MFA graduates become the masters of their art

By Daniel Pagan

Culmination can mean different things for different people. It can relate to reaching a high peak, astronomy or arriving at the final stage of a journey. For artists involved in the Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition, it means coming to the end of a long academic endeavour. As they prepare to leave a mark on the Nickle Arts Museum, there is reflection, joy, sadness and, of course, art.

The exhibition showcases varied inspirations in painting and printmaking in the seven graduate students’ theses, like Jennifer Forsyth’s painting and props to display mankind’s impact on materials. Marnie Blair was unconventional with the creation of her metal sculpture, oxidizing the steel pieces to display how the human condition plays a role in the process of creation.

“Normally, my steel piece sculpture is not really appealing due to its poor shape and its short lifespan,” she says. “The rust on the surface has been flaking off and many museums can not accept it, due to their duty of preserving artifacts.”

Forsyth took a more sustainable route by painting her entire collection of snapshots onto diskettes resembling Polaroids, displaying people’s desire to collect. She collected and painted boxes with shipping labels and markings so they resemble moving boxes to show the human compulsion to order their things. She also painted roadside memorials and graffiti on metal with oil to show how people leave marks on purpose.

As the liaison between the Nickle Arts, the fine arts department and graduate students, Forsyth gets to explore her interest in the working of museums and curatorial practices.

“There are several ways a museum can engage with the people and its space, such as preserving archives and how art can engage with the museum in different ways,” she explains. “After being put in museums, an object can have a ‘second life’ in a museum context, like how people and their loved ones have a different interpretation of one memorial.”

Forsyth explains that there was no common theme in the artists’ work, save for the fact that all of them came to the U of C to work toward a common goal: the completion of their MFA degrees. Culmination seemed like an apt theme.

Blair agrees, adding that all the artists also learned that things can change quickly–she was planning on making prints when she started, but ended up running a rust factory out of her studio. She says that experiences like this have greatly benefitted the artists.

“Initially, the word held little meaning to me, but as I was working on my thesis, I realized that this isn’t just the climax of my undergrad and MFA work, but also a new beginning,” she says. “After graduation from the MFA program, there are many possibilities such as pursuing PhDs, teaching, being a studio technician, going into administrative work in the field and then there is the starving artist route. Seriously though, there are many emerging artists in Calgary making a good living selling their art.”

Culmination: MFA Thesis Exhibition runs Aug. 8 to Sept. 13 at the Nickle Arts Museum.

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