Curating the high point of student art

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The department of fine arts is currently hosting &ldquo;<em>Zenith</em>,&rdquo; the 42nd Annual Senior Undergraduate Exhibition, which consists of the recent artworks by fourth-year honours students completing the fine arts undergraduate program at UW. The opening reception took place Thursday, March 17, and the exhibition will continue until Saturday, April 9. It is free and open to students and the public.&nbsp;</p>

The show’s name, “Zenith,” which describes a peak and an end, was appropriate for the climactic last show that represented four years of hard work and skill. 

The 32 artists featured at the exhibition displayed their distinct pieces, varying greatly in themes, media, and materials, giving the show a highly creative and diverse feel. Pieces consisted of mediums such as photopolymer prints (Allison Villemaire), plastic, acetone, and hot glue gun (Julia Martin), and copper etching print on paper (Jennifer Byrnes). Work by Cynthia Kaczala consisted of an interactive video, which displayed an animation on a computer screen that you could actively engage in by clicking on options along the storyline with a wireless mouse. Needless to say, the works displayed were highly unconventional and non-traditional. 

Ivan Jurakic, curator of UWAG, described the importance of the exhibition for budding artists.

“The fourth-year undergraduate exhibition is a critical experiential learning component of studio practice in fine arts. It’s an important step for young artists to have an opportunity to take their work out of the studio and display it in a professional gallery context. Having the work on public display is the moment where the rubber hits the road, where ideas crystallize into fact. It’s also a well-deserved celebration of their undergraduate experience,” he said.

Jurakic described the UWAG preparation period as a rigorous process. As curator, he is introduced to the fourth-year students during the fall, then provides critiques in February. The final selection process takes place in March a few weeks prior to the exhibition opening. 

“I’m very candid with them about things that can and should be improved in their artwork and the best ways in which to present their projects. I believe it’s critical to treat them as young professionals. This is their final exhibition after four years of studio-based practice so I think it’s important to push them to present their strongest work,” Jurakic said. 

Melissa Johns, one of the featured artists, was also the recipient of this year’s Curator’s Choice Award, which is selected by Jurakic. He was impressed with Johns’ drawing, observational skills, and technical skills, which he felt translated well into video animation. He also described that Johns ambitiously took full charge of her means of production, which consisted of nine microtiles (modular short throw projectors), provided to her by the Stratford campus for the show. 

Johns’ work, “Nesting,” is a multi-channel installation made up of 21 stereoscopic digital paintings, with subtle animations that flow into one another.

Placed on the floor of the exhibition and angled directly in front of the entrance, the piece draws you in and captivates you. Johns fully considered her composition, right down to the reflection of the screens on the black exhibition floor which contributed to its intriguing feel. 

“I’m really interested in memory, and our inherently flawed attempts at preserving moments in time,” Johns said.“Mysticism is a recurrent theme in my work, so the whole thing is rather moody and mysterious.” 

Lenore Ramirez also displayed her oil painting named, “Undertow,” for which she was inspired by artists like Jenny Saville and Lucien Freud, as well as the expressionist movement. 

“I have always been attracted to painting figures and the portraits, so it only made sense that my thesis should focus on skin, the body, and the narratives that can be constructed or drawn from and around them,” she said.

“Specifically for my piece ‘Undertow,’ I wanted to incorporate an additional layer of narrative; a story that might not be evident to the viewer at first. I asked my model to provide me with a photograph that was meaningful to her that could be related to her form. She has a fear of water, and provided me with a lovely image of the shallow part of a lake that she informed me was significant to her because it helped her overcome her fear of water. That’s why the piece is called ‘Undertow’,” Ramirez said.

Madzia McCutcheon displayed her artwork “Don’t think so much,” an intricate piece created using a very unconventional method — stitching paint together. 

“I create tactile and textured objects that blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. These objects are composed of thin layers of paint that have been sewn together either by hand or with a sewing machine. I handle paint as if it were a fabric, and assemble it with techniques that suit its properties and behavior,” she said.

“It’s been quite a battle to fully understand the physical properties of paint and how it behaves when it was sewn, mostly because there’s nothing out there about how to do it. I had to learn everything involved in the process on my own with pure experimentation. It’s also a material that’s not meant to be sewn and finding a way to overcome that was quite challenging,” McCutcheon said of her  work process. 

The program has produced many award winning artists, gallerists, curators and educators, such as Melissa Doherty (represented in collections across Canada and abroad), Daniel Faria (Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto), Gregory Culp (animator at Sony Pictures), and Chris Williams, who won an Oscar in 2015 for the Disney animated film Big Hero 6.