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Top grads from Boston art schools

Boston 04/19/2014 - Artist Chase Brannock works on his untitled black-and-white mural at the Museum School studios. Photo by Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe (arts) Reporter: Cate McQuaid Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Scores of aspiring artists from local art schools are debuting their work in thesis shows this spring. With the right combination of talent, vision, grit, and luck, some may develop thriving careers. After all, big-name artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Christian Marclay have studied in Boston. We chatted with some of the most promising of this year’s master of fine arts candidates from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston University, Lesley University, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

View photos of the candidates’ work

Boston 04/19/2014 - Artist Chase Brannock sits infront of his untitled black-and-white mural at the Museum School studios. Photo by Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe (arts) Reporter: Cate McQuaidDebee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance



School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University

Brannock’s black-on-white paintings course with stripes like a tiger’s fur. Images spring from those pulsing lines: creatures, odd and fierce. The patterns seem to generate eyes, horns, and bared teeth.

The artist grew up attending Baptist and Pentecostal churches in North Carolina.

“In the church, we were taught the apocalypse was a celebration, because we’re all going to heaven,” Brannock says. “We’ll be saved.”

His background, and a bout of insomnia that sparked some haunting imagery in his mind’s eye, brought up the question that underlies his work.

“What if I turned the apocalypse into a party?” he asks.

Brannock adopted his style, which looks more like ink seeping into paper than like paint, after taking a printmaking class. His approach is instinctual. He’s seeking, he says, “a visual buzz.”

“Being raised in the environment I was raised in, I was left with a sense of mysticism. It’s still something I’m trying to figure out,” he says. “But my art practice is stream of consciousness. It’s almost a spiritual thing.”


MORE: For photos of Branncok’s work and a look at the other artists.


25graduates Danny Schissler Photographic Artist 617.947.3485Danny Schissler


Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Schissler prowls for hours at night around areas just outside shopping malls and office parks, where the land is overgrown and nearly wild, but the sky is saturated with artificial light. His color photos, named after nearby businesses — “Oracle,” “Pfizer” — are shot with a film camera, which picks up otherworldly lighting the eye might not see.

“What I love most about photography,” Schissler says, “is photographing things to see what they look like.”

On his walkabouts, he collects plant matter, ice, and human detritus, and uses them to make multiple exposures with the landscapes. He drops his finds directly onto the film inside his large-format view camera and exposes them to the ambient light, on the spot. The results — lush, intimate, scrappy — provide a new perspective on the suburban wilds: intimacies layered over the big picture.

“Why was I using film? It’s expensive, it’s anachronistic,” Schissler says. “I figured, if I’m using film, I should use it to its fullest extent.”


MORE: For photos of Schissler’s work and a look at the other artists.

Chelsea Coon 25graduates

Chelsea Coon, 24

Performance artist

School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University

Late last month, Coon spent eight hours in performance methodically sanding down a molar she’d lost as a child. She marked the time by spending one hour on each sheet of sandpaper, and at the end of the hour, drawing a circle on the wall behind her. As she ground down the tooth, the air began to smell like a dentist’s office in the midst of a drilling. Her audience at Mobius, the Cambridge performance space, breathed it in.


“You can’t deny that physical experience,” Coon says of performance art. “As humans, we respond to things viscerally when there is sound, smell, and something or somebody to look at. . . . I’m interested in making people feel what I’m feeling.”

Coon came to performance by way of painting; she painted cosmic scenes, then, wanting to incorporate the human element, projected them onto her body. “The way we exist in the universe,” she says, “it exceeds our scale. We may just be a moment in it.”

But that moment, in the body, can be acute.


MORE: For a photo of Coon’s work and a look at the other artists.

Amanda King Photo credit: Ernesto Franco Miranda 25graduatesErnesto Franco Miranda


Lesley University

King has a master’s in environmental science. In her photographs, as she portrays members of her family, each with a particular visual language, the objectivity of science and the subjectivity of art go head to head.

Women in her mother’s family mark important events and objects with clovers. King photographed those clovers, withered and taped to things. For her father, an ornithologist, she picked the bones from owl pellets and assembled them into a poem in hieroglyphic code. For her late partner, also an ornithologist, she took birds he’d never seen, and erased them from images in Audubon’s “Birds of America.”


“I want both the personal association, and the look of something that’s objective,” King says.

She weighs what she calls the “pseudo-botany” of the clovers with her father’s empiricism. Audubon, of course, is the perfect blend of ornithology and art.

“I’ve always had two different ways of thinking,” King says. “The struggle in life is how to connect them. I want to bring two halves together.”


MORE: For photos of King’s work and a look at the other artists.

Monica M. Guerra Photo credit: Gurvitch Images / 25graduatesGurvitch Images

Performance artist, metalsmith

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“I love the tedious stuff,” says Guerra. She grew up in Los Angeles, making beaded jewelry with her Cherokee Mexican grandmother. Before college, she worked in restaurants to make money for travel. In those restaurants, she translated for the Spanish-speaking workers.

“Custodians asked me to intervene on their behalf, or a chef, or a dishwasher,” she says. After she saw a worker stand up for herself get fired, Guerra says, “I realized I can’t just translate, I have to advocate.”

In a lyrical performance video, she fries tortillas and stamps them with a “Caution” brand based on signs along freeways near the Mexican border — similar to our “deer crossing” signs, but with a silhouette of a running family.

Her work in jewelry carries similar messages. She also displays found objects -- silvery charms, called milagros — on her hands and feet. “They’re prayers, hopes, or wishes, usually placed on an altar,” she says. “Place them on hands and feet, where you stand and where you work. Those are places of reverence.”



MORE: For photos of Guerra’s work and a look at the other artists.

Tuo Wang , Photo Credit: Tuo Wang / 25GraduatesTuo Wang

Painter, video artist

Boston University

Wang’s striking abstract paintings, tufted with yarn or creepily coated with hair and fur, pull you in with detail and color, and sometimes push you away with texture.

There’s a story behind them: an unhappy marriage, infidelity, murder. The tale plays out in a video at the end of his exhibition — an imagistic narrative the artist has deftly woven from two novels: Theodor Fontane’s “Effi Briest,” and Émile Zola’s “Thérèse Raquin.” The video, filled with intrigue, critiques naturalism versus realism in 19th-century literature. One character in Wang’s story, Joseph, is the fictional artist of the works in the show, including photos and a performance art video.

Wang, who grew up in Beijing and has a bachelor’s degree in biology, ditched science to become an artist. When he got to BU, he pushed himself beyond painting.

“I’ve read French philosopher Guy Debord’s concept of spectacle,” he says. “I thought I should be using all myself to make a spectacle, a system, everything functional in its own space.” Wang’s spectacle is his installation, packed with story, theory, performance, and technique.


MORE: For photos of Wang’s look and a look at the other artists.

Now Showing

Boston University

MFA Thesis Exhibition 2014, 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave. 617-358-0922. Through April 27.www.bu.edu/cfa/visualarts/

College of Art and Design, Lesley University

MFA in Photography Thesis Exhibition, Main Gallery, 700 Beacon St., 617-585-6600. Through April 30.www.lesley.edu/college-art-and-design/events/

Massachusetts College of Art and Design

MFA Thesis Shows 2014, Bakalar and Paine Galleries, 621 Huntington Ave. 617-879-7333. Through May 5; May 12-24 (Danny Schissler). www.massart.edu/Galleries/Bakalar_and_Paine/MFA_Thesis_Shows_2014.html

School of the Museum of Fine Arts / Tufts University

The Cyclorama Show: MFA Thesis Exhibition, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St. 617-369-3605. May 13-18.www.smfa.edu/mfa-thesis

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, MFA 2014 Thesis Exhibition, University Art Gallery, 715 Purchase St., New Bedford. Through May 18. 508-999-8555, www1.umassd.edu/cvpa/universityartgallery/current/overview.cfm

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported Guerra handmade the found objects known as ‘milgaros.’”