The botanical, the mechanical, and the absurd are merged and currently on display in the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture for this spring's Master Thesis Exhibitions.
Highlighting the art of MFA students Andrew Merriss, Daniel Ogletree and Hannah Skoonberg, the exhibit will be shown through April 7 with a reception Friday from 5-8 p.m. in the Ewing Gallery.
Merriss, whose exhibit is entitled "Self/Knot Self," said he has been preparing since last August for his thesis defense today, an event which will seem infinitesimally short compared to his hours of work. Standing amid his generously-sized canvases, he explained the conceptualization of his art as it relates to self realization.
"It really starts from a more basic reflection on what the self is and what is not the self," Merriss said. "There's me and then not me, so at the core it's that: how we discover our boundaries as an individual in the world bumping against things that tell us where we begin and where we end."
The wordplay of "knot" relates to the incorporation of knots, ties and coils proliferating his work.
"The 'knot self' means my self might be knotted up or have tension, or maybe I feel that what's not me is knotted up and I can't penetrate it," he said.
Although all three artists compiled their exhibits independently, coincidence allowed for some overarching themes to connect their work.
"We just kind of found it works really well," he said. "Hannah's is very botanical, it's the garden, and then Daniel's is all about these machines with some absurdity to it and humor, as well. I'm sort of a mixture of the two."
Serving as segue between the contrasting themes of natural and manmade, Merriss occupies the middle section of the gallery while Skoonberg's whimsical delicacies are the first visible works of the space. The idea for "Winter Garden" arose as a nod to the sense of sadness and frailty of a winter's hibernation, Skoonberg said, although this sadness is rendered ephemeral with the promise of spring.
"There's definitely the promise of growth," she said. "Things aren't really dead in the winter garden, even if they look like they are."
Furthering this fragile aesthetic was Skoonberg's chosen medium of a rare Japanese paper known as gampi, a material once used in 13th and 14th century Japan to transport salt, said School of Art instructor Koichi Yamamoto.
"Gampi has a really thin, delicate fiber, but each fiber's so long that it actually makes the paper really, really strong," said Yamamoto, who has taught Skoonberg and Ogletree and befriended Merriss. "So there's that connotation of how seemingly it's so delicate and fragile and is going to break any minute, although there is an unexpected strength in there."
Making use of other natural mediums such as ash loosely sprinkled over a floor piece, Skoonberg's botanical essence stands in stark opposition to the work of Ogletree, which depicts seemingly ridiculous machinery.
"His artwork is a representation of 'The Invention of Need,'" Yamamoto said. "He designed machines that are useless, almost senseless additions to our daily lives, like one machine where you drop a tear into this mechanical device that will give you a piece of paper to make you feel better.
"It's all about how we deal with our habits and behavior."
Although these exhibitions are officially only the work of this past school year, Yamamoto believes the artists' work is the result of their experience as MFA students in its entirety.
"My suspicion is it's something they've been cultivating all along the journey of the MFA program," he said. "It just blossoms at this point."