Illustration

Slot Machines and Giant Dogs | A Peek into the MFA Illustration Practice 2017 Thesis Exhibition


installation by aditi damle

Last Fri­day, I attend­ed the open­ing of the MFA Illus­tra­tion Prac­tice the­sis exhi­bi­tion at the Mary­land Insti­tute Col­lege of Art (MICA). As an alum of the pro­gram, I’m always fas­ci­nat­ed to see how the the­sis projects turn out. These are mas­sive endeav­ors that take a whole school-year of work (your sec­ond year is ded­i­cat­ed to them), and even longer to plan. To say they’re involved is an under­state­ment.

I had the plea­sure of, in Feb­ru­ary, being a guest crit­ic for the cur­rent the­sis stu­dents, so I was extra curi­ous (and excit­ed!) to see how their projects panned out. And I was not disappointed—the instal­la­tions were at times beau­ti­ful, thought pro­vok­ing, and poignant. They rep­re­sent­ed a unique points of view. And, in keep­ing with the intent of the pro­gram, they help to rede­fine and push the field of illus­tra­tion in new ways.

From slot machines to giant maps to nev­er-end­ing dreams, here’s a peek into look at the 2017 Illus­tra­tion Prac­tice the­sis exhi­bi­tion. (It’s not every­one in the pro­gram.) If you’re local to Bal­ti­more, it’s up until Sun­day, April 9 in MICA Lazarus Center—Riggs and Lei­dy Gal­leries. Go look at the show then get piz­za at Joe Squared. You won’t be dis­ap­point­ed with either.

bird paintings on silk by jieyu zhang

bird paintings on silk by jieyu zhang

bird paintings on silk by jieyu zhang

When you first walk into the space, Jieyu Zhang’s instal­la­tion is one of the first that you see. Her space, which rep­re­sent­ed the most tra­di­tion­al fine art approach, was poignant. The beau­ti­ful, intri­cate­ly detailed paint­ings of birds on silk show­cased birds who had died because of run­ning into win­dows and oth­er human inter­ac­tion.

luyi wang

luyi wang installation with paper mache heads

luyi wang installation with paper mache heads

luyi wang installation with paper mache heads

Just beyond Jieyu’s instal­la­tion is Luyi Wang’s Reign­ing Heads. Her the­sis, which took the form of a pic­ture book, imag­ines what hap­pens to a dystopi­an soci­ety when they are com­plete­ly self­ish. (Sound famil­iar?) The col­or­ful, abstract images are charm­ing, yes—but don’t let that fool you. From them comes the mes­sage, “Don’t be anoth­er cyn­ic!”

I enjoyed see­ing Luyi’s col­lage orig­i­nals as well as the addi­tion of papi­er-mâché heads that were “rain­ing” from the ceil­ing. She actu­al­ly had a cou­ple for sale that night and I bought one. It’s at home among my plants.

ephemeral island by sena kwon

ephemeral island by sena kwon

ephemeral island by sena kwon

There’s one room in the gallery that’s made for ani­ma­tion. Win­dow­less and dark, it’s the per­fect place to dis­play mov­ing pic­tures. Dur­ing my the­sis year, the Jun Cen debuted his fan­tas­tic Mutu­al Tun­nelsSena Kwon used the space for two ani­ma­tions. One fea­tured sequen­tial illus­tra­tions with ani­mat­ed ele­ments. The oth­er was of a sil­hou­et­ted girl who con­tends with a giant cloud/snake-like crea­ture.

The presentation—particularly the murals on the wall and blue carpeting—was a wel­come addi­tion. Sena’s beau­ti­ful flo­rals com­ple­ment her project called Ephemer­al Island, which takes the form of a phys­i­cal book. Through it, a girl, Doma, “explores the idea of faith through var­i­ous inter­ac­tions with myth­i­cal beings” and learns how to respect the her­itage of oth­er cul­tures and what they believe.

comics by jasjyot singh hans

comics by jasjyot singh hans

In the mid­dle of the gallery is Jasjy­ot Singh Hans. He cre­at­ed a series of zines that depict­ed his expe­ri­ences as a gay South Asian man. The sequen­tial works have a pow­er­ful voice. I’ve met Jasjy­ot in pass­ing but nev­er had the chance to have a con­ver­sa­tion with him. Despite this, I feel like I already know him after these books, which deal with body image and online rela­tion­ships, among oth­er things.

installation by aditi damle

installation by aditi damle

installation by aditi damle

Adi­ti Damle wel­comes you to her brain through life-sized papi­er-mâché sculp­tures, a giant wall mur­al, and bevy of ceram­ics. They’re strange, yes, but also col­or­ful and invit­ing. You walk between the strange crea­tures and get to know her world—it seems like a delight­ful­ly wacky place to be.

Apt­ly called Say Hel­lo to My Brain, Aditi’s project is where she asks ques­tions like “Who am I?” and “Who are you to me?” and the most impor­tant­ly, “Would you like to hug my dog?”

mfa illustration practice thesis exhibition

tiffany lin installation american dream

mfa illustration practice thesis by tiffany lin

tiffany lin zine if i won

mfa illustration practice by tiffany lin

Walk down the stairs from Aditi’s instal­la­tion, and you’ll see four more projects. One is Tiffany Lin, who explores the Amer­i­can Dream in a rel­a­tive­ly min­i­mal­ist set­ting. Arranged like a classroom—and com­plete with school desks—she presents her the­sis, Amer­i­can Dream­ing. Tiffany writes, “Amer­i­can Dream­ing is an inves­ti­ga­tion of our nation­al mythol­o­gy through the lens and chances of cir­cum­stance. Draw­ing from per­son­al fam­i­ly ori­gins in the casi­nos of Reno, Neva­da, the objects on dis­play artic­u­late the Dream in its com­plex­i­ty as var­ied states of want and belong­ing.”

Ele­ments of this are woven through­out her exhi­bi­tion, from the inter­ac­tive slot machine that spits out ran­dom three-word­ed axioms to a small illus­trat­ed book about win­ning the lot­tery. The book (seen here as an ani­mat­ed GIF) was my favorite part of Amer­i­can Dream­ing. It was about what peo­ple would do with their lot­tery win­nings. Some were extrav­a­gant, like buy­ing a fast car, but oth­ers were more prac­ti­cal, such as send­ing your kid to a good school. Your chances of win­ning the lot­tery are very very very small, but peo­ple still find hope in it. (Sounds sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can Dream.)

map mural by emily joyton

map mural by emily joyton

map mural by emily joyton

map mural by emily joyton

Just down the hall from where I first arrived was Emi­ly Joy­ton’s col­or­ful maps lin­ing the wall. They’re sup­ple­ments to her year-long comics called The Dress and Whit­man, which tell the sto­ry of “life expe­ri­ences in ret­ro­spect.” Specif­i­cal­ly, they take place in San Ange­lo, Texas and Mia­mi, Flori­da, where grew up and lived for a num­ber of years, respec­tive­ly.

The comics have an atti­tude that sums up what I love about auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sequen­tial work. “This project con­sid­ers how not all buildups are sat­is­fy­ing and not all break­downs are descrip­tive.” Con­tin­u­ing, “Through all the ele­ments of this project I explore dif­fer­ent avenues of sto­ry­telling to reach mem­bers of a diverse audi­ence, con­firm­ing that some expe­ri­ences, no mat­ter how dif­fer­ent the lives of each indi­vid­ual, are uni­ver­sal.”

thesis exhibition

I left think­ing, among oth­er things: I got­ta get into papi­er-mâché!