FOREPLAY: Senior Thesis Exhibition

On Saturday, May 19, Sweeney Art Gallery opened its doors to a flood of students, faculty and members of the general public. All had come to witness the artwork of UCR’s finest senior artists and celebrate the talent and hard work that went into it. The opening reception, which was organized by the UCR Art Department and Sweeney Art Gallery, lasted from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., but all those who missed it have the opportunity to see the exhibition until June 2.

The exhibition, titled “Foreplay,” featured the work of 23 graduating art students. The title of the show was voted on by all participating artists. Roxana Martinez, a contributor to the exhibition stated, “[The title] Foreplay plays on the idea that our show is a culmination of what is to come in the future for us. Moreover, that we have a future ahead of us. Not only that, but the word foreplay in and of itself also had its own attention grabbing connotation.”

The artwork presented in the exhibition was a medley of mediums—some chose to present a series of paintings, others presented photographs, drawings, sculptures and even a video installation. Showcasing the work of seniors is not an unusual occurrence for the Sweeney Art Gallery. The annual tradition gives deserving undergraduate students who go through a selective process the opportunity to present their work in a gallery setting.

An hour after viewers had the chance to soak in the work, Tyler Joe, a contributor to the gallery, gave the only performance that night. Sound system equipment was set up in front of his artwork, and a large crowd gathered to hear him. Tyler Joe informed the public that the piece he was presenting was the first time he had ventured into writing, and he delivered it in the style of a spoken word piece. The piece is a reflection of Tyler Joe’s approach to his artwork and revolved around the various philosophical and creative thoughts that arise in his mind during a trip to the grocery store. It was humorous, witty and entertaining, and he delivered it well, exuding confidence and great stage presence. Audience members cheered and laughed, and the performance helped start the event with an energetic bang that was present for the rest of the evening.

The theme of Tyler Joe’s performance tied in with his contribution to the exhibition—a series of 14 photographs of installations he himself made in Lowe’s home improvement store. Tyler Joe worked for months on his project, venturing to local Lowe’s stores to search for inspiration in each aisle. He would then build sculptures using the materials in the aisle and photograph them at the center of the aisle, rendering crisp and neat photographs that were pleasing to the eye. The sculptures varied—some were composed of bricks arranged artistically, another was a beautiful photograph of wheelbarrows stacked on top of each other.

The event without a doubt showcased great talent. One striking series was contributed by Matthew Brown, who created his pieces with papier-mache, acrylic, wood and enamel. His vibrant and textured artwork literally lifted itself from the canvas because it was three dimensional. The pieces were technically composed very well, and one’s gaze was drawn towards two large pieces that displayed a woman using blue tones and swirls, and another that appeared to be a trapped, pained and distorted man using hues of yellow and orange.

One nook of the gallery contained work by Martinez. Titled “Catorce,” the piece featured light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, made of doilies, strings, starch and electrical cords. The 14 lamps gave the room they occupied a dreamlike vibe, and the light from behind the doilies reflected beautiful colored patterns on the wall. Each of the starched doilies were shaped into different sculptural forms. Martinez shed light on her process by saying that the doilies were hand crocheted by members of her family and it took her two months to complete. She said, “They signify a cultural past, traditional female roles and craft.”

Another intriguing series was done by Gordon Huang, who showed five manipulated photographs that were presented in a hexagonal form. In order to create his project, Huang used photographs he had taken in the past. Huang’s project sprung from a dissatisfaction with the typical process that most photographers embark upon when creating their work. Huang was determined to push the boundaries of photography when creating his pieces. The photographs are surreal and beautiful depictions of everyday locations taken in San Francisco and Riverside. Huang expanded upon the hexagonal form he chose, stating, “It had a lot of sculptural potential while still allowing me to keep the element of photography prevalent.”

Yet another series that caught the eye of onlookers was a series of photographs titled “You Are What You Eat,” which was compiled by Anita Six. The photographs displayed mannequins that were dressed in various outfits made of perishable food items. Some dresses were made of dessert items, others were made of lettuce or fruit. Six described her work as, “Sculptural, photographic and temporary. The dresses no longer exist. The materials I used for the outfits came from real food.” Few commented that the idea was all too reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s antics and outfit composed entirely of meat products. However, Six says that she drew inspiration from everyday life and thoughts she had surrounding food, obesity, diets, etc. She described the process as long and tiring, but rewarding. Some of the dresses were made using cooked food, so Six would have to wait until the food dried to create the dress. Six said, “The spaghetti for the pasta dress grew mold so I had to make a new batch. This actually worked out because I decided the spaghetti didn’t look right and wanted to change it to fettuccine.”

All night the gallery teemed with those who had come to admire the artwork. Six reflected on the exhibition and stated, “I felt that the show was a success. All the artists in the show are creative, serious and dedicated to their art. If you look at the work, you can see it.”

Full disclosure: Artists Tyler Joe and Gordon Huang are members of the Highlander staff.

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