Studio Art Theses In Conversation

Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews Studio Art majors whose senior theses are being shown in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery March 23-April 11.

The second week of studio art senior thesis shows opens today. Each week, the work of 4 to 6 artists is installed in the Main and South galleries of the Zilkha Gallery. A wide variety of media are represented, from plaster sculpture, painting, woodcuts, photography, and even eggs. The first week of shows by Nicolina Baxter, Patrick Serr, Eric Bissell, Gregory James and Lorena Estrella has closed, but there are still opportunities to see this week’s and next week’s exhibitions. I sat down with a few of the artists to find out how the thesis process has been going for them.

Though the students I spoke to indicated that while for the most part crafting a studio art thesis is a solitary procedure, in a liberal arts setting there is ample opportunity for conversation and dialogue, both among artists and academic disciplines. “I’ve been trying to balance this academic requirement and just wanting to make things,” says Angus McCullough, an architecture student whose work, Dormant, goes up in the third week of exhibitions, “but I think that’s been really fruitful—I’ve definitely come up with a lot of ideas I’m not necessarily going to use in my thesis, but could use in the future.” His work, a large-scale sculpture-room, deals with latent architectural spaces. Rachel Schwerin, who is presenting work this week that tells the story of a Chicago superhero named Red Hot Chicago, says she was inspired by both her courses at Wesleyan and her summer experience taking courses at Northwestern. “I think all of my art history classes have been really influential in terms of the way I intellectually think of the art I’m making,” she says. Eric Bissell noted that his coursework in Buddhism and anthropology—specifically ethnography—has been instrumental for his process.

For me, the most exciting part of this series is getting to see the work of people I know—both personally and academically. In the first week of shows, I found myself noticing ideas and patterns that I remember several of the artists discussing in class or working through in the studio. For example, both Eric Bissell’s HERE IS EXPANSIVE and Gregory James’ SATISFIXATION dealt with themes I’d seen them working with in Professor Jeffrey Schiff’s course, Topics in Studio Art, the former exploring our understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the latter using eggs as a medium to explore human contact and sexuality. I also remember seeing an earlier series of Nicolina (Nyki) Baxter’s work related to her thesis show, Flay, our sophomore year at her Sculpture II show.

The familiarity and consistency that arises out of working in a setting like Wesleyan is also important within the community of art thesis students. Eric, who has worked with Professor Jeffrey Schiff for all four years, remarks, “To have someone watch your progression as an artist is a really interesting thing; it allowed him to know when to really step in and give me advice. I really respected that.” Rachel noted that for the printmakers, who share one space unlike other thesis students who typically share a studio with two other students, “it’s been really interesting working in one big room. You’ll see a lot of common images and themes across our work, despite the fact that we’re working in very different styles. That’s something you get out of a shop mentality, which is cool.” Even in the smaller studios, though, thesis students are in dialogue with one another. “I’ve been going around as much as possible…it’s important to [look at each other’s work] because you look at your own work every day, until you can’t see it anymore,” says Angus. Nyki notes, “I think we’re always a sounding board for each other. You’ve established a little bit of a style or a conceptual vein they’ve seen in your work, [and] even if you don’t have a specific question to ask, being in the studio late at night and just having a conversation—even off topic—will lead you back to where you need to be.”

Remaining shows:
Tuesday-Sunday, March 30 – April 4
Reception: Wednesday, March 31, 4-6pm
Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li

Tuesday-Sunday, April 6 – April 11
Reception: Wednesday, April 7, 4-6pm
Genesis Grullon, Lily Bushman-Copp, Ray Brown, Angus McCullough, Anna Mendes, and Josh Lederer