School of Art students showcase theses

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Photo by Wa Liu.

The opening of a painting and printmaking exhibition this month marked the beginning of thesis show season at the Yale School of Art.

“Condensed Matter,” the thesis exhibition of the 20 second-year painting and printmaking students at the School of Art, will be on display this month at the school’s Green Hall Gallery.

The show takes place in two parts: The first was on display from Feb. 1 through yesterday, and the second will open on Saturday and run through the 25th.

The exhibition is divided because of space limitations in the gallery, explained Associate Dean of the School of Art Samuel Messer, adding that thesis exhibitions are unlike the other gallery shows because the students organize the exhibitions themselves. He said the social cohesion of this particular class is evident in the subtle connections between their theses, even though students’ work may be different fundamentally.

Jordan Casteel ART ’14 described the first part of the show as unusually “painterly” for a thesis exhibition, though the exhibit features a number of video screens as well. While still heavily focused on painting, the second part will feature more three-dimensional pieces than the first, she said.

“It’s a show about painting, even though it’s in different media,” said Heidi Hahn ART ’14, whose work appeared in the show’s first group. She added that though she does not consider the show cohesive, she thinks one can use the same vocabulary to describe many of the works. “The first group is traditional; what [the second group] is doing is very painterly – just in a non-traditional sense.”

Stephen Benenson ART ’14 said the second-year painting and printmaking students determined how to divide the show and how to arrange both groups’ work in the gallery. He added that during this process, students were concerned primarily with where their work would hang as well as with whose work they would share the space. Benenson described the process as “remarkably amicable.” Messer added that when classes do not get along, their thesis exhibitions are “dysfunctional.”

“This second-year class fed off each other in a productive way,” Messer said. “So much of this is social, like anything else.”

For her thesis, Casteel worked in oil on canvas — her traditional medium, she said — painting nude black men in domestic spaces in what she called “an exploration of black masculinity.” The figures almost reach the edges of her large canvases, which she explained highlights the pressure that stereotypes impose upon black men. Even though some of the figures are green or multicolored, Casteel said viewers usually assume that the figures are black. Her work forces the viewers to address their assumptions about color and race.

“All the black men in my life — my twin brother, my older brother and my father — are very different from one another, and they’re still projected with one particular image,” Casteel said. “But I’m a black woman painting black men, and that’s also a relationship I’m trying to figure out.”

Benenson said his thesis, which shares a room with Casteel’s, also addresses color and space. He said his paintings explore the process of “labored cognition rather than passive connectivity” — a process similar to the one through which he and other people with dyslexia read. One of his works reflects the way his four-year-old daughter is learning to perceive the world, he said, and two others reinterpret early Renaissance paintings. Benenson explained that the early Renaissance appeals to him because it was a period during which perspective in art was not yet formally established.

Hahn noted that much of her class’s work deals with identity politics, either in terms of the self or in the scheme of a group, such as gender or race.

Cathleen Mooses ART ’14, whose work will be on display in the second part of “Condensed Matter,” said that though her background is in printmaking, exposure to her classmates’ painting has had a significant impact on her work.

For her thesis, Mooses created an installation consisting of both “altered and disjointed” landscape photography and a fence woven from strips of mirrored plexi and other plastics that will cross the gallery space. Inspired by the dislocation of migrant communities, Mooses’ installation responds to the architectural space of the gallery, she said, and through its use of reflective materials, interacts with the work of the two other artists who share that space.

Hahn said that the school strongly encouraged students to create their theses during the weeks between final reviews in December and the show’s opening in February. Messer said almost all of the work on display was created at least during the students’ second year, even though some students have been planning their theses “since elementary school.”

The next thesis exhibition, which will feature the work of second-year sculpture students, opens Feb. 27.

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