Young artists on the cusp of their careers come out of Boston-area art schools every spring, an event marked by thesis exhibitions around the city. Now is the time for viewers to discover emerging talents. In the past, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Boston University have introduced such art stars as Doug and Mike Starn, N.C. Wyeth, and Brice Marden. Maybe one of this year's grads will hit it big, as well. We spoke to some promising young talents with shows up in April and May.
NATALIA AFENTOULIDOU, 29
Painting and Installation,
Afentoulidou came to Boston University from Greece. “I made my own decision for my own development,” she says, “and at the same time my country was decaying.”
Her carnival of an installation at BU's 808 Gallery starts with a gaudy entrance. Trojan horses stand guard, cut from wood and painted to appear as if assembled from human body parts and patterns. Behind them is a doorway surrounded by black-and-white polka dots. Inside, flattened Harpoon Ale and Cheez-It boxes carpet the floor. Monotypes of owls, and dancing men and women, line two walls. More recycled boxes paper the others.
The piece represents the intersection of the artist's old life and her new one. The recyclables are metaphors for America, but they also speak to Greece's economic situation. “I want to pay attention to the humblest things and make them shine,” says Afentoulidou.
And the Trojan horses? “They are my inheritance,” Afentoulidou says. “Everyone has a Trojan horse. You carry with you your prior life.”
HEIDI HOGDEN, 25
Drawing, School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University
Hogden titles her thesis show “42.88°N, -88.01°W,” the longitude and latitude of her childhood home in Franklin, Wis. “I wanted to offer different vantage points on the landscape of my home,” she says. The work is about memory and longing.
One haunting large-scale drawing looks up at the sky through silhouetted prairie grass. Another captures a hunter — Hogden's brother, Eric — on the family’s land. She renders him in a camouflage jacket in an early morning fog. The pattern of his clothes plays against the flutter of grass and leaves behind him. Pine trees in the distance shift slyly from pale to dark, describing forms, then negative space. “Drawing is raw, it's immediate, and every mark you make is permanent,” she says.
Hogden has work in “Topographies of Space: Between Somewhere and Nowhere,” at the Museum of Fine Arts through Aug. 26, and will have an exhibit at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence in the fall.
CARLOS JIMÉNEZ CAHUA, 25
Photography, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Jiménez Cahua spent two years after graduating from Princeton working on a photo project in his native Lima. “It's a coastal city, always overcast, a desert city in the tropics, with 8 million people,” he says. “So it's a sociological phenomenon as well as a visual phenomenon.”
At Mass Art, he realized he wanted to focus on the visual, “the pure aesthetics,” Jiménez Cahua says. So he left documentary photography for abstraction. He has also made an abstract video for his thesis show, which he shot through the window of an MBTA bus. He blurred each frame to its average color: transit as an experience of light and tone.
When it comes to still images, Jiménez Cahua does most of his work playing in the darkroom. He folds or cuts photographic paper and exposes it bit by bit, building geometries of color. Or he exposes simple geometric forms onto the paper, creating floridly toned abstractions. The work is bright, cumulative, and immediate. “When it's just light and paper, there's so much to be discovered.”
ARHIA KOHLMOOS, 30
Painting, School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University
Kohlmoos grew up in a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin, where she was home-schooled. Her canvases, exquisitely detailed portraits painted with small brushes in many thin layers, spring from the cloistered world she shared with her four sisters. “I came from a different culture [from Boston]. I feel like an immigrant,” Kohlmoos says. “I want to pay tribute to that different culture.” Three paintings portraying the artist and two of her sisters comprise her thesis exhibit.
Each woman comes across as a priestess, surrounded by animal familiars and empowered by objects that seem imbued with magic. Kohlmoos paints herself with a pomegranate at her heart and honeybees flying into her ears. She cries tears of honey. “Bees take nectar from the flower of the pomegranate,” she says. “It's a connection between the heart and the intellect.”
The paintings are small, and mounted behind a curtain to create a sense of intimacy with the viewer. Each took about 400 hours to make.
LEILA NAMIN, 25
Painting, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Namin grew up in Iran. “Artists cannot do anything there, because of all the censorship,” she says. After college there, she moved to Massachusetts. At Mass Art, she set to painting giant canvases depicting people gagged or mouthless. Then she brought the scale down, painting darker pieces on the theme of puppet and master. These read less like social commentary than fairy tales, but they can be either. “The Iran regime is the master and the people are puppets,” she says, “or maybe the regime is the puppet and something larger is the master?”
Paintings in her thesis show often present open-ended narratives . In one, three people appear to exchange a flower. In another, figures grapple over a patch of earth. Symbols such as flowers and flashlights are common. In Iran, she says, “we can't talk about what we want, so we use metaphor.”
JESSIE VOGEL, 26
Sculpture, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
After graduating from Wake Forest University, Vogel started a business creating and selling stuffed robots. Her sculptures have nothing to do with these, but, she says, “playing with hardness and softness is still prevalent.” Vogel’s thesis show features hard-edged structures with stuffed beige nylon oozing out. She started with small blocks of concrete, making discrete pieces, then began to think about the space itself. “I wanted to have them invade some kind of architectural space,” she says. So she built columns for the soft sculptures to seep from.
The work delightfully prods at notions of propriety: The soft parts read like body parts or excretions. One piece looks soft as a pillow, but turns out to be made of concrete.
Vogel is an art preparator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and at the Mass Art galleries. Her work is in “Out of Fashion” at the Cameron Art Museum in North Carolina, closing in August.
Boston University MFA Thesis Exhibition, 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave. Through April 29. 617-358-0922, www.bu.edu/cfa/visual-arts
Massachusetts College of Art and Design MFA Thesis Exhibitions, Bakalar and Paine Galleries, 621 Huntington Ave. Through May 3 including Leila Namin and Jessie Vogel; May 9--18 including Carlos
Jiménez Cahua. 617-879-7333,
School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University MFA Thesis Exhibitions, Tufts University Art Gallery, Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Ave., Medford. Through April 29 including Heidi Hogden and Arhia Kohlmoos; May 3-20. 617-627-3094, www.artgallery.tufts.edu
The Museum School has other thesis exhibits: First Church in Boston through May 11; Gallery 360, Northeastern University, through June 3; Essex Art Center, Lawrence, through June 8; Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery through May 5.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.