The UNCG School of Art held a day for the final exhibition and thesis presentations for MFA candidates on April 22. While everyone else was busy spending their Saturday soaking in the sun and celebrating Earth Day, many of UNCG’s Master’s program students were preparing for this concentrated embodiment of their studies.
The exhibition was housed in the Weatherspoon Art Museum and served as a final show for the graduate students. It featured new work by seven MFA candidates in the UNCG School of Art: Caroline Bugby, Codey Gallas, Kate Gordon, Julia Caston, Joyce Watkins King, Sherrill Roland and Charles Williams. Each artist contributed work from a variety of studio areas such as painting, sculpting, performance art and videography. The exhibition demonstrated the experimentation, critical thinking and artistic skills honed by these artists while in the program.
Before the exhibition, each student presented his thesis in front of the crowd of friends, peers and professors. The air was tense as it was obvious that many of the students were nervous, and the cliché-classroom-presentation ambiance did not help. Still, each artist spoke judiciously about themselves, their work and their unique experience at UNCG. As an undergraduate, it was inspiring to see the fruits of the deliberate exploration, passion and time-consuming labor that each artist put into their body of work.
As the presentations carried on, it was interesting to see how many of the artists made work based on their personal lives. For example, Kate Gordon said that she has even looked to her dreams for source material. As Gordon began speaking, she instantly seized the attention of the room as she softly and poetically spoke about her imagery in a way that was almost chilling. She described the process behind some of her paintings by saying: “Most of the imagery in my work has been removed from its original context; therefore, I cannot address the content of a piece of work in reference to its original form.” Her irrational and surreal art consisted of watercolor drawings, oil paintings and collages that played with imagery from her subconscious. Her beautiful pieces graciously took up an enormous amount of presence in the gallery space.
Other artists, like Julia Caston, made work that wasn’t exactly meant to be hung on a wall, but meant to be a bit more interactive. As someone who has seen Caston’s interactive pieces before, it was satisfying to see the cultivation of work that she had put together for her thesis. Much of the work that she presented focused on the exchange in dialogue between strangers at her various interactive performance installations. She even had one of them running the night of the presentations. The piece called “Privilege Coffee” was open for people to trade their privilege for a cup of coffee. Caston explained, that the more privilege you have as a participant, the more coffee you receive in return. Her concept of privilege is based on the circumstances that individuals are born into that can potentially have a negative or positive effect on their lives.
Joyce Watkins King was a prime example of how much research these artists have been doing in order to create their work. King presented her thesis which was deeply rooted in the history of the textile industry and the artwork made to highlight the issues within it. One of King’s pieces, “80 pounds,” is a beautiful coat-like garment created out of clothing labels and 80 pounds worth of keys. This piece, along with the others in the exhibition, work to explore the boundaries between painting and sculpture, inside and outside, abstraction and representation, time and space.
After all the presentations were over, the students thanked the staff that they have been working with throughout their educational journeys, and they presented them with a lot of praise and even a couple of small gifts. Afterward, there was a small reception in the foyer as people schmoozed into the gallery to look at the work of the graduate students.
The relief was evident in each of the candidates who were then able to breathe a sigh of relief. The 2017 class exhibition perfectly demonstrated the research, reflection and talent honed by these artists while in the program.