For these students of the UC Davis Department of Art Masters of Fine Arts graduate program, art is more than just a hobby. Two years of work in the studio has led up to six graduating students’ final thesis projects, which are currently on display in “Six,” the annual MFA Exhibition.
Showing in “Six” are graduating students Mary Alison Lucas, Irman Arcibal, Chau Huynh, LissaIvy Tiegel, Caroline Cloak and Nickolas Mohanna. The exhibition can be seen at the Nelson Gallery in the Art building and at the Memorial Union Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the MU. For more information, go to dotgarden.com/ucd2008mfa.
The two-year program emphasizes an interdisciplinary and independent approach to art. Method and material were under no restriction, and this creative autonomy allowed for a diverse range of pieces that will be showcased at the exhibit.
“I think the art world is full of tremendous possibilities,” said Arcibal, whose piece for the exhibit is a series of paper works. “There are people working in so many different ways, coming from so many different backgrounds. It is definitely an intriguing time to be an artist.”
Photography was the medium of choice for Pratt Institute alumna Tiegel, who will be showing a series of instructional photographs. For the series, she asked friends and family to send her a request of an instruction that she could translate into an image. Nelson Gallery director Renny Pritikin described these requesters as “collaborative instigators” in Tiegel’s artist profile. No request could be too intangible, Tiegel said. This lack of specific guidelines led to submissions such as “how to point to the future,” “how to keep cool before surgery” and “how to suspend desire.”
“I was looking for something that wasn’t super literal,” Tiegel said. “It was more so getting into the psychological space of the instructions, not so much intellectually.”
There was a similar approach of conceptual thinking with California College of Arts alum Lucas. Her ceramic pieces resemble dense bodies of sea anemones, which Lucas viewed as abstractions from nature.
“There’s an ambiguity for the viewer to come to their conclusions,” Lucas said. “I don’t like to lead the viewer – I like that the audience can have [its] own sort of emotional reaction and interpretation. It’s not a one-glance reaction.”
Though most of the artists in “Six” entered the MFA graduate program with an academic background in the arts, it was not a requirement for the program. Arcibal graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in biological sciences, and his background in science has had an influence on his approach to art. His final project consists of a series of paper works that he described as possessing a Rorschach-test quality.
“In the last couple of years, I have begun to embrace some of the more scientific or pseudoscientific ways that my mind works,” Arcibal said in an e-mail interview. “I am very influenced by process based artists like Sol Lewitt, as well as artists who work with randomness and chance operations like [music composer] John Cage.”
Other artists drew inspiration from their personal history. For Huynh, her life experiences as a Vietnamese-American proved to be a large factor in her work. Her arrangement of red and yellow canvas paintings was influenced by her upbringing in a communist household.
“I was trained to be an artist by my mom, who is also an artist back in Vietnam,” Huynh said in an e-mail interview. “[I was also inspired] from my background as being raised as communist and now married to a man who comes from an anti-communist family.”
Also on display in “Six” is a multimedia installation from Mohanna, who said that the opportunity to work in the studio as the students have done so far is rare outside of a graduate program.
Arcibal shared a similar sentiment and said that he didn’t think any other place could have been a better fit for his career in art.
“I’ve been working steadily for months now,” Arcibal said. “I give a lot of credit to our program for that. It is designed in such a way that the only real focus is for you to explore your own practice and make art.”
Cloak, who constructed an architectural installation in the Nelson gallery as part of her final project, summed up her graduate student experience as “hectic.”
“My experience at [Davis] has been very different than my experience at any of the institutions I attended during my undergraduate career,” Cloak said in an e-mail interview. “But the space and time to focus on my work alongside an intimate number of brilliant colleagues has been immeasurably beneficial to my art practice.”
A future in art – whether it is establishing a career in teaching, continuing work in the studio or showing in more galleries – is in store for the six artists after graduation.
“You can only rely on yourself in this field,” Lucas said. “There’s no book or expert that can tell you what to do – [art] is such a personal, self-motivated experience.”
RACHEL FILIPINAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.