UW News

June 13, 2017

Abstraction, family memories — even a touch of voodoo — highlight annual graduate show at Henry Art Gallery

UW News

Artist Arely Morales with her three paintings depicting immigrant workers at the 2017 MFA + Mdes Thesis Exhibition, at the Henry Art Gallery though June 25.

Artist Arely Morales with her three paintings depicting immigrant workers at the 2017 MFA + Mdes Thesis Exhibition, at the Henry Art Gallery though June 25.Peter Kelley


Absurdity and abstraction, artistic dualisms, long-held family memories — and even some gentle voodoo — mingle together in the annual exhibition by University of Washington art and design graduate students, on display through June 25 at the Henry Art Gallery.

The 2017 MFA + MDes Thesis Exhibition, an annual spring rite at the Henry, displays thesis work by graduate students finishing up their degree at the School of Art + Art History + Design. The artworks — paintings, sculptures, installation pieces and design demonstrations — fill the Henry’s upper galleries. Many of the artists were on hand to discuss their work at a recent preview.

Artist Elizabeth Fortunato with her installation piece, "From Ashes."

Artist Elizabeth Fortunato with her installation piece, “From Ashes.”Peter Kelley

Prominently placed, for good reason, are three expansive oil paintings on canvas by Arely Morales. These are bountifully colorful scenes of immigrant farmworkers, burdened, weary and perspiring, one even injured. Their gaze meets the viewer’s.

“I’m definitely interested in trying to channel the humanity of immigrant workers, so I hope that comes across,” Morales said. The paintings, she said, respond to the current political landscape in the United States. “There so much negativity, and we are profiled. I saw this because I am part of this minority group as well. These are not only my experiences but also my friends and family.”

Familial feelings and memories underlie much of the art this year, including Elizabeth Fortunato‘s piece, “From Ashes,” employing living room-style elements like a comfy armchair and ottoman and a scattering of ghostly-pale shoes: “It’s a kind of vignette to a fragment of a memory,” she said, “Based on a true space that I can actually still visit.”

Across the room, other family sentiments found expression in text messages embroidered on the leaves of two artificial ferns in a waiting room setting in Cecilia Ross-Gotta‘s “I Love You Are You OK.

“This is a conversation between my dad and I, so this work is about our relationship,” Ross-Gotta said. “One plant has my messages and the other has my dad’s.” A waiting room, she said, is ” a space where nothing progresses, it’s like a stagnant place. That’s describing the quality of our relationship. Furthermore the artificial plants are fake, right? They can’t grow.”

Nevertheless, family is family, and she said her messages “are more or less limited to ‘I love you, are you okay?'” — which became the title.

Stuffed animals are adapted for voodoo use in Gavriella Aguilar's mixed media sculpture "Pantheon: A Never Union." Aguilar says of the voodoo, "I'm not affecting anybody else. It’s more about me looking for clarification."

Stuffed animals are adapted for gentle voodoo use in Gavriella Aguilar’s mixed media sculpture “Pantheon: A Never Union.” Aguilar says of the voodoo, “I’m not affecting anybody else. It’s more about me looking for clarification.”Peter Kelley

At the room’s center is Gavriella Aguilar‘s mixed media sculpture “Pantheon: A Never Union,” comprising several pedestals arranged in a circle on which sit variously altered stuffed animals.

“I started off thinking about comfort objects and object of sentimental value. These objects in particular are symbolic through the manipulations that I’ve put them through. I practice voodoo, so that sort of comes out through these.”

Wait — voodoo? “It’s more of an internal thing,” she added. “All the objects have to do with me, I’m not affecting anybody else. It’s more about me looking for clarification.”

Visitors pass Tarran Sklenar‘s two large, many-layered abstract oils “Splay” and “Shift” as they enter: “My paintings tend to be quite emotive or energetic,” the artist said. “I try to get away from the representational aspects of the work and let the paint itself hold the content. I like to bring attention to the paint quality.”

In a small gallery to one side of the entryway, Daniela Mora has used cylindrical papier-mâché structures, videos and shadowy lighting for an installation piece called “The inevitable questions regarding — or, transformation of — self (part 1-5).” It springs from recent thoughts of “the idea of living in the absurd, and a way of coping as well.” Across the hall, filmmaker and performance artist Clare Halpine’s “Hermeneutics I, II” ponders the duality of masculine and feminine with video and pun-heavy word play.

Ding Jin‘s “Deity Humanity Materiality” is a triptych of paintings bright with hues of blood and organs — at center a premature infant, to the right, meat packaged in cellophane. “My work is like a question,” he said. “The question is, what’s the relationship between the three things? Where’s the boundary between the three things?”

And nearby, Peter Barbor‘s funereal sculpture “Antiphon” is, the artist said,  “like a call and response to history — it loosely references a medieval tomb sculpture, and brings that into the present with more contemporary materiality.”

"Lonely Mountains," an installation piece by Ryna Frankel.

“Lonely Mountains,” an installation piece by Ryna Frankel.

Ryna Frankel‘s “Lonely Mountains” is an installation piece with bright colors and soft, stuffed mountain-shapes suspended from the ceiling and rainbows along the walls. Frankel said she’s interested in “power dynamics, and specifically trying to figure out what sort of power exists in things that are awkward or cute. I guess you could say that a mountain is something grand and not at all cute — so, what happens in the reverse if you make something like that cute, soft and huggable?”

The show also includes the work of students earning their Master of Design, but these designers had a conflict and were unable to attend the preview. They are Sarah Reitz with “Landmark: Participatory Experiences in Commemorative Places”; Richelle Dumond, “Speaking Up: Communicating with Authorities Through Positive Disruptions”; Scott Tsukamaki, “Cloudent”; and Tate Strickland with “Envisioning the Museum Voice: Gaze and Speech as Methods of Interacting with Art.”

Both the Master of Fine Art and Master of Design are two-year programs. The press preview began with introductory remarks by Jamie Walker, professor and director of the School of Art + Art History + Design, and Jes Gettler, exhibition designer and lead preparator.

The exhibit is free. The Henry Art Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, closed on Monday and Tuesday.


For more information about this exhibit contact Dana Van Nest, Henry Art Gallery associate director of marketing, communications and public relations, at 206-616-9625 or press@henryart.org.