Every year, the graduating seniors in the fine arts and design majors display their senior theses in an exhibition in the Blackberry Farms Gallery. This year, the shows were executed in two rounds: four exhibitions from April 29 to May 9 and the other three from May 10 to the end of the school year.
The first group of students to present their work consisted of Mary Cunningham, Shelby Floris, Laura Greeley and Emily Julian. The second group included pieces from Angela Allen, Carrington “Arri” Lemons and Meghan Unthank.
The first exhibit proved to be just as diverse as the students who put it together. While all of the artistic messages were different in nature, they each served as a deeper commentary on the issues they were commentating on. However, the four students said they did not plan for their messages to correlate. Instead, they said that they wanted to do the show together because of their close-knit friendship.
“We just wanted to show together,” Greeley said. “However, I do think all of our theses did, in some form or another, have a theme of social commentary happening.”
For instance, at first glance, Cunningham’s paintings appeared to be classical portraits of Biblical figures. However, upon further inspection, viewers saw celebrities taking the place of the traditional figures. The provided a starting point for the idea of celebrity worship in today’s culture.
Julian’s project, a documentary short about the stories of those affected by the building of Tellico Dam, presented a different, humanitarian perspective on the dam construction. Along with a repeating loop of her video played on a computer monitor, her show also exhibited portraits of those she interviewed along with photographs of the dam area.
“The best part about my film was meeting the wonderful people I interviewed and filmed,” Julian said. “I can truly say they are dear friends now, and I will not stop working on this documentary until their stories are told and justice is done to their tragedies.”
While Floris and Greeley both focused on photography for their theses, their multimedia presentations for the exhibit took the traditional form of pictures.
Floris said that she had the idea of studying gender roles through photography and magazines as early as her sophomore year. However, during her senior year, she refined the idea.
While her thesis focused on the portrayal of women in 1950s media, Floris’ own choices about what her role will be has shifted.
“After I got married, I realized the gender roles we were adhering to were the ones we said we didn’t support,” Floris said. “I’ve come to really love the idea of being a housewife with a garden taking care of my kids, even though for two decades I said I would never become a dependent type. I’ve realized it’s all about choice.”
Another highly visionary piece of the show was Greeley’s study of the conceptual art movement through her own photographs and ideas. References included those to Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs” as well as to the work of Sol LeWitt. Exploring conceptual art was not something that Greeley originally planned for her thesis, but she said that she came to enjoy it by utilizing her own work.
After initially lacking enthusiasm for the conceptual art movement and thinking that no one could really understand the point, Greeley later said that she was excited to know that she now has the means to incorporate their ideologies into her own work.
The second set of exhibitions were from Angela Allen, Arri Lemons and Meghan Unthank. Once again, the level of diversity of the ideas presented was one of the most impressive parts of the collection of theses.
Lemons’ show was as expansive as her ideas. As seems to be the case with several of her peers, Lemons changed her idea for her thesis over the summer before her senior year. She said the idea came when she was watching television and saw several ideas promoting anti-aging agents or other lotions to make skin more appealing. She took this obsession and inverted it, creating paintings that focused on texture and color to create a grotesque look into what skin really is.
A unique twist on Lemons’ exhibition was that she also moved her painting studio into the room with the paintings.
When asked about the studio and how it related to her show, Lemons said, “This is their home. It’s where they belong.”
She actually got the idea when this year’s artist in residence, Mark Soppeland, came to review her portfolio in her studio. He said that he was “blown away” by the space itself and felt that it was just as important as the paintings.
Unthank also presented a lively exhibition for her Susainta-Style line of recycled clothing. Live models were present showing off Unthanks gowns made completely of materials that would have otherwise been discarded. The manipulation of materials was done in such a way that the gowns were immediately recognized as being thrown away items.
Her personal favorite piece was her dress made out of coffee filters. A similar dress was actually what sparked the idea for her thesis. She made the original coffee filter dress for her final project in Adrienne Schwarte’s sustainable art class her sophomore year. Eventually, Unthank hopes to start her own business and continue to create her sustainable creations.
As far as advice for rising seniors goes, there is one common thread among the exhibitionists: Get started early. Ideas can come from anywhere, so documenting and brainstorming is highly recommended. While there were many challenges, the experience of setting up their own shows is fondly remembered by the students involved. The exhibits show a variety of styles and unique perspectives, but there is one consistent theme: the graduates from the fine Arts and design departments are a great representation of the program at Maryville College.