Carrying on a tradition that began in 1970, six School of Art graduate students are presenting their work in the 2023 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition in collaboration with the University of Arizona Museum of Art.
The exhibition, with three installations in UAMA and three in the school’s Joseph Gross Gallery, runs from April 15 to May 13 at 1031 N. Olive Road. An opening reception was held April 20 at the school’s atrium.
This exhibition is the culmination of the MFA Studio Degree and 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. “We encourage our students to be bold and experiment and take ownership of their process. This exhibition is a fantastic manifestation of all of those qualities.”
The MFA Exhibition features installations by Alain Co, Mariel Miranda and Gabrielle Walter in the Joseph Gross Gallery and Emily Kray, Jesus Sanchez-Alvarez and Jandey Shackelford in the UAMA Gallery.
“Each artist in this exhibition took a unique path in their work, demonstrating their research, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and ambition,” said Chelsea Farrar, UAMA’s curator of community engagement. “Collectively these works represent the rigor, the quality and the breadth of study of the U of A School of Art.”
• Bio: Alain is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Sculpture. Originally from New Orleans, they received their Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art with a concentration in Sculpture from Southeastern Louisiana University. They have works installed on sites ranging from the Tucson high desert to the Ozark foothills.
• Thesis title: Ever, Always Are
• Artist’s statement: My installation is a response to strong dissociative tendencies. When dysregulated, my grasp of reality becomes fragile and I don’t trust my thoughts or perceptions. Memories become slippery, mutable, and easily influenced. When in that state, working with materials brings clarity to an oppressive fog — if I can touch it, I know it is real. Adaptation has driven me towards object-making in all its forms, and I relate this survival strategy to natural phenomena.
Many studies of Earth systems (ecology, climatology, geology, etc.) use extracted core samples from different substrates, like pencil-thin specimens from living trees or massive cylinders removed from the Antarctic. They are used as analogs for recreating past climate and ecological data. Using condensed layers of debris, scientists can paint pictures of the past, solve ecological mysteries, and posit conditions for the future. The sculpture objects I create are formed through accumulation and reformation.
Each is an experiment that incorporates an array of materials, using a range of techniques. Strata of texture and color are displayed together in an arc with individual arrangements acting as samples of the core materials. Fragments, residue, and debris that is gathered, donated, or remnant from previous projects are assembled, deconstructed, rearranged, combined, dismantled, and assembled again. This body of work and the experience of my being are grounded in the constant bending, breaking, and reforming of matter through living systems on our planet.
• Instagram: @a.co_thealien
• Bio: Emily Kray, is a visual artist working primarily with watercolor and book arts to investigate the complexities and fallacies of memory by manipulating our attachment to nostalgic and familiar forms. He began his artistic career by living and working in Las Vegas and received his BFA from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2020. That same year, he began his MFA at the University of Arizona. He has participated in group shows nationally since 2016 and has had solo shows across Nevada and in Arizona. Since then, Kray continues to make art with a focus on community involvement and volunteer work with a goal to graduate with his MFA in the Spring of 2023.
• Thesis title: You Can Only Turn Left
• Artist’s statement: My installation investigates the blurry state between sleeping and waking where memories fade into dreams, and reality feathers into the fantastic. The expansive nature of our unconscious rivals that of the mysteries of deep space and the depths of our oceans, and reveals to us the limitless potential of our own humanity. Dreams throughout history have been the vehicles for new discoveries, spiritual awakenings, divine interventions, and a place to revisit the absurd theater of life. By untangling and studying my own dreams, I have compiled a personal lexicon of the symbols that appear and reappear to me, referencing my personal truths, absurdity, and the beautiful mundanity of my waking life.
In these artworks, as in dreams, the observer is riddled with the question of agency. The interactive narrative included in the exhibition explores this notion as it simulates the liminal hypnagogic state before one’s body falls asleep. The hallucinations experienced within this simulation force the player to bounce between different states of consciousness while tossing and turning in bed. Both the player and the character lack control in this scenario, thus offering a challenge to be a mentally flexible dreamer and an attempt to achieve lucidity.
The subjects represented in this body of work appear from the black abyss. Dense, inky mist distorts and emphasizes their form. They are hidden and uncovered simultaneously, offering both questions and answers. Each work is a morphing riddle, or a liquid puzzle. By resisting the urge to impose our credulous desires upon these dreamy experiences, these symbols can exist in a realm detached from logic. The subjects within these works offer opportunities for new perspectives, new possibilities, and instances to practice nonattachment to our logical tendencies.
• Website: emilykray.com/emily
• Instagram: @troctopus
• Bio: Mariel lives and works in Tijuana and Tucson, where she is an MFA in Studio Art candidate at the School of Art and the 2021 Marcia Grand Centennial Sculpture Prize recipient. A sociologist and visual artist, she is co-founder and director of the International Festival of Photography Tijuana (FIFT), a feminist platform created for the undisciplined reflection on the image and its current modes of production.
• Thesis title: The dust, or the wind, perhaps
• Artist’s statement : My work presents a speculative fiction installation invoking radical utopias founded in a Science Fiction workshop that I co-hosted with my brother, neighbors and friends in Las Cumbres, my barrio in Tijuana, Mexico. Together we planned how to defend our loved ones against a narco pest and the alien thieves that are causing the running water to dry out in our homes. We challenge the use of our land as a junkyard and undermine the presence of a factory that works for the neocolonialist corporations Tesla and SpaceX — thriving on profit from the old Mars colonization fantasy while relying on extractivist practices and of our manual labor.
In my neighborhood, I have been weaving the tactics of resistance embedded in our collective work and ability to imagine, transform and create with what is available. The years involved in the process of creating a communal library in the front yard of my house as the making of photographs, collages, oral histories, interviews, videos, essays and workshops have allowed me to use art and education as excuses for the mobilization of desire and affective places for the night. In a moment of history, where triumphant narratives depend on our sadness and pessimistic belief in the future’s end, in Las Cumbres — as in many other territories — our fight is for solidarity, joy and life: The South are us.
• Website: marielmira.com
• Instagram: @mariiel.mira
• Bio: Jesus is a graduate student in painting & drawing at the School of Art, where he has been a teaching assistant for the “Elements of Drawing” course. His current drawings and paintings attempt to revive historical decorative designs foreign to our fast-paced society through a world he invented consisting of characters who grow ornamented lifeforms through music.
• Thesis title: Embellishment Intimacy
• Artist’s statement: Creating a sense of intimacy with natural forms and ornamentation is the driving force behind my pen and ink drawings and watercolor paintings. My definition of natural forms encompasses plants, human beings, and animals. Studying the diversity of organisms on our planet evokes within me an attraction to fantastical and other worldly imagery, such as hybrid beings. In my view, a hybrid being is a living composite of multiple life forms such as fairies, centaurs, and angels. I view nature as an enchanting place, and I seek to magnify this perception through creating new types of plants and creatures.
The presence of ornamentation in this work represents the extension of the natural world beyond where it ordinarily grows. As a result, many decorative components take on organic shapes. Ornament in these renditions can be found on the vestments, architecture, wings, trees, plants, and seeds. The large, decorated, egg-like shapes are the seeds which bloom into elaborately designed plants. The nature in these settings grows upon the playing of musical instruments found in the series’ universe.
By combining nature and ornament, two different visual dialogues emerge. The realistic representations of life forms communicate spontaneity, as nature grows unpredictably. On the other hand, the decorative components embody repetition and idealization. Thus, I seek for my work to be a union between realism and idealism, as well as spontaneity and recurrence.
• Website: wixsite.com/jernestoart
• Instagram: @j.ernesto.art
• Bio: A multimedia artist from Gillette, Wyoming, Jandey received her BFA from the University of Wyoming and studied abroad in Australia, where she focused on making work about the objectification of women.
• Thesis title: Imprint
• Artist’s statement: My work raises questions and sheds light on persistent stereotypes, gender roles and forms of oppression that persist. Specifically, it is a reflective examination of the impact that a space, particularly a home or house, can have on its inhabitants. I utilize a combination of my own footprints and those of others to explore these concepts. The footprints serve as tangible evidence, presence, and memory of the impact that this space has had on those who occupy it.
These large drawings were created through a process that employs bodies, space, interaction and physical manipulation of roofing paper. The material was subjected to a system of imprinting, tearing, arranging, and careful mending with fibers to represent the foundation of a home and the chaos that can exist within it. Through the combination of construction and craft materials, I seek to express the experience of living in a space characterized by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. The act of creating these drawings represents an effort to transcend the space of sadness from which they were born.
• Instagram: @jandeyshackelford
• Bio: An MFA candidate in Illustration and Design, Gabrielle is a visual artist that makes anything and everything sequential — and work about her relationship with her body, anxiety and womanhood. All mediums are of interest to her, but she mainly uses drawings, cyanotypes, and digital illustration to create her projects. In the past, she has worked in both public and fine art spaces, producing the design for Bill Walton’s chair at University of Arizona basketball games as well as work for Lubbock and Tucson galleries.
• Thesis title: Fireweed
• Artist’s statement: My installation is inspired by a 2022 trip to Juneau, Alaska, where I reconnected with my body through place. An artist book, illustration series and animation incorporate cyanotypes gathered during this journey to tell the story of a fictional protagonist in conflict with herself and nature. As this young woman goes for a walk, she fixates on the beauty of the landscape, spurring a thought spiral about her aesthetic and physical worth in the vastness of her location.
Alaska’s native fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) becomes a catalyst for change as the defeated protagonist finds similarities in her own journey and this weed’s ability to survive. With this work, I was able to ask how the body affects our navigation of mental and physical spaces.
Set to the backdrop of a cyanotype mountain range, I sought to capture the role nature can play in this relationship as it forces us to acknowledge our bodies through physical exertion and witness the beauty found in harsh conditions. Fireweed is an ode to the endurance of the human form and the relationship between femininity, resilience, and the body.
• Website: gabriellewalterart.weebly.com
• Instagram: @gabriellewalterart