New crop of masters graduates, exhibits thesis projects

by Jordan Green

The 2006 crop of master of fine arts candidates at UNCG hang together pretty tightly. Holed up in a computer lab on a recent Wednesday afternoon, nine art students ‘— one short of the full group ‘— were summoned to the Weatherspoon Museum to show their work four days in advance of the opening reception for their thesis exhibition.

Graduate students who decide to study fine arts after four years in the university and additional time experiencing the vicissitudes of the labor market are, if anything, fairly set in the course of their artistic vision, and it would be hard to identify a ‘school’ from the body of this class’s work, which ranges from Nick Farrell’s animated portraiture to Joseph Kopfler’s steel fantasy vehicles and Gina Gibson’s intimate tableaus of Southern family life.

In almost inverse proportion to the loneliness of their artistic pursuits the fine arts graduate students seem to glom on to each other like vulnerable youngsters seeking strength in numbers.

‘“We talk about our work,’” sculptor Kelly Roper says, ‘“but we each had our own path in mind when we got here, so I don’t think we’ve influenced each other that much.’”

‘“Our whole class got to know each other pretty well,’” adds painter and filmmaker Nick Farrell. ‘“We had a slideshow when we first met, and then we went to the bar and had a ‘race to sundown,’ which meant we drank from two p.m. to midnight. A couple of us made it. We try to exclude people, but they keep coming back.’”

He nods affectionately toward Joseph Kopfler, who spends much of the session tapping, leaning against and peering critically at the substantial steel sculptures that are his contribution to the exhibition. They make an odd couple, Farrell with his pinstriped shirt and stubbly barroom charm and Kopfler with his mop of curly brown hair and dark blue T-shirt showing enough wear to allow him to pass for a construction laborer.

None of the pieces are labeled yet, and the artists are happily examining each other’s work. The sight of cartoon images bearing the visage of Farrell in a suit and tie on three different video screens seems a little incongruous as the artist takes stock of his image. Each animated film loop is comprised of about five frames, with the center screen showing the subject rotating his head in natural movements, while the left-hand screen shows the head lashing to and fro, and the right-hand screen shows the head bobbing.

Kopfler’s steel sculptures, shaped and sized like small vehicles, are inspired by function but meant to take the person viewing them in a fanciful direction.

‘“They’re hybrids of things you can recognize. You can get in that one,’” he says, gesturing outside to the museum’s courtyard. ‘“It’s supposed to be a spaceship or something like that. There’s a tube you can talk into. There’s a fish-eye lens so you can look out in all directions.’”

By now the museum custodian has unlocked the door to the next room and the artists stream over to inspect it. Kopfler plants himself in a brown easy chair facing an old-fashioned floor-set television that shows video of a middle-aged woman with thinning brown hair and glasses gazing at the viewer with a mix of boredom and release. In fact, the woman is watching television herself, so an ironic role reversal has been achieved.

‘“She didn’t know I was taping her,’” says the artist ‘— and the daughter of the subject ‘— Gina Gibson. ‘“I told her about it later, but she’s still going to be surprised when she sees it on Sunday.’”

The installation gives the person experiencing it a disquieting feeling of voyeurism given the intimacy of the setting. The top of the television set is crammed with plaster angels, a cross and other religious tchotchkes. A side table holds a yellow plastic cup equipped with a straw that rests on two fussily arranged napkins. It’s a scene that resonates with lived-in experience.

Gibson’s section also includes a video installation of herself and her boyfriend trying to communicate with glances in real time on two different screens. She is also showing a series of photographs of her boyfriend’s family at home, dining at a nearby McDonald’s and traveling together in a recreational vehicle.

Gibson says all her work is about family and relationships.

The exhibition also includes:

‘• The watercolor paintings of Katie Davis;

‘• A series of large self portraits by Robert Igoe that show the subject from disquieting angles;

‘• A series of twilit, ghostlike images taken from photographs of people posing in the parking garage across from downtown Greensboro’s Wachovia building, photographed and painted by Patrick Leger;

‘• The sculpture art of Kelly Roper, who works with found objects and claims to ‘“like to mix cartoony things like flowers with medical devices and torture implements’”;

‘• The work of Brian Shaw, an artist who uses colored pencil, masking tape and glossy magazine images to create collage pieces that feature busy assemblages of what looks like ant-like activity, or could it be human civilizations?

‘• Paintings by Nathaniel Underwood of interior scenes from the UNCG art building and his home, along with the more organic forms found outside on one of Greensboro’s brilliant spring days; and

‘• Black and white paintings by James Williams, one of them inspired by the DH Griffin demolition company’s material yard on Hilltop Road transmitted through the artist’s personal vision of ‘“control and release.’”

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