Over the next 16 days the University of Montana will feature 14 student artists in two gallery spaces—and this is only the beginning. For the second half of April, the work of 12 more Bachelor of Fine Arts seniors will be on display in both the UC Gallery and the Gallery of Visual Arts. The exhibits run the gamut of media, from sculpture and mixed media to pencil and watercolor. Professor Cathryn Mallory calls the work on display the “culmination of these student’s work. This is what they want to leave as their last impression at the University.” What follows is a sampling of the artists and the work they will display in the first half of the exhibition.
Acrylic on raw canvas, UC Gallery
Massey talks just as much about quantum physics as she does art. Her three enormous self-portraits hang between 8 and 10 feet tall, and each is composed in the same way Massey believes the universe has constructed us. She treats each canvas first with a layer of “slurry green paint” before she blends the color with a more diverse palette, layer by layer. Eventually, Massey explains, “the colors condense and become more united, and it becomes a person.” In fact, her style subtly utilizes negative space from each layer of paint to create a polychromatic and enduring nude portrait.
Working on the large-scale portraits was a challenge for Massey. She worked in her kitchen, outlining her own torso using a mirror and lipstick liner. The problem, of course, was that her ceilings were only 8 feet tall and her canvas draped down to the floor. At the bottom of her largest print, “Dark Light,” paw prints from her terrier appear in the thick paint.
“It was important to me to work like this because large paintings are usually thought of [as] a masculine, demanding thing to do,” she says. “And I wanted to make my voice as demanding and important as a male artist would be.”
Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, Gallery of Visual Arts
Babbitt spent three years in the U.S. Army stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, before coming to Missoula. Like many of his fellow soldiers, Babbitt served in the armed forces to receive funding through the GI Bill for a college education. His five R. Crumb-like paintings are overtly political and pull no punches in commentating about war. Some of his pieces reflect scenes garnered directly from firsthand accounts Babbitt received from friends who served in combat.
“My unit was just getting back from Iraq when I reported to Texas,” he says. “They told stories and some even snuck back photographs. You’re not supposed to have personal photographs, but these guys had them and they were gruesome.”
All of Babbitt’s illustrations distort the features of the soldiers, making them look almost like infants in uniform. One, “Jonny Goes to War,” shows a soldier with baggy eyes and a downtrodden look carrying his disproportionate head on a weak and weary torso. Babbitt says he used the effect to portray the young men as naïve. He says, “They are too young to be there. There’s no other way to say it.”
Large-scale sculpture, Gallery of Visual Arts
Those familiar with the UM campus may already know Grossberg’s work. For the last year his three-piece sculpture, “Sails,” has been on display outside the Social Sciences Building. Using recycled industrial materials such as metal screening and sheet metal, Grossberg’s rusted, precisely engineered sculptures provide a dramatic effect.
Inside the gallery, Grossberg has added another three-piece sculpture titled “Tops.” Using some of the same materials from “Sails,” Grossberg additionally incorporates vinyl flooring, electric fence wire and climbing ropes to help craft the objects. Despite the sharp edges and hard feel of the raw materials, his work manages to be inviting; you want to play with or climb on them.
“I want my pieces to be accessible to the common person,” Grossberg says. “They can come in and somewhat relate to it. They know what it’s made of.”
Mixed media, UC Gallery
“I’ve been eating a lot of chicken,” jokes Henderson, standing in front of a part of her installation made of wishbones attached to vintage neckties. Other aspects of the display surround the four decorated neckties: various sketches of wishbones; two large acrylic paintings featuring patches of fabric and wishbone stencils; and a long braid of sinew with dozens of replicated wishbones (made from plastic, rubber and the artist’s own hair, among other materials) dangling across it like a banner. Despite Henderson’s lighthearted humor about her work, the various uses of the wishbone symbol are very pointed.
“It’s about how by wishing people come to terms with the memories of their past,” Henderson says. “A lot of these pieces deal with my memories of the past that are haunting, and I’ve explored how other people are never really satisfied with what they have and wish for something different.”
For instance, the neckties belong to Henderson’s late grandfather. If the viewer looks closely, Henderson has scripted phrases in black ink on the wishbones attached to the fat end of the tie. Only a few of the words are visible enough to read and the rest have faded or smudged. “Those wishes are only for [my grandfather],” Henderson says.
Exhibition One of the BFA Senior Thesis Exhibition runs in the UC Gallery through April 8 and in the Gallery of Visual Arts through April 12. Exhibition Two runs April 11–22 in the UC Gallery and April 18–28 in the Gallery of Visual Arts.