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Out of the Blue and Into the Black

MFA in Studio Art Thesis Exhibition recap by Amy Boone- McCreesh

Last weekend marked the end of the MFA Studio Art thesis exhibitions. This low-residency program combines six-week summer stays at MICA with independent working time throughout the rest of the year. After four years the candidates mount an exhibition and are required to give oral presentations.

Many of the graduates are teachers or have established careers across the country and took advantage of this program at MICA that allows them to continue working while pursuing their MFA. The 2015 group included Tori Christgen, Mara Pollins Costello, Patti Kalil, Ashley Lohr, Jason Stewart, Amare Selfu Worku, and Jean Yang.

Mara Pollins Costello




Mara Pollins Costello is clearly interested in and influenced by our earthly surroundings. Her mixed media works included paintings, installation, and video. In the Leidy Gallery, Costello hung large tree branches that visually intermingle with her paintings, and in an adjoining room presented a beautiful video installation that uses the internal structure of the building to reference the outside world. The piece is deceptively simple, using a mirror, video, a window, and light to recreate the sun and moon cycles.

Mara Pollins Costello and Jean Yang
Jean Yang



Jean Yang, also in the Leidy gallery, also presented a mixed media collection of work. Artificial rocks, salt, and drawings, were all physically connected through a precarious series of fishing line pulleys. Many objects and drawings were floated and balanced by the artificial rocks and walking amongst them gave a feeling that you could single handedly destroy the entire scene. Perceptions and expectations are skewed with Yang’s work, as the idea of weight and heft is visually questioned with paper rocks and piles of salt. Much of the collections of objects gave way to suspended drawings revealing segments of text, like the word truth, hidden under a pile of salt.

Ashley Lohr



Ashley Lohr created a site-specific installation in the downstairs portion of the Leidy Gallery. Using only True Value interior house paint, Lohr paired text and sample stripes to reference generalized ideas about consumerism in American and it’s presence in our domestic lives.

Jason Stewart




Jason Stewart covered a large portion of the Meyerhoff gallery with a plethora of diverse works. The entrance of the exhibition was marked by a geometric tape installation, which led to a series of abstract paintings. As the space continued, the paintings became more object driven, pairing the traditional painting format with found objects, like toilet seats and spatulas. The finale of this body of work was a small building that Stewart built himself; it sat atop a large collection of objects. Stewart is interested in exploring the idea of ‘place’ by inhabiting multiple mediums.

Amare Selfu Worku



Amare Selfu Worku’s pieces are geometrically driven and represent his interest in borders as they relate to place and identity. Worku uses lines as a way to create and redefine space, the extreme linear overlapping within the paintings push them to a place where they start to create a visual depth. Worku also works in installation and for this exhibition created an interactive wall of text. The provided letters and words, depending on their arrangement, allow viewers to formally and conceptually create their own space.

Tori Christgen



Tori Christgen’s large site-specific installation was driven by both image and object. Christgen paired white fabric scraps in mass quantities with a black and white wall of images. The images on the wall were all black and white and many contained figures with images projected onto their bodies. The projected images within the photos were also represented within the installation, as the interaction with lights made shadows on the wall, looking similar to those printed in the images. Christgen cites an interest in creating a visual archive of memories and experiences; this was represented more obviously through the collection of personal images but also in the experience created for this viewer within the installation.

Patti Kalil



Patti Kalil is a University of Maryland graduate who is also co-artistic director of the award winning Pointless Theatre Company in Washington DC. Kalil has a diverse geographic background, which she paired with her theatre experience to create a mixed media installation. Kalil’s room was complete with wall-drawings, hand-drawn animations, and a large, dramatically lit cityscape sculpture containing videos of news snippets. The work did not feel fussed over, which was a positive in that the viewer can move seamlessly from one medium to the next, reinforcing the big picture. The political aspects of the work, while clear, were softened by the comedic execution. In her own work Kalil prefers to use drawing and animation as a way to critique oppression, and understanding of race and class. It is clear that Kalil’s theatre background has honed her personal ability to think innovatively about how viewers interact with artistic messages.

Exhibition dates June 27- July 11, 2015.

Author Amy Boone-McCreesh is a Baltimore based Artist and Professor.

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