On Friday the 6th, the Blaffer Museum opened up its doors to the 40th Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition. It’s typically a hit or miss collection of graduate students works within the program curated together the best way it can be. Group shows are tricky to orchestrate, and with student works its even harder. This year’s thesis exhibition was the cream of the crop and worked harmoniously together creating a steady thread of dialog throughout the museum. The newly graduates had a solid collection of works that showed very little signs of struggle and a great deal of professionalism and contemporary gravitas.
With an object-and-painting-heavy show, the works relied heavily on its own creation and process rather than shallow concepts. While there were a few headscratchers, the exhibition, as a whole, was powerful and vibrant. This year’s thesis exhibition highlights works of 11 exhibiting artists: Charis Ammon, Heather Bisesti, Alton DuLaney, Isaac Farley, Gao Hang, Jesus Gonzalez, Jordan McGroary, Suzette Mouchaty, Hibah Osman, Jonathan Read and Donald Villemez.
This years exhibition had a pleasant solidarity. Before entering the exhibitions space the viewers were greeted by the pop, vim, vigor paintings of Gao Hang. The Chinese artist, having moved here several years ago, has spent his time in Texas learning the odd quirks of Texas/American lifestyles. Through these small adventures in culture, Gao has create as comprehensive body of work. The entry piece of his is two paintings, which tip his hat to a previous series, “Predators.” Within this series and these new entryway works he continues down the path of fear embodied in all humans. We all know that Texans have zero fear, but the works speak to us all nonetheless. The larger painting “THE SHARK 1,” oil and acrylic on canvas, displays a simple row of teeth, painted in greys and bright pinks and captures with purpose and greatly represents Gao’s process and color palette. “Shark IV,” as if a small guardian off to the left,is a small painting of the known attacker, the great white shark. Presented they read of a brutal timeline of a distant glance of the predator off in the distance, and the last thing you see before your certain demise is a large set of teeth.
Setting the tone, Gao leads us into his other body of work featuring neon green skulls, immigration stamps, and the statue of liberty. Very much on the Warhol side, the paintings are well painted and speak enough on their own that the Warhol flavor does not sour the message. They are presented as an installation and the perfect companion pieces for Charis Ammon’s large plein air paintings. The large-scale paintings in the main room speak as much volumes as her small works located in the upstairs gallery. Charis’ work is painterly in the fullest of the word. They are observational paintings that carry less of a theme per say than they represent her epic talents as a painter. Her brush work is extraordinary, and her subject matter is fascinating.
“Split” is a view of a corporate or institutional bathroom. Looking at, not only the teal colored sinks, the viewer is able to stare through the large mirror within the bathroom, to endlessly view the rest of the sterile yet interesting toilet environment repeated over and over again. Her next painting, “Before Light,” which shares the same wall, is a cold and uninviting subway car, maintaining as much charm as public transportation could. However, it’s not the view that you are sold on with her works, but her technique and skill with the brush. It’s hard to pull off observational painting and have it hold its own beyond school or studio practice. Her work has already been exhibited at Inman gallery at Isabella Court, so she has no real reason to showboat. This is why the following painting of a shelving unit of milk is outright hilarious. I’ve never seen gallons of milk so welcoming, but she pulls it off with grace.
Jonathan Read’s work has also been seen about town, and many are familiar with his playful and toy-like figures and ray guns painted on small cut outs of wood, creating an action figure-like appearance. They hold true as stand alone objects or paintings, but for the thesis exhibition Read creates a grand display of theater-like storyline. The collection is made up of five separate pieces working together to read as one. “The Universe spends WAY too much time thinking about me: The Cosmic Asshole,” is a piece in which Read displays a space-like creature springing forth from the center, shooting out lasers and explosions to the worlds and beings around him. The other four vignettes play out as supporting stories, each pulling from the piece before it. The viewers eyes dance around the wall because his colors, painting style and clever objects are intriguing. Jon’s work has always been fun and exploratory, but this is more involved, dialed in, and exciting to see first hand. His ideas are organized, and it’s obvious there are more larger projects from him in the near future.
Across the room from Jon is an artist I’m less familiar with but pleased to have been introduced to through her work. Suzette Mouchaty is a brilliant fabricator, installation artist and object maker. I couldn’t really decide, because I felt choosing one would pigeon hole the work. The piece called “Utility Cart,” is a mixed media sculpture posing as a conceptual body of furniture or display vessel. The piece is composed of wood, steel, diamond plating and plastic. It’s a fun piece of work that holds yet another 11 pieces of works or found objects. Even the diagram created to explain the work acts as a map to its odd inner workings and hidden compartments. Tucked away in the corner is an installation is a piece titled “Untitled (Lace up),” which is about as it sounds. The intersection where one wall meets another to create the room’s corner is held together by larger-than-life shoe laces. It’s complete with the small metal holes to guide the lace; the plastic ends of the laces lay loose on the floor. Above it is, as it appears, the museum’s small bubble security camera. The artist shows the viewer that the odd elements such as exit signs, thermostats, or this case, a security camera, not only does not subtract from the work but becomes a part of its humor.
Upstairs was an intimate space holding the video and installation works by Jesus Gonzalez Jr. The piece “Ramas De Mezclilla” ( Denim Branches) is a skillfully lit set of three sculptures spaced out in the room as three. The branches are twined together and draped with denim and bright yellow fabric, ballooned out as if a sail. They sit at attention in front of the video piece “Sueños y Recuerdos de Martin” ( Dreams and Memories of Martin), and are described as a video scape for denim. The peaceful video shows a desert landscape barren but captured on a windy and sunny day, with dream-like edits of people within it interacting with the surroundings of the empty landscape. The video or the installation is not heavy handed. It’s a thoughtful and zen-like moment within the exhibition.
The Blaffer always provides a professional foundation for University of Houston students to showcase their works, and this graduating class does this favor due diligence. The 40th Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition is open through April 21 and is certainly worth your time to stop by and experience.