of colonial dehumanization and the yearning for reunion with one’s homeland and culture.

Nathan Cordova

  • Title: “Feeling a Future Coming”
  • Venue: UAMA
Nathan Cordova

My project considers the potential of friendship and offers a pointed critique of institutions and our consumption of their products. Friendship is slippery and difficult to maintain. There are social and cultural taboos that attempt to constrain our friendships. This is a social experiment that breaks through the isolation we all feel. What does it say about our present moment where amidst profound loneliness, we desire visceral connections with each other to problematize the limits of our individual bodies? By inviting participation, I’m asking myself and my friends to step out of this isolation and to encounter each other anew. I’m valuing critical connections over critical mass, applying force on strategic pressure points that form the boundaries of typical friendships. There is a momentary embodiment of liberation in this act, as I re-imagine what is possible.

I appropriate and re-contextualize collections of digital images of western domination gathered from the internet. This involves engaging with both the visible architecture like the skyscraper, and the supposedly invisible infrastructure, such as data centers and military drones. Anger and pleasure play an important role, offering a means of embodiment and exploration of the collection’s emotional and sensorial dimensions. Through a material intervention, I challenge notions of fixed identity and embrace the fluidity and multiplicity of human experience. This interruption utilizes an interdisciplinary process of layered blurring that transforms their symbolisms into something elemental; liquid and flame, semen and squirting, embodied presence etching sunlight and sifting blood.

Blurring the boundaries between past and present, self, and other, I invite viewers to engage these collections on a visceral level through the presence of their own reflections in black acrylic surfaces mediated by images layered with physical ejaculate, traces of our sequential self-pleasure. Remixed marketing videos from The University of Arizona and Raytheon (now rebranded as RTX Corporation) point to their mutually beneficial relationship built on endless cycles of debt and death.

All of this works together to disrupt conventional modes of perception. Challenging the rigidity of these images as repositories of meaning and enforcers of social order, “Feeling a Future Coming” reconfigures their signifiers to a point of emergence, where all futures become possible again. Reclaiming agency over our bodies and desires is a fundamental step toward liberation, contributing to a more empathetic and introspective society that questions rigid authority and embraces the beauty of uncertainty.

Drew Grella

  • Title: “No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Drew Grella

“The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.”

Bruce Chatwin

I moved to Tucson during the Covid-19 pandemic when everything was shut down. I spent a lot of time roaming the desert and the town. Walking in the liminal space of the dry Rillito riverbed was especially surreal, strewn with trash, memorials, votive sculptures, and lost possessions. While my body moved through this new and unique place, my mind mapped my impressions of nature, waste, and the boundaries between public spaces and private property.

Deliberate walking is simple and beautiful. It is my method for collecting the imagery which emerges when I draw. Intuitive drawing is simple and beautiful. It is my method for revealing to me what I did not know, what I cannot put into words. In the studio, the walking body becomes the drawing body, continuing a contemplative stroll.

Hanan Khatoun

  • Title: “Sheer”
  • Gallery: Joesph Gross
Hanan Khatoun

My separation from culture, language, and family as a member of the Lebanese Diaspora has driven my desire to narrate the experience of what happens after the sensationalizing of war and displacement wears off. The struggle of forging and finding space for one’s identity both within and outside the structures of culture, religion, and family is a reality for those who are generations removed from another home. I am a second-generation immigrant from Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the world, yet the diaspora population outside the country is larger than that within. Being removed from one place and living in another is common in an increasingly globalized and colonized society. In what ways do we create space for navigating these realities?

“Sheer” is a physical space representative of my search for cultural identity. I construct a space for navigating this self-conception using familial archives, trinkets, documents, photographs, and oral storytelling. These all hold unique language and memory, which in turn, become proof of experience. Woven together they create an identity which I embrace and push against. The act of weaving enables me to explore how disparate things often come together to make a chaotic but contained whole. The work is viewed only at a distance through a fabric cage, indicative of the structures and barriers against which I struggle to understand my multicultural identity.

Tessa Laslo

  • Title: “Imprints”
  • Gallery: Joseph Gross
Tessa Laslo

In my performative drawing and video works, I delve into the intricate web of personal trauma, investigating its impact on my body, relationships, and self-perception. The lingering effects of sexual assault has left me grappling with fragmented memories and physical scars while igniting a profound anger — an emotion that pervades my work and influences my ability to engage in intimate relationships.

The emotional and physical effects of this trauma are not portrayed as overwhelming obstacles in my work, but rather as integral components of an ongoing narrative. I revisit past abuse to illuminate the resilience and strength that can emerge from a process of artistic confrontation and self-discovery. Imprints combines cyanotype and soft pastels in large-scale drawings alongside a video installation using a twin-sized bed. I’ve opted for materials that lack any semblance of preciousness. The paper is weathered, beaten, and used; worn down by time and wear. Each crease and tear are reflections of the sense of violation that still affects my body and mind. The physicality of the paper, marked by violence, serves as a tangible manifestation of my emotions and experiences, grounding them in truth.

Anger, a powerful undercurrent in my artistic expression, stems not only from what I have experienced, but from the ongoing emotional and physical ramifications that are likely to persist throughout my life. It is a visceral response to the violation of my autonomy and the enduring consequences that ripple through my existence. This anger weaves itself into the fabric of my art, becoming both a driving force and an intense element that shape the narrative of my work.

Anita Maksimiuk

  • Title: “Infinity Stone: American Prawda”
  • Gallery: Joseph Gross
Anita Maksimiuk

As a printmaker, my work engages the symbology of migration, root-taking, rootlessness, and the urban environment. This is largely based on my experience as a first-generation American in Brooklyn, New York and beyond. Watching the city’s immigrant enclaves gentrify and lose their sense of sanctuary motivates me to document, preserve, and question the familiar through printmaking.

By creating cityscapes that deconstruct and reconfigure the iconic, I preserve both places and histories that fade along with the immigrant. As I move through this country, I keep in mind the glare of separation, the repairs I’ve made, and the fractures that remain.

“Infinity Stone: American Prawda” features primarily lithography, with screen printed elements. Historic mediums once prevalent in both fine art and advertising, these two processes challenge and contrast one another.

Methods of deletion, stencil and layer come together to form the printed image, all while honoring its ghost. These approaches allow me to subvert the traditional application of the lithography process, working the limestone surface until it becomes a source of light, color and texture. Starting with photographic images from my personal archive, I coax information out from the surface of the stone chemically. As the landscape is layered, removed and replaced, it begins to mimic the motions of an overdeveloped urban space.

I use the stone to create one-of-a-kind prints rather than producing editions. Using shifts in scale, photographic elements and a non-traditional approach to the process, I reclaim it as a tool of documentation, propaganda and mystery.

Pushing the lithograph beyond its traditional black and white, drawn image, the group of foldable posters presented here re-casts an iconic cityscape in an intimate light, worked into existence entirely by hand. Hung as banners, these images will travel, degrade, and return as I do.

Meant to be approached, the light and horizon that grounds these prints let the gaze linger while the viewer imagines, yearns, or simply remembers. This perspective alludes to an unattainable yet promising aspect of building a home, nationality and a claim to a city. The images take on an iconographic quality, representing a place that is constantly in motion. It is a horizon that is constructed over, bought, sold, and advertised as an object of desire. Here, it is reconstructed as a symbol of hope, haven, and history. It will tear but persist, both physically on paper and intangibly, within the child looking towards home.

Whether these prints become mementos or mirages, they ultimately take on the role of documents. I see my evolving work as a journey, a narrative and a documentary practice, bound within a fleeting medium.

Dana Smith

  • Title: “The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Dana Smith

Since the Cambrian explosion over 500 million years ago, an astounding variety of exotic and resilient life forms have thrived and diversified throughout the world. Starting as primitive cells in a world slammed by catastrophic events, the life forms today in the rugged Sonoran Desert have developed extraordinary physical defenses key to their survival. This beautiful yet brutal desert inspired me to investigate the world of invertebrates and microorganisms, the survivors of multiple planetary catastrophes, whether gathered from a habitat in my backyard pond and examined under a microscope or encountered while roaming the desert.

Constructing oversized ceramic sculptures and drawings re-creates and interrogates the magnificent structures that these creatures have used as protection for survival. Bringing attention to these armored desert microorganisms and insects who have learned to adapt to extreme heat and long-term drought may teach us much as we enter the era of the Anthropocene. We can learn from their secrets as concern arises over our own adaptability.

Graduate fellow Caballero tells lucha libre story

The first time Andrés Caballero entered Arena México, called the “cathedral of lucha libre” professional wrestling, he was hooked.

“I remember feeling intoxicated by the energy. Everyone was wearing masks, and the crowd was screaming and laughing,” said the Mexico City-area native, a Master of Fine Arts student in Photography, Video and Imaging at the University of Arizona School of Art. “I wanted to know who the people behind the masks were. I wondered about the referee, the people working in the venue, and everyone involved.”

Now Caballero is getting a chance to share that wonder with the public after being named a 2024 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellow by the university’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry.

The award will allow the Fulbright Scholar to finish a project, “Borderlands Masks,” which includes large-scale prints, video and oral history recordings as he explores the fascinating lucha libre wrestling events around the border region in Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

School of Art Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi and Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim also were named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows. Each year, the program allows graduate students and faculty to carry out interdisciplinary humanities-centered research and creative scholarly activities focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Andrés Caballero installs one of his lucha libre photos in a group exhibition at Groundworks Tucson.

Caballero grew up just outside Mexico City and attended Tecnológico de Monterrey High School, hoping to study engineering. But he changed his mind and enrolled in a Communications undergraduate program at Universidad Iberoamericana with a concentration in Cinema. He received his BA and began to concentrate on documentary films and photography.

As his skills improved, Caballero started to study Mexican identity through lucha libre events. He’s been working on the subject for about two years, presenting a photographic exhibition called “Your Insults are Welcome” inside a Mexican wrestling arena. 

“My favorite luchador was El Santo, especially because of all the movies where he was basically a Mexican superhero fighting evil forces,” Caballero said. “Later on, I was very much inspired by stories such as Fray Tormenta — a part-time priest and part-time luchador whose sole purpose was to raise money for an orphanage that he founded.”

For his project, Caballero will use the fellowship funding to travel to Phoenix and Nogales, where he’s meeting with promoters and attendees of lucha libre events.

“I’m interested in how people feel connected to certain traditions which become part of their identity even when they are outside of their home countries,” Caballero said. “This is how people relate to lucha libre, and here they find a community in which they feel identified and welcome.

“With this in mind,” he added, “I wanted to shift the focus of this project to attendees of the events and give them a chance to create their own persona, just as a luchador would. To put on a mask and think of a backstory for their character. I want to tell the story of these collaborators and have people relate to the characters in the photos.”

In late May or early June, he hopes to host exhibitions before Mexican wrestling matches that will show large-scale prints, audio recordings and VR headsets playing 360-degree videos. The exhibition locations are still pending, but “people can arrive early, see the artwork and then enjoy the event,” Caballero said. “I’m trying to expand beyond the usual art spaces to show work — and promote Mexican arenas as cultural spaces.”

“Andres is a gifted young photographer who comes from a photojournalist background,” said Alejandro Macías, an assistant professor at the School of Art who is among Caballero’s project mentors. “I’m interested in his research. … Personally, I’m drawn to the mystique and masked identities of luchadores, their dramatic performances, feuds and acrobatic skills. It’s obviously entertaining but I’m also interested in the duality of their lives and how we, as an audience, have zero to little knowledge of who these masked fighters are outside the ring.” Andrés, through his research, intends to take a deeper look into the lives of these wrestlers, in and outside the ring.”

Caballero, who turns 27 in March, received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in the United States. He’s happy he chose the University of Arizona School of Art and its Photography, Video & Imaging program, which is ranked No. 3 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.

“It is an open space of collaboration, creation and critique,” Caballero said. “Receiving constant feedback from experienced artists is an essential part of developing any artistic project. (Professors) David Taylor and Martina Shenal have been important mentors, but even faculty from other departments such as Alex Macías and (Professor) Ellen McMahon have provided insights into my research. It feels like a very thriving place for any artist to be in.”

Macías, who has exhibited his own lucha libre paintings, is impressed with Caballero’s photography.

“What drew me initially to Andres’ work is how he carefully composes and accentuates particular bright colors among a black and white color palette,” Macías said. “It’s visually appealing but also adds drama to an equally dramatic sport.”

Macias was excited to participate in the exhibition “Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas” at the ASU Art Museum in 2022 and was invited to participate by artist and curator Julio Cesar Morales. “Much of my work in general responds to the conflict of my own Mexican-American identity,” said Macías.

Who are Macías’ favorite lucha libre wrestlers? “Rey Mysterio, for his high flying acrobatic moves and L.A. Park for his comedic style and skeleton-type appearance,” Macías said.

“So far what I’ve offered to Andrés are a few ideas on how he can keep pushing his work conceptually in the way he manipulates his figures through photography,” the assistant professor said.

KGUN9-TV interview with Andrés Caballero

Andrés Caballero is an MFA candidate in Photography, Video and Imaging. (Photo by Alexis Hagestad)

Internships give students professional insight

Linda Garcia Escobar wants to be an art educator after growing up in a family of teachers and artists. Marcelino Flores hopes to expand his hobby of creating monster sculptures into a full-time venture, and he’s already showcasing his work at toy shows.

The two undergraduate students might have different career goals, but they share one thing in common: Both are glad they pursued local internships this semester through the University of Arizona School of Art.

“Roots of Resilience” artists (from right) Linda Garcia Escobar, Lyrissa T. and Gem Elena Abarca, with one of Escobar’s weavings.

Escobar, an Art & Visual Culture Education major, has written prompts and prepared weaving-themed activities for the University of Arizona Museum of Art (UAMA). Flores, a Studio Art major in 3D & Extended Media, has learned lab skills and how to present gallery work at GeoDecor Fossils & Minerals.

“Internships are important because they give you an insight into the work and career you want to pursue,” Escobar said. “Not only that, but I’ve been able to work alongside and learn from supportive professionals — and gain experience.”

One of those professionals is Chelsea Farrar, curator of community engagement at UAMA, who calls Escobar “amazing” and a “perfect match” for the museum. That’s because Escobar was beginning to explore textiles in her own artistic practice at the same time UAMA was opening an exhibition that included weavings by contemporary artist Marlowe Katoney, a School of Art alum. Escobar engaged visitors in the museum’s “Making Care: Drop-In Maker’s Space” with her textile activities and is documenting their responses and participation as part of her research.

“As a future art educator, Linda used the UAMA as a laboratory for experimentation, which brough novel ideas and art activities into our museum galleries and events,” Farrar said. “These activities have brought new visitors to our museum while engaging with them in ways we rarely see — they are staying in the museum for extended an extended period of time.”

As for Flores, he and fellow interns Isabella Way and Eliza Saunders helped install and present work at GeoDecor’s gallery during the recent Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, including fully mounted dinosaurs, a gigantic Eocene crocodile, woolly mammoth tusks, limestone murals with fossil fishes and palm fronds.

The three are also applying their artistic talents at the local company’s fossil lab, where they practice restoration techniques, preparation of newly discovered fossils and steel fabrication for the mounting of specimens.

GeoDecor interns (from right) Marcelino Flores, Eliza Saunders and Isabella Way.

“As a kid, you tell yourself one day I want to be an astronaut or a paleontologist,” Flores said. “So going into the fossil lab, I thought, oh my gosh, this is … not just a dream.”

By introducing paleontology to students, GeoDecor co-owner Christine Lindgren said interns also can expand their artistic capabilities through a mastery of 3-D printing; sculpting and color matching for fossil restoration; and commanding a diverse array of Dremel tools to free fossils from their matrices.

“We love having art students in the lab because they already come to us with a sense of precision, dexterity and a keen eye,” Lindgren said.

Other local internship possibilities

Over half the School of Art’s majors participate in internships before they graduate.

The nearby Center for Creative Photography holds an open house every August, where students from all majors can inquire about internship and student worker opportunities in areas such as archives, Digital imaging, learning and engagement and community engagement.

AVCE students Elizabeth Amphayvong (intern) and Jenna Green (graduate assistant), for instance, are part of the CCP’s Learning and Engagement team. Five other School of Art students also work at CCP: Branden Hale (PVI); and Grayson Agrella, Hannah Ramirez, Sco Scofield and Avery Johnson (Art History).

In recent years, other students have found internships on campus or with local organizations, non-profits and companies such as:

  • African American Museum of Southern Arizona
  • Arizona Historical Society
  • Arizona State Museum
  • Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center (UAHS)
  • Ben’s Bells
  • Coit Museum of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Darkroom at the School of Art
  • Digital Print Studio at the School of Art
  • Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium
  • Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research
  • LetterPress at the School of Art
  • Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
  • Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
  • Museum of Optics, College of Optical Science
  • Pay It Forward Tucson, Inc.
  • Remember When … Photography
  • Rialto Theatre
  • Sculpture Tucson
  • Silhouette Photography
  • Sonoran Institute
  • The Drawing Studio
  • Tucson Museum of Art
  • UA Biosphere 2
  • UA Campus Health
  • UA Campus Recreation
  • UA Digital Humanities
  • University of Arizona Athletics
  • University of Arizona International
  • Western Archaeological Conservation Center (WACC)
  • Within Studio

Faculty members encourage students to talk to the school’s academic advising center about finding internship opportunities. Approved internships can qualify for academic credit.

“We often tell students that you can do anything with an art education and degree, and these internship opportunities are an excellent example,” said Professor Karen Zimmermann, associate school director. “Art students are good critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

As a result, School Director Colin Blakely said Art students who’ve honed their communication and creative problem-solving skills through internships are prime candidates for almost any job.

“We graduate lots of students that go into successful careers in the arts, in design, in education, in galleries, in museums. But we also graduate students that are incredibly successful in any number of other fields,” Blakely said, “whether it be entrepreneurship, whether it be law, whether it be business, whether it be even health sciences.”

Like Blakely, UAMA’s Farrar said she’s proud to watch School of Art students succeed after graduation.

“We’re so lucky to have had the chance to work with an incredible group of interns over the last few years,” Farrar said. “Many of them have been accepted to competitive graduate programs, while others are working in higher education, K-12 education or in other museums. … Knowing that we’re playing a role in the education of future generations of artists, educators and museum professionals is very rewarding.”

Get to know Linda Garcia Escobar

A senior who plans to graduate in fall 2024, she would like to pursue a career in teaching and consider graduate school. She transferred from Pima Community College after growing up outside of Los Angeles in Montebello, California.

Linda Garcia Escobar, with her performance piece “Platos y Sentimientos.”

“My uncle Oswaldo is an art teacher, so he always involved my sister and me in the arts,” Escobar said. “I grew up seeing his paintings and other sculptural work around the house and that’s mainly where my curiosity in the arts and painting came from. I wanted to make work like he did. When I finished school at Pima, I didn’t have a plan on what to do next so he along with my mom, who is also an educator, guided me into art education.”

Escobar’s art has been featured three shows, “The Place of Painting,” “The Undergrad Art Exhibition” and “Roots of Resilience.” In the latter, Escobar showcased her textile weavings.

“I have always been drawn to textiles for their colors and patterns, I grew up around amazing weavings from Guatemala and I had always wanted to explore and understand them,” Escobar said. “I like how repetitive the making process in textile work is, it is calming and meditative.”

Escobar praised School of Art Galleries Director lydia see for introducing her to weaving and UAMA’s Farrar and Willa Ahlschwede, assistant curator for Education and Public Programs, for their guidance.

“They are amazing educators and the most supportive and encouraging mentors I have ever had,” Escobar said. “Dr. Ryan Shin and Dr. Kate Collins (visiting professor) from the (AVCE) department are incredibly supportive and have always shown interest in the work I do outside of the classroom. (Faculty members) Alejandro Macias, Jonathan Marquis, Erin Digiovanni and Tioni Collins always offer to help and support my work as an artist.”

What student interns do at UAMA

Interns are directly involved with curating exhibitions, writing text for labels, or planning and facilitating our educational programs at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

“Our interns work alongside staff in curation, education, registration and marketing, and it is often the first chance they have to understand how museums function,” Farrar said. “For the museum, it is such a beneficial opportunity for us to connect with students and have their voice be a part of our planning process.”

Farrar hopes students walk away having a bigger picture of what professional opportunities in museums might look like.

“And most importantly, I hope they leave feeling like their work at the museum matters and that they feel confident to enter the professional art world,” she said.

Get to know Marcelino Flores

Flores grew up in Tucson and started watching monster movies at a young age. He traveled 15 miles a day to attend Palo Verde High School because of its robotics team. The team, however, was canceled his junior year, so he started to focus on sculpture and his first love: Godzilla.

Marcelino Flores, exhibiting his Godzilla work at the Toy Exhibition at the @andgallerytucson.

“I began sculpting in high school just to kill time,” Flores said. “With each piece, I would pour weeks and months of work into it.

“I felt challenged to capture the sense of incredible mass and awe of the giant creatures. Slowly this hobby grew into a future I want to invest all my time into.”

After graduation, Flores studies aerospace engineering at Pima Community College, but then COVID hit.

“I was like, man, studying math and physics and computer programming isn’t the same as sculpture,” Flores said. “So, I re-evaluated what I wanted to do,” and transferred to the College of Fine Arts at Arizona.

“I really like sculpting,” he said. “It’s an interesting journey, going from tech to art, but I’m happy, especially with the resurgence in Godzilla on television and movies.”

Flores is selling his Godzilla and other monster sculptures at toy conventions in Mesa, and he plans to attend the Tucson Comic Con again this September.

What student interns do at GeoDecor Fossil & Minerals

GeoDecor, which moved from Los Angeles to Tucson in 2010, is an internationally recognized fossil, mineral and meteorite company that works with interior designers, collectors and museums. The company began accepting interns from the School of Art this spring after Lindgren gave Zimmermann and Professor Kelly Leslie a tour of its lab last fall.

“I think it might be a big surprise to art students, to find out that there’s a whole field (in fossil restoration),” Lindgren said.

At the GeoDecor lab, on East 37th Street, interns work closely with her husband, Thomas E. Lindgren, co-owner of GeoDecor and a guest lecturer at the University of Arizona Department of Geosciences; Makoto Takigawa, the head fossil preparation artist; fossil technician Zach Durling, a recent University of Arizona College of Science graduate; and partner and 3-D printing specialist Jeff Parker.

Possible tasks for students include handling, moving and storage techniques; organization and maintenance techniques of the fossil lab; and lab skills such as preparation, restoration, mounting and exhibition techniques.

“Working as an intern here takes certain skills, like color matching and spatial aptitude,” said Takigawa, who received his BFA from the former San Francisco Art Institute. “It’s nice to have students with that kind of talent.”

‘Strong’ student work highlights BFA Exhibition

Hundreds attended the Feb. 22 opening reception of the 2024 Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition, which runs until March 22 at the Joseph Gross and Lionel Rombach Galleries.

Students, parents, alums, faculty and staff celebrated student artists graduating with a BFA in 2024. The exhibition features undergraduates from Photo, Video & Imaging; 2D Studies; 3D & Extended Media; Illustration, Design & Animation; and Art & Visual Culture Education.

“Those of you who attended the opening can attest to what a vibrant event it was and just how strong the student work on view is,“ said Andrew Schulz, dean of the College of Fine Arts.
The event marked the first time the Olive Road Stairs were open (temporarily), as well as the inauguration of the new doors that provide direct access from those stairs into the Joseph Gross Gallery.

“Many people mentioned to me how excited they were by these changes,“ Schulz said, “which further our divisional goals of increasing visibility and access as ways of elevating the arts on campus and beyond.“

The BFA Exhibition, juried by faculty chairs from each division, was curated and produced by Student Gallery managers with support from Galleries Director lydia see.

More upgrades to the Arts District include the re-opening of the Arts Oasis, including the restoration of School of Art alumna Barbara Grygutis’ “Front Row Center“ public sculpture installation, the completion of first phase of the “Arts Alley” that extends to the Tornabene Courtyard, and the reopening of the renovated Marroney Theatre.

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Students presenting in BFA Exhibition

Violet Brand
Passing Memories
Composite digital image

May Luna
Fetal Position
Poplar, steel, paint

Saedi Wadman
Lil’ Guy Carousel
Book binding materials, wire, markers, mirror cardstock

Iliana Gonzales
Hell Above
Oil on canvas 2023

Joseph Chico
Gemini Twins
Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop

Alli Gray
Bickle’s Pickles
digitally illustrated comic on enhanced matte

Marmada Shiming Sun
Humans are Built to Listen
Client book

Sabrina L. Vincent
Adobe Fresco, enhanced matte paper, binder board, PVA glue

Ivan Rodriguez
Upgrades: Inspired by Shigenori Soejima
Digital illustration

AnneMarie Standridge
Sky Islands
Paper, watercolor, colored pencil, alcohol markers

Eitan Rosenquist
US MX Border Map Mural, installation view with artist
Digital illustration

Olivia Morey
Why Everyone Feels Like They’re Faking It
Digital illustration

Jessica Valencia
Masso Bwe’o
Digital illustration on Enhanced Matte

Malaquias Palacios
Conserving Our Rain
Digital illustration

Madai Ruiz Palacios
ProCreate illustration on Epson Lustre

Emilee Gustafson
When Passions Meet
Aluminum & bronze casting

Jeremiah Aaron Garcia
Breaking The Mold
Digital painting on enhanced matte

Tate Harper
Doodle Daydream
Alcohol marker, Micron pen

Ryan Pittner
Conceptual typography: artist book and prints

Alisha Stadler
National Gallery Redesign

Luis Esquer
Advocacy for Others
Digital illustration

Aspen Stivers
Dynamic Duos: Fight or Flight
Procreate, Illustrator, & Photoshop

Cameron Kramer
There is Nothing for You Here
Acrylic paint, acrylic ink, charcoal, steel wire

Rick Prober
Pastels and ink

Hoa Hoang
Digital painting

Kayla Bradshaw
The Met Rebrand Poster Series
Adobe Illustrator

Maddy Tucker
Victim v. Victimizer
Screenprint on paper

Screenprint on paper

Henry Frobom
Typographic concrete poem

Maya Wong
Voyage Home
Bronze, wax

Discipline, Passion, & Skill
Wood, wood treatment, fire

Nathalia Lara Pizarro
Chalk pastel

Morgan Birky
TV Girl
Wire, clay, fabric, acrylic

Renee Arrieta
Let the Light In
Wood, watercolor, and acrylic

Diana Marie
Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat and Being Thin?
Digital illustration

Ballad of a Twenty-Something
Digital illustration

Vivian Nguyen
Digital illustration

Cami Hagen
Coat of Arms
Digital illustration

Christy Williams
Levuana Iridescens
Clip Studio Paint, drawing tablet

Hannah Kleker
Mara turnaround
Digital illustration on enhanced matte

Foam, clay, wood, fabric, acrylic

Maia Lettow
In Utero
Graphite, wax, spray paint

Erika Elizabeth Moreno
Cheat Meal
Oil on canvas

Ana Paula Monobe
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Acrylic and oil on canvas

Roland Swedlund
Photo transfer on panel

Photo transfer on panel

Photo transfer on panel

Out of Time
Oil on canvas

Birds of Misfortune
Chalk pastel on paper

Iliana Gonzales
Grave Rubbings in Graphite and Water-Soluble Pastel on Paper

Makayla McCarthy
Empty Waves
Oil on canvas

Brianna Lisa Castillo
Oil on wood panel

Inner Echoes
Graphite on

Delaney Paige Cruse
love you too
Medium Format Film, Silver Gelatin Fiber Prints

Ariana Buck
Silver gelatin prints

Belen Muro Quijada
Del Hogar a La Fábrica: Narrativas no Contadas Del Trabajo
Digital photogtaphs printed on Baryta

Nichole Kotowsky
Where’s My Mind?
Digital photograph on Epson Lustre and medium format film on fiber paper

Yesenia G Meraz
Digital photographs on Epson Lustre

Ary Frank
Like Father, Like Daughter
Digital print on watercolor paper, digital print on Epson Lustre, wood name tag

Amber Cole
Excerpt from ‘Beyond Boundaries’
Digital prints on Epson Lustre, nonbinary pride fingerpaint, permanent marker, AI content recognition

Braden Hale
An Inheritance
Photo book
Visitors are invited to handle the book carefully

Seven Hazel
Moments In Ourselves
Digital and archival family photographs on enhanced matte, archival family photographs
on PhotoTex

Rachel Palmer
Moving Confusion
Digital photographs on Epson Lustre

Sabrina Mendivil
Head in the Clouds
Paper mache, polyfill, spray adhesive, desk, stool, notebook, pencil
Participants are invited to sit and doodle in the notebook. Please use only the provided pencil, and refrain from explicit language or drawings so that all ages and lived experiences may participate safely.

Gabrielle Sharon Loewen
Pawn to Queen
Resin, PLA filament, acrylic paint, electronics

Eden M Squires
Digital Thoughts
Steel, recycled electronics, fiberglass, cast aluminum

Olive Bingham
Risograph comic zine
Visitors are invited to handle the zine carefully

Kaya Glasner
Francine & Delia Turnaround, The Journey Inland,
segment from Ingrained
Digital hand-drawn animation 01:00 min.

Brianna Marie Salazar
Narrated short film with poem (which visitors are invited to take) 01:33 min.

Mallory Barry
Digital Video. Thread, melted plastic, condensation, trash, sd card, microchip, hot glue, hair, coffee pot, chain, written letter, skin, bleach, bath tub, bandaids, computer cursor, Bupropion, melting ice, june bugs, charcoal powder, shadows, dried flowers, Gabapentin, clear marbles, dirt, digital scale, water.
03:31 min.

Tucker Grams
Organized Game
Video, cardboard, paper
(which visitors are invited to take) 04:54 min.

Jesse Neal
Untitled Animation
2024 04:54 min.

Esperanza Ries, Olivia Cabelli, Truman Adams
cardboard, housepaint, Chicago screws, pine, adhesive
Esperanza was created to interact with Little Amal from the Walk with Amal project and represent the Tucson community as a whole. She danced with Amal at the Tucson Children’s Museum before welcoming her to the University of Arizona. As indicated by their names, both encouraged a message of hope.

Students paint 80-foot-long mural at housing complex for older adults

Giving back to the community, students from the University of Arizona School of Art painted an 80-foot-long Sonoran Desert mural at a Tucson HUD-funded affordable housing community for older adults.

On Dec. 2, and Dec. 5, a neat, yet empty outside wall at the B’nai B’rith Covenant House, 4414 E. Second St., was transformed into a scene with saguaros, mountains and wildlife created by students in Associate Professor Kelly Leslie’s “Clients in the Community” class (ART 465).

“Bringing in young artists who are enthusiastic about providing visual enhancement to the center is, in and of itself, life-affirming to our senior residents,” said Abbie Stone, co-president of the Covenant Board of Directors. “And inclusion of all cultural points of view in art is important to Tucson as a community.”

Students and Professor Kelly Leslie paint a mural at the Covenant House.

Each student in Leslie’s class presented a design to residents, who voted on their favorite. Valeria Jimenez won the competition, and the entire class assisted her in painting the mural, which includes a roadrunner, coyote, cardinal, lizard, hummingbird, javelina and quail.

“Some of (the residents) said that they wanted to see things that they don’t usually see every day, so I decided to play around with the size of the animals. You don’t see a big quail every day,” Jimenez said in a story by Christa Freer of El Inde Arizona, “UA mural project puts student artists into the community.”

“The residents picked well. Valeria’s design was amazing,” said graduating senior Rachel Gonzales. “This project has been a lot of work, but so much fun. I’m more design track than studio art and illustration, but this has been a blast to get back into painting and help out the residents here.”

Leslie, who chairs the school’s Illustration, Design and Animation program, is an award-winning artist in her own right. She designed the poster “Unity,” which was displayed in the international traveling exhibition, “Posters for Peace,” in Mexico, South Korea and the U.S.

“I encourage my students to engage with and see themselves as part of a regional and global community where their skills can help elevate those communities,” Leslie said. “I’m an advocate of teaching design as a collaborative practice … fostering empathy for the audience of their creative endeavors.”

KVOA-TV interviewed Associate Professor Kelly Leslie. Watch the video

In the “Clients in the Community” class, Leslie and her students produced artwork for three other groups this semester: Morley Arts District in Nogales, Blue Lotus Artist Collective in downtown Tucson and University of Arizona Special Collections.

For the Covenant House, all 14 students met with residents in early September. “Students researched mural art and shared notes on the residents’ interests,” Leslie said. Eight students submitted designs, which were posted in the lobby and residents had a couple of weeks to vote on their favorite design. In the end, all 14 students worked on painting the winning design by Jimenez.

Design proposals were submitted by Gonzalez, Rene Harter, Jimenez, Diana Morse, Ashten Rennerfeldt, Ivan Rodriguez, Sarah Rosales, Aspen Stivers and Maya Wong. Production Artists included Henry Frobom, Jihye Tak and Maddy Tucker.

“It felt great to see the members watch us work. Some of them have even helped us paint,” Leslie said. “They thanked us … for improving their courtyard, so they can enjoy it in the future.”

The Covenant House aims to provide not only housing, but a sense of community – and inspiration – to the residents of the multidenominational living center, Stone said.

“The residents were super-excited about the project; they got to view the artistic process take place, literally, in their own backyard,” Stone said.

B’nai B’rith sponsors the Covenant House, and its board is a non-profit 501(c)(3), where donations can be made via the website. Volunteer opportunities are also available.

More coverage

• Read the University Communications story by Logan Burtch-Buus , “Student-designed mural brings color to a housing community for older adults

• Read the Arizona Jewish Post story by Phyllis Braun, “Art Students, Residents Collaborate on Mural at Covenant House

Mural designs

Eight students posted mural designs for residents to vote on. The winning mural was Valeria Jimenez (second from the bottom).

Teaching artist Campos named Outstanding Senior for fall 2023

Alexis Campos found her passion as a teaching artist and gallery assistant in the University of Arizona’s Art and Visual Culture Education program, where “everywhere I turned there was someone always willing to guide me and share their knowledge,” she said.

And now Campos, named the School of Art’s Outstanding Senior for fall 2023, is sharing that knowledge with children from the Sunnyside Unified School District, where she attended classes while growing up on Tucson’s South Side.

Alexis Campos

“It’s just so sweet to go into the community and work one-on-one with students and show them the ways art can be a part of their lives … and one of the sweetest experiences has been visiting my old elementary and middle schools to teach kids in my own community,” said Campos, who attended Esperanza and Liberty Elementaries, Apollo Middle School, and Sunnyside High School.

Campos works as a teaching artist at the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where she was honored with the K-12 Impact Award and led a summer camp on puppetry arts as an intern. She also is a gallery assistant at Decode Gallery, engaging the public, facilitating openings, and installing works in the downtown venue.

“Alexis is one of our strongest AVCE students. Her work includes significant contributions to museums and community arts,” wrote Associate Professor Carissa DiCindio in her nominating letter. “Alexis is a leader through her engagement in class projects and assignments in AVCE — and in teaching children through the school’s Wildcat Art program.”

At MOCA, Campos creates lesson plans and teaches in English and Spanish in K-12 classrooms, working with over 450 students each semester in art workshops. Through Wildcat Art, Campos and other AVCE students spent four Saturdays in April teaching K-12 students about art, culminating in an exhibition of paintings, collages, embroidery, clay works and drawings.

Campos became interested in art education while taking her introductory courses at the School of Art. “This is when I came across the AVCE program and learned about all of the amazing things I could do in the world of museums,” she said, “and the ways that I could create change through the arts.”

Alexis Campos works with K-12 students as a teaching artist.

As an undergrad, Campos led a grief and artmaking workshop for Tucson Compassionate Friends and worked as a visitor services assistant and intern at the Arizona State Museum. She created and organized educational activities for students in grades K-5 at ASM, where she also completed an honor’s project in which she designed and led an interactive tour on textiles for her AVCE classmates.

DiCindio worked with Campos for more than a year on the student’s Honors College thesis, which focused on curating an exhibition by Latinx artists in the Tucson community. “Dr. DiCindio’s wisdom, compassion, kindness and expertise opened my mind to the possibilities of what being an art educator looks like,” Campos said.

A thesis show fell through, but Campos said she gained “so much insight” through her paper, which “was a way to capture the things most important to me.”

Besides DiCindio, Campos also praised other instructors in her AVCE journey, including Rachel Zollinger, Hillary Douglas, Raven Moffett, Professor David Taylor and Benjamin Davis. “Without these individuals, I don’t know if my work and academic pursuits would be at the level they are.”

Campos, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa and Tau Sigma honors societies, has received multiple awards for academic excellence, such as the Dean’s List with distinction, the Honors Thesis Award and Brown Honors scholarships.

She will receive her BFA in Art and Visual Culture Education, Community and Museums, and plans to continue working for both MOCA and the Decode Gallery.

“I intend to take a much-needed year off from college,” Campos said, “and apply to graduate school to receive my MFA in photography.”

Alexis Campos takes a photograph for one of her undergrad projects.

Senior Agrella receives prestigious Centennial Achievement Award

Senior Grayson Agrella, a triple major in Art History, Anthropology and French whose research interests center around the gender non-conforming community, has been named a Centennial Achievement Undergraduate Award recipient — one of the highest honors a student can achieve at the University of Arizona.

Agrella, who will graduate summa cum laude with honors in spring 2024, is being recognized by the Dean of Students Office at a luncheon at Old Main on Dec. 5. He’s only one of two undergraduates to receive the award, given annually to students who have demonstrated significant contribution, accomplishment, moral character and integrity among the community.

“Grayson is one of those rare intellects … who has impressed the Art History faculty with the depth of his passion for the arts and his achievement in every class,” wrote School of Art History Professors Irene Bald Romano and Paul Ivey, who nominated Agrella for the award. “He has made a strong commitment to LGBTQ+ rights and issues — profoundly expressed in his research.”

In Romano’s “Topics in Museum Studies” class, for example, Agrella wrote about how museums have historically interpreted and displayed works by queer artists or LGBTQ+ topics, and how innovative exhibitions could change the cultural dynamic. And in Romano’s “Art as Plunder” class, Agrella explored how art dealing with homosexuality or the AIDS/HIV crisis was unfairly targeted in the 1980s while the LGBTQ+ community suffered unparalleled losses.

Agrella is committed to helping trans youths and has volunteered at camps for transgender children and their families. His Honors College thesis focuses on the types of activist engagement of trans youths — and how that impacts their perceived well-being and feelings of belonging in their communities, internalized negativity and negative health outcomes.

Grayson Agrella

“I plan on going to graduate school after some work experience, and plan on pursuing something akin to queer anthropology,” Agrella said. “Lately I’ve been investigating visual anthropology programs, as they require a lot of skills such as visual analysis that I’ve learned as an Art History major.”

For the last two years, Agrella has worked at the Center for Creative Photography as an archival assistant, handling and rehousing archival materials, supervising researchers, and assisting with the digital archiving of images. In 2021, he worked for the U.S. Department of State as an agent in the Passports Division, which demanded “deep sensitivity to individual claims and individuals under stressful circumstances,” Romano and Ivey wrote in their nominating letter.

Agrella “regularly engages with mutual aid efforts, including those benefitting the unhoused community and other social justice causes in which he believes, the Dean of Students Office said.

“Grayson is the embodiment of the values associated with the Centennial Achievement Award,” Romano and Ivey wrote. “He has demonstrated outstanding persistence and integrity in his unwavering pursuit of excellence in his academic work. He has contributed significantly to the well-being of the community, especially trans youth, and he embodies the University’s strategic goal of valuing and supporting the diverse experiences of our students.”

Agrella, who carries a 3.971 GPA, was a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar at Tucson’s University High School, where he honed his literary gifts and became the Poetry and Prose editor for the Carnegiea Literary Magazine for the youth of Southern Arizona.

He talked more about his college experience in an interview with the School of Art:

Q. How rewarding, or challenging, has it been to juggle three majors?

A. I’ve found my experiences in all my majors to be eye-opening in different ways; I love studying art as a universal human experience, as well as how it becomes part of larger machinations, and anthropology has given me a more expansive understanding of many of those processes. Through the French program, I’ve been exposed to different cultures which has likewise made me analyze parts of my own culture that I took as givens — I love escaping the America bubble.

Q. How did you get interested in Art History, and what makes it special to you?

A. I initially chose Art History as a major after taking the AP in high school, and because I come from a family of artists but can’t see myself having a professional practice. Everyone has their own relationship to art — however high- or low-brow it may be — and I’m fascinated by how those relationships are influenced by a cacophony of outside factors. Art History, for me, is a material way of understanding snapshots of the human experience. The material focus still necessitates addressing abstract concepts at play, even if they involve global power dynamics or political motivations.

Q. What advice would you have for first-time undergraduate students at the university?

A. I would say branch out. Explore. I’ve found the School of Art to be what you make of it; there are so many ways to get involved — academically or otherwise — with whatever you’re passionate about, and if you feel something is missing you can make it happen yourself. And, you know, the usual things: Make connections with professors, figure out how to feed yourself, show up to class. And lean into whatever makes you a little funky and fun.

• Learn more about Centennial Achievement & Senior Awards

Centennial Prize winner Blanchette creates living sculpture

Growing up in Maine, Claire Fall Blanchette often tagged along with a landscaper — her mom. “I spent a lot of time outside,” the School of Art graduate student said.

The experience had a big influence on Blanchette when she began to bring nature into her artwork, including plants, grass and now fungi.

That’s right, the MFA candidate’s new solo exhibition at the Lionel Rombach Gallery features two interacting walls of bricks that she “grew” with mycelium, the invisible part of mushrooms whose roots consist of minuscule fungal threads called hyphae.

“To Pass Through Two Doors at Once” features mycelium-grown bricks built into two interacting walls.

The Nov. 9-Dec. 15 exhibition, part of Blanchette’s reward for winning the 2023 Marcia Grand Centennial Sculpture Prize, is called “To Pass Through Two Doors at Once” and offers a “physical metaphor for human interaction with the natural world,” she said.

“Mycelium is the basis of all life on our planet and embody an array of contradictions,” Blanchette said. “It can appear as both multiple organisms and as one, create life and promote decay, give nutrients, and extract them. Entangled in almost every ecosystem, mycelium holds soils together, forms symbiotic relationships with 90 percent of plants and accelerates decay while making space for new life to emerge.”

The aspect of decay is what intrigues Blanchette. After her solo exhibition and possible other presentations across campus, she will move the sculpture in spring 2024 to the Land with No Name, an outdoor art sanctuary about 35 miles southwest of Tucson.

“I’m interested in how the sculpture will decompose and change over time … given our dry climate and the monsoons,” she said. “I’m not sealing (the bricks) at all, so things could continue to grow on them.”

That’s already happening. “I’ve kept a few bricks growing, and they’ve sprouted mushrooms that are now beginning to release spores,” she said. “I’m really excited by the potential that the spores and fruiting material has in terms of future projects and using the material in other ways.”

And with the race on to help reduce the world’s ecological footprint, Blanchette hopes introducing her mycelium structure to the community “can help us understand how long alternative building materials can survive,” she said. 

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The process

Exactly how did Blanchette grow her light but surprisingly solid bricks, which are 16” x 8” x 8” inches in size?

First, she had to order hundreds of bags of organic material that included mycelium spores and hemp fibers, which she then mixed with water and flour.

“The yeast in the flour gets the mycelium working,” she said. “Once activated, the material became white and then I transferred it into these wooden molds that I made outside the studio. Each mold had two dowels to provide space for the sculpture’s metal armature.” 

It took five to six days to grow and form each block in the mold, and then at least another week to dry, during which Blanchette covered each block with trash bags to keep the sides from being exposed to oxygen.

For Blanchette, the biggest challenge was simply learning to work with the mycelium material.

“Since it’s a living organism, it reacted in many unanticipated ways,” she said. “Each time I filled a mold and grew a batch of bricks, the results varied. I had no way to control what colors or patterns would appear on the blocks, or if they would start growing things after I started drying them. … The bricks themselves morphed and changed throughout the de-molding, growing and drying process, so while they look uniform each one is unique in color, pattern and form.”

In all, Blanchette created 35 blocks for each wall in her sculpture.

Growing up

Blanchette hails from Farmingdale, Maine, which is 45 minutes north of Portland. In addition to her landscaping trips with her mother, she drew inspiration from her high school art teacher.

She graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, receiving a BFA in Printmaking and History of Art in 2016. She was the 2017 recipient of the Reba Stewart – Genevieve McMillan Travel Fellowship to fund her residency at Konstepidemin Arts Center in Gothenburg, Sweden.

MFA candidate Claire Fall Blanchette

From there, she worked as an artist in Queens, New York, and was an assistant at the Julie Mehretu Studio, where she began to experiment with mycelium art.

As a University of Arizona School of Art grad student, Blanchette was part of two other exhibitions at the Rombach Gallery in 2023: “Donors and Scholars” and “Nice to Meet You.”

She worked with lydia see, the school’s galleries director, for those group exhibitions and her current Centennial Prize show.

“Claire’s approach is thoughtful and experimental with plenty of room for finding delight in the unpredictability of material,” see said. “I’m so happy to host this sculptural installation in Rombach Gallery for students, staff and faculty to engage with before it heads to its life cycle outside of a gallery space and into the world.”

Environment on her mind

While in Tucson, Blanchette also has worked on art projects with buffelgrass – an invasive grass introduced to the Sonoran Desert in the 1930s for erosion control. “You have to use a pickax to extract them,” she said. “The root system is really tough.” She coats the buffelgrass in resin and has some of her work on display in her graduate studio.

Tucson volunteers have rallied to remove buffelgrass, and Blanchette hopes her mycelium sculpture “can spark conversations about our impact and interaction with the natural world.”

“The push and pull between me and the mycelium mimic the fallible attempts of human authority over the environment,” Blanchette said in her artist statement for “To Pass Through Two Doors at Once.” “Through this work, I examine the frailty of structures imposed onto uncontrollable spaces and the errant attempt at systemized power over the landscape.”

For more than 30 years, the Centennial Sculpture Prize has been given to an MFA candidate, specifically to support the completion of sculptural/3D artwork. The recipient is determined by a committee of staff and faculty through a proposal process. Recent honorees included Emily Kray, Mariel Miranda, Benjamin Dearstyne Hoste, Marina Shaltout and Karlito Miller Espinosa.

The prize is sponsored by Marcia Grand, a generous donor to the School of Art who also was instrumental in supporting the school’s First Year Experience program.

“I wanted to make something big to honor the award,” Blanchette said.

Mellon recipient Cordova hopes art project adds to border discourse

As part of his fellowship to study and interpret the U.S.-Mexico border, Nathan Cordova not only is interviewing his labor-activist uncle, but the School of Art graduate student also is conceptually interrogating the border wall itself.

The result will be “Ghosts and Shadows,” a 20-minute audio/visual project that Cordova will screen locally in Tucson. Cordova, an MFA candidate in the school’s nationally ranked Photography, Video and Imaging program, is one of eight University of Arizona students to receive the 2023 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship.

Nathan Cordova in the field

Cordova plans to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, and has already visited the border wall in Nogales and the pre-1848 U.S.-Mexico border in Colorado. He also plans to do a second Q&A in Los Angeles with his uncle Raymond Cordova, a labor and civil rights organizer with the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez in the 1960s and ’70s.

“While the original impetus of my interview was to learn more about my uncle’s time with the UFW, he instead expanded my frame of reference for my own project to a world without borders, where all labor is dignified,” Nathan Cordova said.

In the end, the grad student hopes his project “can add to the discourse of possibilities that we collectively imagine about this material/immaterial entity we call the U.S.-Mexico border wall.”

“The part that excites me the most … is the way I’ve proposed to engage with the agency of the material that comprises a lot of the border wall,” Cordova said. “I find iron, of which steel is made, to be an incredibly poetic material — a material that is always working to return itself to the earth, despite the nation-state’s best attempts to prevent it. In this way, the iron that comprises the border wall is actively working toward its own destruction of form and its own transformation.”

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi, Cordova’s thesis adviser, also is excited about his project.

“By mining his family history from a critical perspective on how the border permeated the lives of his kinfolk and other communities with similar consequences, and by researching the conditions of the (wall’s) structure and site through a direct and embodied presence, Nathan is forming a vehicle for an encounter at various scales of knowledge,” Alshaibi said.

“Nathan’s project shares that borders are not just facts on the ground but also penetrable material in their making and, therefore, physically functioning toward their undoing,” she said. “In other words, when borders are made, the artist, as an activist, archivist and storyteller, can similarly act as the agent remaking a radical knowledge surrounding its presence and meaning over time. The political embodiment of borders requires re-imagining the physical conditions implicated in their trespassing over land and lives.”

Sharing with the community

Cordova hopes to screen his audio/video artwork to the public by this December, followed by a community engagement discussion with group reflections and possibly guest scholars from the university community. He’ll also make the work available for classes and symposiums.

Nathan Cordova works on earlier photo project.

“Nathan’s project creates social and institutional conditions for productive dialogue about what borders are, what they mean, and what can be imagined otherwise,” Alshaibi said.

Cordova, 38, received his undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. He spent more than a decade running a freelance commercial photography business, including weddings, which took him throughout the U.S. Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

A multidisciplinary artist who works primarily with photography, video, sound, sculpture and performance, Cordova joined the MFA program at the University of Arizona in fall 2021. He’s independently published four artists’ books, including “One Man’s Body Family Album” (2020), and his commissioned work has appeared in WIRED.

“I learned a lot about myself in those early years,” Cordova said about his wedding and commercial photography. “I built a ton of self-confidence through the practice of showing up in a new place and immersing myself in a group of people I’d never met before.”

He and fellow graduate classmate Jacqueline Arias are active in the Southwest Photo Collaborative, which includes MFA students from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico. Their recent artwork is part of the “Land, Body & Archive” traveling exhibition, which ran until Sept. 22 in Albuquerque and is slated to be at the School of Art’s Lionel Rombach Gallery from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3 and in Tempe in early 2024.

Cordova said his artwork maps the poetic, philosophical and historical exploration of family testimony by making meaning out of sites of struggle and locations of identity.

That’s where his uncle comes in. A civil rights champion, Ray Cordova spent 18 months in the ‘60’s with the “Freedom Summer Movement.” He served in the U. S. Army Airborne and was a sergeant in Vietnam.

“My uncle and I talked for six hours straight. He’s done so much in his life that I felt like we only got to skim the surface,” Nathan Cordova said. “Perhaps, the most surprising part was learning more about the truly international scope of the labor organizing he’s been involved in … Palestine in the two years leading up to the first Intifada, Rio under the (Brazil) dictatorship, and the Mexican port city of Lázaro Cárdenas during attempts to halt the passage of NAFTA.”

‘Honored’ and ‘validated’

The Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship is run through the university’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and the Mellon Foundation. The program supports current UArizona graduate students to carry out interdisciplinary humanities-centered research projects, and creative scholarly activities focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I feel incredibly honored to have received this fellowship,” Cordova said. “I also feel incredibly validated. I proposed a project and methodology that I would personally describe as ‘out there.’ When thinking about art as research, the outcome is not yet known.”

“I think mentoring/teaching will always be a part of my life,” Nathan Cordova says.

In addition to visiting the border in Nogales, Cordova plans to collaborate with 2023 MFA graduate Mariel Miranda in Tijuana, Mexico, in November for a portion of his “Ghost and Shadows” project. A section of the border wall, made of steel slats, ends in the Pacific Ocean in Tijuana.

Miranda helped give Cordova feedback for his fellowship project draft.

“Mariel and I became close friends during our time together here. Her work addresses issues of labor, among other themes, as does my project,” Cordova said. “We feed off each other’s ideas, passion and support.”

Cordova, who teaches as a graduate assistant at the School of Art, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and started “making photographs with intention” after attending the Young Musicians & Artists (YMA) program the summer before his junior year, he said.

“I couldn’t articulate this at the time, but the way I see it now, and encourage my students to see it, is to use the camera and the photographic idea to be the authors of their own meaning,” he said. “Every picture we make, even if it’s just a quick snapshot on our cell phone will always tell us something about ourselves.”

Added Cordova: “I always make sure to say that I don’t care what they (the students) make work about, so long as they care about the topic or issue, that’s what matters. Sometimes this initial exploration via an art project will lead a student to pursue an interest in this topic in other classes or other departments outside of the School of Art.”

Why the University of Arizona?

Cordova said he chose the School of Art because of the Photo, Video and Imaging faculty and reputation, and conversations with then-current MFA students.

Marocs Serafim, David Taylor, Martina Shenal and Sama are all amazing,” he said. “They are incredibly dedicated to their students. And not just that, they are driven and dedicated to their own art practices.”

One pleasant surprise, Cordova said, was connecting with Art History Assistant Professor Jeehey Kim, whose groundbreaking “Photography and Korea” book was just published. “I’ve loved her classes, and the material she teaches is robust and complex, yet totally relatable. She’s on my thesis committee as well,” he said.

Cordova is keeping his career options open after graduation in May 2024, but he said “mentoring or teaching will always be a part of my life.”

“Knowing what I know now because of my MFA experience thus far, I feel even more capable of sustaining a robust art practice while also maintaining a freelance career,” he said. “What I’m certain of is that I don’t want an office job. …

“I want to have and sustain a nourishing and impactful art practice that positions myself as an active agent in shaping the world, as much as that practice allows the world, in all its infinite complexities, to shape me in return.”

• Nathan Cordova’s website and Instagram
• Raymond Cordova bio, and online interview and radio interview about 1973 killing of Yemeni immigrant Nagi Daifallah

2023-24 VASE lineup features top artists, scholars

Marking its 16th season, the University of Arizona School of Art’s Visiting Artists and Scholars Endowment series will feature acclaimed artists and educators Vincent Valdez, Kim Cosier, Kelli Anderson and Suchitra Mattai in 2023-24.

The free, hour-long VASE presentations will be held on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Center for Creative Photography auditorium, 1030 N. Olive Road. Here’s the lineup:

• Vincent Valdez (Oct. 19): Based in Houston and Los Angeles, Valdez is recognized for his monumental portrayal of the contemporary figure. His drawn and painted subjects remark on a universal struggle within various socio-political arenas and eras.

• Kim Cosier (Nov. 2): A professor of Art Education in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Cosier is a member of the activist art collective the Art Build Workers, in which artists and designers partner with community organizations to create artwork that makes visible messages of social transformation.

• Kelli Anderson (Feb. 29): A designer and paper engineer whose work operates in the space between conceptual art, graphic design and tech. Her whimsical books have featured a working paper planetarium, a pop-up pinhole camera, and a paper record player.

• Suchitra Mattai (March 21)The Guyana native explores how memory and myth can unravel and reimagine historical narratives. She works in painting, textile, drawing, sculpture and video to respond critically to colonial histories, particularly those pertaining to her Indo-Caribbean heritage.

“We serve our greatest purpose by providing students with impactful experiences,” Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi said. “The 2023-2023 series features partnerships with the CCP, Racial Justice Studio and UArizona Libraries, allowing us to increase the visibility and impact of the arts on our campus. The VASE program gives students the chance to interact directly with esteemed creative practitioners and thinkers in the field through workshops, seminars, critiques and public lectures.”

In addition to the School of Art and Center for Creative Photography, the series is made possible by the school’s Art Advisory Board Visiting Artists and Scholars Endowment, the National Endowment for the Arts and the College of Fine Arts Dean’s Fund for Excellence.

Go to vase.art.arizona.edu for more details.

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Half Off Special

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