Students fresh out of art school often shake up old ideas. If there’s a trend in this year’s group of up-and-coming master of fine arts graduates (from Boston University, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), it’s about subjectivity. That is, the interior experience of any being — how it is shaped by society and still full of mysteries. Who am I? Who are you? Does a place have a self? Does the universe?
Anne Harris, 30
Harris uses paint — and canvas, and photography, and video — to collaborate with animals, weather, and sites such as Mount Greylock, Mount Washington, and the woods behind her house in Worcester.
“I love painting on the ground. I love feeling the textures of the rocks beneath my feet,” she said. “I’m not really looking at the view when I paint. It’s more about what’s in the air, what’s there that we cannot see, that I can feel, and put onto the canvas.”
It goes beyond painting. In her performances camouflaging herself in the woods with paintings (and subsequently, tarps and mylar), Harris tunes into and expresses the spirit of the sites. “I’m not going out there to make a good painting,” she said. “I’m going out there to capture the experience, and I trust that I know this place, and this place is getting to know me.”
Videos of her performances show giant paintings traveling through the wilderness. She leaves canvases in the woods and photographs bobcats and foxes interacting with them. A porcupine has become a particular obsession.
“The paintings have become so much more than paintings. The performance has become so much more,” she said. “It’s all interconnected, just like how I like to think I am with the environment.”
Mosheh Tucker, 25
Tucker’s mother is of Haitian descent and his father’s family is from Mississippi. He grew up in Boston, not sure which ethnic groups his African ancestors were from.
His paintings explore the vast gray areas generated by the slave trade. He devised pictographic scripts using vévés — symbols of Haitian Vodou spirits — rooted in an ancient West African graphic written language.
“Untitled (The Poem),” alive with pictographs, translates Tucker’s poem about a mother and child who jump from a slave ship and drown. A tear in the middle reveals black backing.
“It’s generalized Black identity,” Tucker said. “Once I’m outside the spaces where I’m known, I’m this general thing, Black.”
The pictographs invoke gods, stories, and bodies. In Vodou rituals, vévés are drawn on the ground and erased by dance. With paint, Tucker makes them permanent.
“Vévés are portals. They allow the spirit to come into your space. Dancing clears the space. I’m opening but not closing the portal,” he said.
He wants to hold the gods accountable.
“I think about the gods symbolically. But through slavery, bondage, and torture, they just watched,” Tucker said. “I pull them into this space.”
Sebastian Gonzalez Quintero, 28
Video projection and performance artist
Gonzalez Quintero has climbed in mountain glaciers of his native Colombia.
“They are melting every day, and they are higher and higher,” he said. “We had to climb a lot to find the glacier.”
This past winter, Gonzalez Quintero employed snow as a backdrop for his video projection, “Are There Glaciers in Colombia?” The answer changes tense: yes, there were. Glaciers are projected on a snowbank, which a performer destroys. It’s shattering to watch.
“Our relationship with the land is aggressive. Our actions are violent,” Gonzalez Quintero said. “I wanted to express that violence.”
His series of text projections on the Charles River draws attention to the presence of poisonous green blue algae. One reads, “Charles Doesn’t Want to Go Green.”
“I’m thinking of the Charles as a person. Or as a subject,” the artist said. “‘Person’ sounds anthropocentric.’”
In a collaboration with classmate Jesus Pizarro, a performer sweeps the dried bed of the Public Garden lagoon, drained after a toxin led to waterfowl deaths. Pedestrians cross the bridge, seemingly oblivious to the performance — and to the missing water.
“Sweeping could express the scale of our actions in relationship with the whole pond — or the whole environment,” Gonzalez Quintero said. “How futile sweeping is, when we’re trying to solve a much bigger issue.”
Find more: instagram.com/sego153
Bridget Bailey, 29
It’s no surprise that Bailey once taught kindergarten. Her painting practice echoes the way children discover the world, and themselves, through bodily experience. The works are tactile, sweet, and funny. They consider what it means to be queer, opting not to be penned in by categories.
She works with materials she likes to touch.
“I’m a physical painter,” said Bailey, who is from Nashville. “You’d think that would have me moving around a lot of oil paint, but I’m interested in zeroing in on the physicality of nontraditional but relatable materials.”
That includes children’s crafts such as Sculpey, which she squishes and bakes, then affixes to her canvas. Then, chewing gum in “Today,” which harks back to feminist painter Hannah Wilke’s use of gum. Bailey’s influences also include British painter Tracy Emin and riot grrrl singer Kathleen Hanna. “I like their edgy, angsty girl vibe,” Bailey said.
But familiarity and idiosyncrasy are stronger in these works than angst. The sleeve that hangs down from the upper edge of “Today” recalls one of her favorite shirts.
“I see clothes as comfort objects,” said Bailey.
And her painting? “It’s about being comfortable,” she said, “in terms of queerness and presentation of self.”
Find more: bridgetmbailey.com
Taylor Hickey, 24
When Hickey was an undergraduate at McNeese State University in Louisiana, she fell in love with polyhedrons, star-shaped forms she learned to craft in bookmaking class.
Studying art history at UMass, she delved into Joseph Cornell and Yayoi Kusama, who had predilections for studying the universe. One day, listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “StarTalk” podcast, Hickey heard theoretical astrophysicist Janna Levin, and began reading Levin’s work.
“She talks about a universe that could be finite, and it just loops back on itself,” said Hickey. “And it could be, in theory, a polyhedron.”
“I thought it was so cool — and fitting with this thing I already just weirdly like to do because it’s cathartic,” she said.
Hickey’s “Stellated” installation, like Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” evokes the cosmos. She suspends her star forms, printed with nebulae, punctured and illuminated from within, in a dark gallery.
“It needed to be big and immersive,” she said. “I wanted to be able to remove [viewers] from the expected experience of a gallery space, disorienting them a bit.”
The effect is indeed cosmological — like stargazing up close.
Her theme? “I think of it as the cosmological sublime,” she said, “where scientific pursuit meets the philosophic sense of wonder that we have at the universe.”
MFA Thesis Shows
Due to COVID 19, some thesis shows are not open to the public and the scheduling of in-person shows is widely varied. But here’s big news: this year’s MassArt thesis show inaugurates a new public gallery on Harrison Avenue called MassArt x SoWa.
MASSART MFA THESIS 2021
At MassArt x SoWA, 460 Harrison Ave., through June 6. sowa.massart.edu
WAITING ROOM: 2021 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition, School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University
At Tufts University Art Galleries. Open only to the Tufts community through May 21. artgalleries.tufts.edu/blog/news/2021/02/18/2021-mfa-thesis-exhibition
2021 MFA THESIS EXHIBITION
At University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, umassd.edu/cvpa/explore/mfa-exhibition-online-2021
MFA PAINTING EXHIBITION
Boston University. The in-person show has closed and a virtual exhibition is not yet up. bu.edu/art/mfa-painting-exhibition