Students of this new decade have not only had to be flexible but endure the unpredictable. The 2020 Fall graduating seniors from the Fine Arts Department at The University of New Mexico have had to make peace with their senior exhibition being presented virtually.
Creatives Together, Apart is a collection of works from Andrea Polli’s online capstone class, full of various student artists remotely and cooperatively working through their devices to bring their Senior Exhibition to viewers in safety. This exhibition enhances every individual’s works to give everyone a glimpse of who they are and what their artworks mean to them. Even with the social distance, they are still banded together – apart.
“I helped to guide these emerging arts professionals in getting ready to launch the next phase of their careers whether it is graduate school or professional work. The students wrote artist's statements, developed their portfolios, did some grant writing and grants research and put together this exhibition including videos of each artist's talks, PR, and a print-on-demand catalog,” explained Polli, faculty instructor for the senior BFA capstone course.
This capstone show didn’t end up the way it was originally planned. What started out as a sprawling campus-wide show ended up online.
“When I graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago, all graduating students would have a major exhibition to launch their career that was well attended by school and community members. A major event of the year,” Polli noted. “When I was planning to teach this course, my goal was to implement a campus-wide graduation exhibition at the end of the semester that would be at several galleries throughout campus, and even the art museum, if available. COVID didn't allow that, although about half of the students had graduation exhibitions early on in the semester. That was really important, especially for those who would like to apply for graduate school.”
“Having it online made it accessible to an audience that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to visit. For some of us, including myself, my family is out of state and visiting would not have been an option. With the online exhibition they had the ability to engage with it as well. I think the greatest benefit was the possibility of the range the exhibition could get,” observed graduate Robyn Rozelle.
Polli reflected on this class, how it fits in her career, and the future.
“Faced with one of the most unusual semesters in my teaching career - comparable only to the semester I taught in New York City during 9/11 - I have found this UNM Fall 2020 studio capstone class to be filled with more resilient and caring students than I have ever known. I have seen this class consistently support and encourage each other as they have faced the daunting challenges of finishing their degrees and launching their careers as arts professionals during a global pandemic. They give me hope for the future and I know this group of artists will bring their supportive community with them as they face the unknown challenges of our future,” Polli remarked.
Creatives Together Apart
Fifteen students participated in the show, with work ranging from photography to clay sculpture to an interactive art installation. Profiles of these seniors and their work include images, videos, artist statements, and links to their websites and artist social media accounts.
Abdiel Beltrán (b.1996) is a first-generation Mexican-American painter living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “His work primarily consists of non-representational imagery and utilizes painting as a form to interrupt everyday life. His search to find an interruption is enhanced when he leaves the studio and paints in natural spaces. He recreates and re-screens layers of paint and often finds himself wanting to translate what it means and looks like to ‘let go.’ For example, painting non-figuratively en plein air allows him to experience a sense of liberation – typically manifested as gestures and letting the subtleties of the details matter… The results document a relationship between the restrictions that come from ordinary life and pushing boundaries as a form to find a sense of freedom within. He invites the viewer to not search for a narrative but to be curious instead.” Follow Beltran on Instagram.
Katherine (Katie) Conley is a photographer born in Charleston, SC. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s of Fine Arts Studio degree. “Katherine’s work is playful and often childish. By integrating found objects, old photographs, processes from home, children’s craft supplies, and historic indigo dye processes, her images reflect her vibrant, goopy, soft, sugared-up, and sometimes tarnished view of her own identity, memories, home, and change… Katherine uses souvenirs of the past to create works about the present. She moved from a marshy, coastal home to the arid desert. Amidst these changes, she considers the ways she has been impacted by the places and people left behind. What is salvageable? And what can never be recovered? What stains remain?” Follow Connelly on Instagram.
Matthew Duda is a photographer from Randolph, N.J. “For the most part, the subject of my work is often people, documenting humans and their environments... I work mainly in film photography, for most of my career up onto this point I have shot black and white film for assignments and dabbling here and there in color 35mm… My education at UNM has allowed me to take other forms of study (mainly philosophy) to create work with a deep root in conceptual practice. I believe if I am going to pursue something for the sake of artistic practice, I should dig as deep and wide as possible for information to back up my work… I want to see my work be a sort of multimedia experience utilizing analog and digital techniques to create a company that allows me to be self sustainable and create work for the rest of my life.”
Ian Douglas Hucke is a painter and graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “His passion for painting portraits was ignited after he was hit by a car while crossing Lead Avenue, heading home from campus. This near fatal accident changed everything for him… Pairing his love for meeting new people and all the time spent in busy waiting rooms, painting portraits of strangers became a natural fit… For these portraits, Ian most often uses watercolor paint, adding texture and detail with graphite. With his paintbrush and words, he tells a story. Each subject he paints is a real person, and he adds a fictional biographical vignette to create unique intrigue to his completed work. With this combination, he encourages others to see people more deeply.” Hucke was recently featured as one of UNM’s inspiring Fall 2020 graduates.
Blaise Koller is a visual artist born in Seattle, who has lived in Albuquerque since she was an infant. “Ever since she can remember she has been making some type of art from whatever materials called to her… For Giving Ourselves is an experimental pop-up that embodies a defense of giving… Baskets felted and woven from reused and discarded scraps, and dyed with plant materials, will be given. Fallen fruit and wild weeds collected within a few blocks of my home have filled these baskets with jams, syrups, seeds, and a question as to what will happen with their life force next. The abundance of the last eight months has been collected to show the beauty and generosity of the everyday and the small who give themselves within this city scape. If we take the time to slow down, we can see them and learn to appreciate their inherent worth. For the generosity of their lives and gifts to us, reciprocity and care is asked in return.” Follow Koller on Instagram.
Jiayi Liang was born in China and graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “Jiayi’s work expresses and explores self-identity, the limitation of language, and the fragility of human memory. Her artistic practice serves as a meditation and treatment for healing the inner problems and mental struggles that pervade her life… Don’t Tell Your Mom. It relays the story about my trauma of childhood sexual abuse in a personal perspective. It finds its origins in my childhood memories which were attempted to be covered up by the person who physically abused me… I used my body and different objects with symbolic significance through multiple art forms: The lumen print process, staged photography, and sculpture installation as metaphors to euphemistically express my inner struggle, hopelessness, fear and experience…” Follow Liang on Instagram and her website.
James Loftus is a graphic artist born and raised in Albuquerque and graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “James has a love for comics and would like to illustrate graphic novels, children’s books or work in the field of graphic design after he graduates. He loves to draw and paint or use the computer to make his art but doesn’t limit himself to any one medium… When he was five, he witnessed the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger live on TV, and in that 74 seconds, his life was forever changed. He sees television as his first teacher. He was inspired to draw comics at the age of five after visiting The Graphic Art of Charles Schulz Exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum. He works with a wide range of different materials such as graphite, ink, acrylic, oil, plaster, and digital software. His process can start with a sketch and end up as a painting or a digital image or later be recreated in plaster.” Follow Loftus on Instagram.
Anna McConnell grew up in Questa and Taos. She graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “I’ve been creating all kinds of art throughout my life using numerous mediums since I could walk and even went to a Waldorf school where I learned many hands-on art styles… My most preferred medium is drawing and painting digitally. Most of my work revolves around nature as it is my passion and I’ve always had a connection and interest to the outdoors since I’ve lived in the mountains and forests all my life… What inspires me and makes me want to continue to do art throughout my life is not just the desire I have from making the work, but also the wonder and surprise I get from others when enjoying my art. I want to inspire others and show them how enjoyable, beautiful and peaceful nature can be, and maybe even have them learn from my art as well.”
Jacqueline Montiel is a visual artist born and raised in Albuquerque. She graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “She plans to continue her studies in graduate school for studio art and hopes to pursue a lifestyle that will combine her love for art and museum studies… Her preferred mediums are acrylic paint on canvas and graphite or color pencils on paper. Her appreciation for creatures and architecture defines her style. Her works follow the ideas of realism or semi-realism. Her inspiration comes from a Polish painter named Zdzisław Beksiński. She chooses to work with these materials and mediums since she can create vital details and work faster.” See more of Montiel’s work on her website.
Julia Reeder is a sculptural artist from Albuquerque. She graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “My interests lie in the worlds of 3D, materials and multimedia… I am always exploring new materials. Investigation with different mediums and materials has been a huge part of my individual growth and research as an artist. My ideas develop in conjunction with my understanding for new materials. My work is a statement about the present, you must bring yourself into real-time to interact with the tangible space occupied by sculpture. It is a physical experience that we are in desperate need of, in the high-speed world we know today. Experimenting in ceramics, wood and metal as well as multiple casting techniques has resulted in exposure to everything from wo-man power to power tools. Learning under several teachers and next to many students and their varieties of styles has kept me open-minded, optimistic and inspired.” Follow Reeder on Instagram.
Robyn Leigh Rozelle is a printmaker and textile artist born in Dallas. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts while making art and residing in Dallas. “In her practice, she focuses on how printmaking and textiles share a unique layering process that allows her to thoughtfully reflect and allow change to occur. Her prints feel like memories, rich with dreamy colors and star filled skies. The color palettes she chooses are from photographs she takes of the sky. Her work reflects on the experiences of women, from her own personal memories and those from generations gone by. Often reflecting on the relationships between sisters, mothers and their daughters, and the experiences of loss, tenacity, vigor and love that seem to be a common thread through her own lineage of women. Many of the stories of these women she has learned through storytelling from family, or through stories that have been passed on through family members creating a sense of folklore and wonder.” Follow Rozelle on Instagram. Rozelle was recently featured as one of UNM’s inspiring Fall 2020 graduates.
Shannon Smith is a painter born in Wurzburg, Germany who has lived in New Mexico most of her life. She graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “She creates detailed works mixing fiction and reality based on urban legend and the paranormal. Her work is largely created in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil… Through her work, she seeks a place to explore and visualize her own ideas of these stories by making videos as different characters. She also seeks to express her own hardships with mental health and growing up through relation to these characters and entities, by acting and by referencing childhood memories of road trips across the United States with her family.”
Sergio Stryker is a visual artist born and raised near Chicago. “Living in the slower paced Albuquerque, New Mexico, his practice investigates the politics of image making. With a playful yet serious delivery, Stryker asks the viewer to question the validity of any singular voice in image making. His work often references the history of photography while taking into account the contemporary concerns that surround the medium… In Theory is a collaborative body of work between Sergio Stryker and his long deceased paternal relative. The two are brought together through their appreciation for the medium of photography. Mysteries of national conspiracy become unveiled in Sergio’s journey through a family archive.” Follow Stryker on Instagram.
Felicia Tafoya is a ceramics sculptor and painter born in Albuquerque. She has earned her bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “Most of her artwork consists of small and large scale sculptures with pre-mixed and originally mixed glazes. In the area of painting she works medium to large scale and uses oil and acrylic, but acrylic as her primarily painting medium. Her ceramic sculptures are sometimes functional but mostly created for decorative purposes only… In her most recent work she gets her inspiration from Ellen Dissanayake. She looks at art through a perspective of what it was intended to be used for, in order to understand what we use it for today and how it has changed… She plans on furthering her skills and experience through personal work and to enter into more shows. This will help her build a platform to showcase her work and learn her life as an artist after college.” Follow Tafoya on Instagram.
Anhua Katniss Xu graduated with a bachelor of Fine Arts Studio degree. “Today and tomorrow look totally different. The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace and I want my visual art to present the everyday steps we take and face to get to that ever-changing future. To create my photography, I look at moments from daily life that I find most fun. For me the most fun activity is talking with new people. When I meet new people, I can experience through them the variety that the world has to offer… The “ME?” Collection, featured in the “Now You See ME” graduate show and represented by 13 prints and transparencies, was inspired by the social issues I have experienced in our fast-changing relationship with digital photography technology… The artwork featured in this show was chosen to demonstrate the difference between how I appear and how others would edit my photos to make me look more beautiful to them.” Follow Xu on Instagram.
The whole exhibition catalog is available in PDF format.