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January 24, 2014

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition

by Jim Welke

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Raise your hand if you visited a student art exhibition in the last year. Well? Well, this writer might have kept his hands in his pockets, but for the MFA graduate show in the Wayne State Community Arts Art Department Gallery (Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition: part 1 of 2, part 2 opens 14-Feb).

The gallery extends long and narrow with a north-facing wall of glass that offers a first-class view of the McGregor Reflecting Pool (which appears as a scene from Dr. Zhivago this time of year). Most of the light in the gallery comes from that cool northern glow reflected off snow and flatters the work therein.

Clara W. DeGalan

Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II / Clara W. DeGalan

Clara W. DeGalan, a Detroit native, finesses large charcoal drawings with skill that astonishes. Charcoal can be messy, and to create large, detailed works that consist of more than a few broad sweeps must be a daunting task. But she does it over and over. Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II offers that sense of natural harmony and balance you might find in a pastoral landscape, but instead it shows a collection of buildings intersected by a chain link fence and overhead wires — it feels urban, but the buildings appear non-descript enough that they could be outbuildings on a farm. Snow covers the scene and no humans complicate the view with their tendency to obstruct serenity.

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

But there’s something else hovering in another dimension of Ms. DeGalan’s work. All her works here, at first glance, feel serene and the figurative pictures bring the warmth — or heat — you get from human close-ups. And then you sense an Edgar Allen Poe-esque, Gothic-novel, sinister presence. Her painting, Passed This Way Before, which appears to show a mirror standing in an sun-dappled alley way or street, surrounded by a lush growth of bushes and trees with a tall building in the distant background, and another building reflected in the mirror. The picture, executed in gentle, blurry brushstrokes and diluted colors, feels comforting. Yet, like a well-placed metaphor in a short story, that inexplicable reflection and the sharp angular washes of light and shadow somehow suggest either foreboding or a dark memory.

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) creates a similar baleful sense of mystery. Who kisses the girl in the pool? Why does the woman kissing the girl wear all white? What does she hold in her other hand, the one obscured by her uniform-like dress? Why does the girl have the pool all to herself? Aside from the girl and the woman, the scene fills with contrasting angles; a restrictive crosshatched wall behind them. The picture feels documentary, like a snapshot, a fleeting moment in time that leaves the viewer wondering about the prologue and epilogue. Or so this writer sees it. Maybe the dark is not there at all, but when you get up close to these works you sense complexity. That much is sure.

 

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Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Alex Drummer earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalworking. For his master’s thesis show, he presents a series of knitted beard triptychs that surely set a mind to wondering. The knit work appears well made, and one needs to be impressed that a man who pursued metalworking with such assiduous application might as easily take up knitting. So there’s that.

Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 4 / Alex Drummer

But why knitted beards? Well we all wear costumes and disguises to get through our difficult lives, and we change those costumes and disguises as circumstance requires. Flanking each of the five knitted beards mounted on boards, Mr. Drummer presents photographs of men and women wearing the beards, hence triptychs. The unnaturally colored beards, almost like witty commentary on the fashion of such beards in some circles, conceal the faces of the wearers to the point of obscuring their identifying features, even their sex — women wearing beards? Perhaps Mr. Drummer suggests more than mere social disguises here, but something of general utility to hide us from the Orwellian eyes of our burgeoning surveillance state? Perhaps a comment on controlling religious codes that require beards for men, or head coverings for women? As a playful nod to the inevitable question: What would I look like in one of those? Mr. Drummer offers Portrait Beard 2, which allow the visitor to prop themselves before a suspended knit beard and view themselves in a mirror. These are fun works, but not so lightly dismissed if you ponder the underlying motivation for their making.

 

Alex Drummer

Portrait Beard 2 / Alex Drummer

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Emilee Arter offers big, sculptural works formed of various natural and synthetic fabrics along with tape and other fasteners. These pieces will likely mystify the viewer on first approach — the drapes and folds confront the viewer with seemingly chaotic turmoil. Yet as one gazes into them, you sense harmony, a balance created by non-random forces, a stasis that which naturally occurs in ecological niches with their hard won, long-evolved symbiotic relationships. And then there are the titles, which for certain were labored over for precise tonal affect like spare lines in a poem.

Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement / Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement is a title the visitor can sink their teeth into. And the work offers the least cohesive assembly of the collection from Ms. Arter, as though the work were something else once, and now represents the aftermath of the prediction misinterpreted, an explosion with woeful consequences of lost opportunity.

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September inevitably forces the visitor to contemplate their own Septembers. This writer immediately remembered a camping trip on the shore of Lake Superior and a night deluged by rain that left belongings floating in the old tent. One can see this work as that tent, dashed asunder. Or not. The plastics and dark, almost internal organ-like colors will elicit a multitude of reactions. But the September that it will most universally summons is that infamous September day, the eleventh of 2001.

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest, oddly, given its title, feels like the gentlest work presented by Ms. Arter. Burlap sacks with various printed source and content declarations fold and drape to reach an off-center pinnacle with a banner-like strand extending outward like those colorful banners atop medieval circus tents. Shredded and tumultuous toward the interior, the burlap at the boundaries forms flowing arcs that feel almost musical, thus perhaps that sensation of a caress rather than a slap. This works also seems to offer commentary on global consumerist trade and the piles of detritus it creates, detritus that often ends up floating on the surface of oceans, swirled and nudged into forms echoing those here. Find your own path into this work, but give it time. Abstraction provokes unique associations in every viewer. That’s the fun — and challenge — of it. Treat yourself. Go see these and the other works in the show.

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition runs through 7 February. The second half opens 14-February.

 

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