In the fast-paced digital art world of today, the Western Connecticut State University MFA Thesis Exhibition demonstrates the great value of traditional mediums at Blue Mountain Gallery. The show runs from June 23 -July 10, 2021. Six artists working in oil, acrylic and ink on board present diverse works that range from surreal and landscape to hardedge emblematic illustrations and expressive still lifes.
The paintings by Ryan Ames’ art places us in the surreal world of “what if” and simultaneously at “lost possibilities.” His bold graphic work and spare style is haunting in the series titled, Hindsight (hīn(d)-sīt) n. His thesis is based on the issue of gun violence and in particular, children as victims. Ames presents the child in a white silhouette facing the adult self that is not to be in the future. The adult self is silhouetted in black. We see iterations of the child at all the stages of life—a boy with a blue backpack seeing himself graduating from college. All of his compositions hit the right note. The remaining series of vignettes depict the adult self in marriage, leadership, winning a prize, and of a soldier. All the possibilities of a life—the loss of what could have been. Ames demonstrates the horror of that loss in ghost-like shapes and does this in a straightforward quiet way. He makes a political statement without using a cudgel, which takes skill and a lot of heart. One hopes that Ryan Ames will continue to speak out through his art, and with his clear, direct and refined style.
Alison Booth is inspired by the natural world, although she is a native of New York City. In much of her paintings, some as selfportraits, she is surrounded by lush greenery. In one piece, Seated Self Portrait with Blue Nightgown, she is contemplative, but in Inch Worm, she is seductive, her demeanor softened
and an oversized palm frond circles her face like a green scarf, while an inch worm crawls up her back. Booth was influenced as a child by her father whose background was poetry and the literary arts. She expresses a poetic point of view and an erotic mystery in her storytelling. One cannot help but see the connection that Booth has become Eve in her imaginary Garden of Eden, particularly in Self Portrait With Puppy. She is seen in the forest with her dog, surrounded by wildlife and brought to life with her rich use of blackish greens, browns and russet making it both fanciful and serious. In the work titled, Ah-Yi, we see Alison tending to a baby whose face and body are lit up with the skillful use of colors.
Kathleen Spezzano leads us into the world of fantasy and mythology. She’s inspired by nature and is a wiccan practitioner. In the piece titled The Banshee, she takes custody of the power of wildness, where a phantasm, wraith-like figure with willowing white hair and a cloud shaped dress expresses rage. One wonders if the banshee is asserting her power or if she is queen of the underworld who holds the secret of hundreds of potions that do either good or harm. One feels the energy of this figure and we are intrigued by the mystery of this white-haired woman. In the work, titled Wrath of Poseidon, the god of the sea is a bearded man with only the whites of his eyes showing, surrounded by sweeping waves of water forming a circle around his face and he holds a pitchfork as a weapon. Spezzano also develops a striking synthesis by showing the god’s hair melting into waves.
For her thesis project, Jennifer Sullivan explores memories of her family growing up in an all female household. She is inspired by fabrics, and the tactile quality of their textures. In Internal Monologue, she creates engaging layers by painting larger than life flowers in room settings. Her work is mantled in frenetic, energetic paint gestures that captivate with their abandon. Her pieces are between abstraction and layering in her use of paint while capturing classic subject matter. There is a physicality to her paint strokes, a wild dance of pigment. One asks: Is it about the paint and how it is used or about obliteration of the subject matter? In the work titled Cement and Lace, the palette is muted in grays, whites, blacks and a hint of dark blue with abstracted tulips. Sullivan uses her web work of strokes that evoke more light and calm in this particular piece with a beautifully textured background. Jennifer Sullivan’s art is bold in style and approach.
David Flook is already a virtuoso whose versatility is impressive. The work he is exhibiting in this show is reflective of 2020, which has been fodder for both writers and artists. In the piece Down By The River, we see a mother, child and an older man walking along the banks of a river in a city. (One suspects it is a city in the UK where Flook hails from originally) This piece depicts a moment of joy and is beautifully rendered. The most striking quality is the color palette which has the echo of the old masters. Every corner of this artwork has the colors of history in them, muted pinks, beiges, blues. Each surface is a like a group of mini-paintings within the entire piece. Notice how the sidewalk is painted, the sky, the woman’s pink puff jacket. Flook also paints classic views of the Connecticut landscape, capturing a peaceful moment in the countryside. One piece, titled Grampy, is exceptional in its craftsmanship as a pencil drawing of a grandfather holding a child. The contrast between the whiskered weathered old man and the soft unblemished face of the boy is stark. One can feel the embrace of the grandfather’s strength, his love and desire to protect this precious boy. In The New Norm, set in an open landscape devoid of people, we see a sign on a wood fence that says, SOCIAL DISTANCING KEEP SIX FEET APART, with an arrow that points in both directions. At the far end of a dirt road we see the glimpse of an UPS truck. David Flook knows what he is doing as an accomplished artist.
We come to a crossroads at Rachel Rossier’s art. The juncture between the spiritual and the physical or as Rossier puts it—between the sacramental and transcendental. In her recent work, she uses a Raggedy Ann doll as a leitmotif, perhaps to demonstrate innocence and humility. Her subject matter is about the state of rest and sleep. Much of her work is surreal and influenced by Mexican
art. She uses brilliant colors and light in a magical way. That light is golden, as if some heavenly being is painting with oranges, pinks, blues. The intensity of colors plays against the topics of rest, her love of God and conversion to Catholicism. Her paintings are enigmatic, compelling and have passion even in the quiet space of sleep. She has us visit that subconscious state, the dreamscape that could be filled with the love of the Christ spirit and love for humanity. This is a difficult subject to paint. Rossier takes us into the netherworld of our apparitions, giving us close ups of the beauty of sleep and the soul’s inherent mystery. Is this a snippet of heaven Rachel Rossier is giving us in these exquisite color-filled images?
Mastery of a variety of time honored mediums is demonstrated by these MFA 2021 candidates making this exhibition an important keystone in today’s multimedia culture.