MFA candidates make waves at KSU


Art Review by Sarah Bartram

MFA candidates at Kent State University have their work on display in the University Gallery. This biennial, a show that runs every other year, is an important opportunity for the graduate students to show the art community what they have been working on in their studios. I can assure the art community, they will not be disappointed. The variety of work being shown is impressive. Every medium is represented, including painting, large-scale sculpture, textiles, ceramics, drawing, metals, and glass. Although it is a small show, it is well worth the visit.

KSU6One of the works on view that immediately caught my eye was an excavated book by David Gieske, poignantly titled Matisse Excavated. Gieske appropriated the book The World of Matisse, and made it a sculptural homage to the great modern artist. Henri Matisse was an innovator of art in the early 1900’s; his cut outs, collages, and colors paved the way for artists like Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko.

As the title suggests, Gieske excavated the book with cutouts to create what appears to be endless layers of Matisse-esque shapes. Matisse has been heralded as the greatest colorist in modern art, and Gieske celebrates this by adorning the cutouts with beautifully colored patterns and implied textures, such as the grid like pattern of white and blue that shines through to the viewer even though it is one of the bottom layers. It would be easy to lose oneself in a work that openly celebrates a master artist, but Gieske succeeds in celebrating an artist of the past while still expressing his individuality as an artist.

KSU2In the furthest corner of the gallery lies Michael Sanata’s sculpture, Thirsty!. On the floor lies a sink, sans pedestal and tilted to its side. In the sink there remains what appears to be a brownish puddle of water that has collected in one of the corners. Through the transparency of the water, words can be seen, phrases that allude to water conservation such as, “…water availability with a level of water demand…” and “…capacity of the natural system…” The most obvious and implicit is the phrase, “…there are insufficient water resources…”

The phrases and the color of the water allude to a relic of the past. How long has that water been collecting there? It is as if we, the viewer, are looking at the future of what is to come if we are to continue our selfish over consumption of water. Self-reflection reflection is imminent, and hopefully, a change in water reservation is forthcoming as well.

Text in association with art runs the risk of coming off as too transparent, however Sanata keeps the mystery alive with his use of incomplete phrases, which in turn forces the viewer to complete the sentence. This Gestalt completion makes the viewer an active participant in the work of art. In my opinion Sanata’s subtle Thirsty! is the most powerful work of art in the show.

KSU3This last artist, Charity Thomas, posed a bit of a question for me. Her wall piece, Black Botanical, was a beautiful balance between sculpture, textile, and painting. Made of only paper, hemp twine, and acrylic paint on canvas, it was difficult for me to discern what discipline she studies. I found this to be very intriguing, and it forced me to take a closer look at her piece. One solid color of all black, no trace of a single molecule untouched by the color. She transformed paper into something that appears as a living organism. Thomas manipulated black paper to form these blossom looking shapes that were attached to a black canvas. The effect is a monochromatic, 3-dimensional composition that acts as both a painting and a sculpture. The binary opposition of the delicateness and the very organized structure added to its appeal. It is stunningly beautiful; both aesthetically pleasing and mentally stimulating.

KSU1The exhibition was beautifully edited and represented a vast array of the ideologies and methodological approaches of each MFA candidate. Kent State’s MFA program is surely cultivating very talented artists. It feels both inspiring and proud to be studying art amongst these artists.

The Graduate Student Biennial runs through February 13, 2015. The exhibit is held in the School of Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the Art Building. The School of Art Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit is free to the public. A catalogue will be available to purchase in the gallery or to download for free online.

Sarah Bartram received her B.A. in Art History from The University of Akron. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Art History at Kent State University where she also teaches Art History courses as a graduate assistant. You can contact Sarah at