Masters of the Visual Universe

Following the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts 2011 Biennial, featuring emerging artists from regional MFA programs

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Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts
200 South Madison Street | Wilmington, DE 19801 | 302.656.6466
Hours: Tue, Thu. Fri & Sat: 10 to 5 | Wed & Sun: 12 to 5| Mon: Closed
Admission: Always Free

Artists Talk

The artists talk about their art work, inspiration, and MFA experiences.

All of these interviews were conducted via email, with the exceptions of the interviews with Erica Prince and Emily Erb which took place over the phone. 

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Erica Prince 

Q: Tell me a little bit about the ideas behind your work and what you hope to convey to your audience. How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

 EP: A lot of the ideas behind my work are focused around the idea of the utopian society. I think it’s important for art to be able to explore utopian ideals because that’s the only place they can exist. The primary piece that I am showing, Permission Granted, has 35 images in a grid installation. It contains imagery of architecture, landscape, invention, monument, celestial bodies, alchemical devices, etc. These drawings have been part of an ongoing research project about an imagined future society and its values. The works question ideas of progress, design, idealism, absurdist technology, and interplanetary expansion. It is ultimately a project about speculation and potential. The installation also includes a golden telescope with which to view the vistas from afar- like some ancient explorer.

The installation of drawings is very theatrical. I believe in exciting images as a way to seduce and engage the audience. There is this balance between definition and ambiguity. Formally, they are a mixture of drawing and collage. I tend to use whatever medium I need to get the job done. 

Q: Why did you choose to attend Tyler for your MFA?

EP: I was already living in Northeast Philadelphia, ten blocks away. I could see Temple from my window, but that’s not why I came to Tyler. I really wanted to get out of Philly actually- I had already been here for 4 years. When I came to visit, I was impressed with how comfortable and easy-going Tyler was. There was a very friendly and nurturing vibe. Tyler doesn’t beat you up to try and make you a better artist. Instead, they work with you to help you get to the heart of the matter. The faculty is amazing- there are a lot of different perspectives, and everyone is willing to have critical and productive conversations about your work. 

Q: In your opinion, what makes Tyler’s MFA program unique and different? 

EP: That’s tough because all MFA programs are so different. Tyler has a lot of respect for the students, instead of just for the professors. They aren’t looking for the next hot art star. They are looking for long distance runners, not sprinters. 

Q: I’ve heard that Tyler is a very tight knit community. Is this true?

EP: Yes, well we are in North Philadelphia on Temple’s campus, so it’s a little isolated from what’s going on in the rest of Philly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People connect really easily- we are all in this building all the time. Grad school is a bonding experience unlike any other. 

Q: How has the MFA influenced your development as an artist and as a person? 

EP: I’m still in the midst of it so it’s hard to have a completely clear perspective. It’s given me the opportunity to focus on my work without having a billion distractions. It has allowed me to figure out what I’m truly interested in, and I’ve started pursuing these things more intensely. I’ve developed a lot of respect for different types of work that I was never interested in before. When I came to Tyler I thought I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like, what was good and what was bad. But now, I am more curious about the wiggly line between “good” and “bad”. I’ve discovered that what I like and don’t like might be a little less concrete than I thought. 

Q: Tell me a little bit about the experience of being an MFA student, what is it life? 

EP: Best part is how much time you have to focus on your work. Also all of the constant critique and conversation. That is why I went back to school. I wanted that community and that ongoing conversation. It’s hard to get that in the real world. Here, you put yourself out there. You aren’t in a cave by yourself –you are surrounded by your peers, professors, and visiting artists.

The only downside is that you really don’t have a life besides grad school when in you are in grad school. I think that’s a little hard for people who aren’t in an MFA program to understand. This is it. We are here day and night. 

Q: What have you learned about yourself, art, and life from the MFA and from Tyler’s MFA program? What kinds of skills will you take away with you?

EP: The more you learn about art, the more you realize how much you don’t know. It’s daunting and exciting. 

I’ve accepted the importance of research in my studio practice. I used to do visual research and then sit down and make work. Now, I am learning how to meld these processes, how to make the research and the work one and the same.

I have learned to listen to the work and let it go where it needs to, rather than interfering and forcing it go a certain way. This can be difficult, but it’s crucial.

Most of all, I have become increasingly self-aware of who I am, and what kind of artist I want to be. Perhaps grad school helps you to further understand your philosophy as an artist, and what you ultimately hope to achieve through your work. Of course this is an ongoing discovery throughout life, but I certainly appreciate the 2-year-long opportunity to work through it. 

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Emily Erb 

Q: Tell me a little bit about the ideas behind your work and what you hope to convey to your audience. How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

EE: Well it’s on silk and generally politically driven, generally very colorful. I’m influenced by maps as well as political imagery.

Q: What kind of political imagery?

EE: Well with Guernica Revisited. There is a lot of war imagery from World War II up to the present. The maps are inherently political and provide room for discussion. I have also used imagery from old Life books from 70s and late 60s.  I consider myself a collector of images and they generally create political situations when I combine them.

Q: Why did you choose to attend PAFA for you MFA? Was there something in particular that really attracted you to PAFA?

EE: I graduated from Tyler with my undergrad and I had lived in city for five years. Whenever I encountered PAFA students they were generally more driven towards showing their work than other recent graduates I knew. I resisted the idea of getting an MFA but after 5 years of attempting to show my work, I got tired out not finding the right representation and PAFA was a logical option.

Q: What do you think makes PAFA’s MFA program unique and different from other MFA programs?

EE: It’s a strange program, the MFA being a relatively new program and PAFA a very old school. It’s a school that is drenched in tradition, and the MFA is trying to infuse new ideas into that tradition.  Trying to keep it alive.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the experience of being an MFA student, what is it like?

EE: The program is extremely studio based. I only have one class, three hours a week. You must be self-motivated which is challenging for some students, but also very nice. I don’t have to worry about other stuff. I have a job, so I free time for that. I get to have two lives. We have three critics each semester. There are twenty-four faculty to choose from. You pick ones that are right for you. It’s difficult, but there is enough time to try to see them all and figure out who you want. They come and meet with you once a month. Two of the critics are residents of Philadelphia and one is a visiting critic, usually from Newark. They come in and talk for about twenty minutes, sometimes it’s helpful. Sometimes it’s not.  Some people are good mentors and other people aren’t. Sometimes, the critic and artist just don’t match up.

Q: Do you ever participate in critiques with your peers?

EE: There are group critiques you can sign up for. I’ve never done, but I will this semester.  At end of the semester, there is a critique of all the students. All of the faculty are there and they critique each student. It’s very intense and lasts two days. That’s the closest I’ve come to a group critique. There’s just not that much opportunity for peer critiques besides the conversations that happen it each other’s studios.

Q: How has the MFA influenced your development as an artist and as a person? What have you learned? What skills have you developed?

EE: Of course, having my work seen by fresh eyes helps to influence it and steer it in directions it may not have gone.   Hopefully, it helps me make some of the connections that I need to make as an artist. I have switched up my process a bit. They wanted me to not paint on silk, so I tried painting on something else for a while and then went back to silk. I am working on new project that I am excited about.

This question of the value of the MFA has been on mind. I don’t think I would be a different person if I hadn’t gone for my MFA. Before talking to you, I was looking into what the MFA is supposed to be in society. What is it supposed to mean? It’s so unquantifiable. I was looking up articles about the MFA program as a whole, and found an article in the Huffington Post. It was focused on the MFA in creative writing, but I think creative writing and painting are comparable. The author sited few solid arguments for the MFA and against it.  He claimed that the reason we have the MFA isn’t for the benefit of each individual artist but for society to be able to maintain a standard of excellence and provide a living history of the craft, but I don’t know if it’s doing that.

Q: Why not?

EE: Because a school is a business, because there are people who are there just to pay tuition. That doesn’t matter to the school, money and art don’t mix as nicely as we wish it would.  Maybe it would be different if the government funded MFA programs, but that would never happen. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m going to finish my MFA degree and see what effect it has in my ability to achieve the goals I have as an artist.

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Ted Walsh

Q: Could tell me a little bit about the ideas behind your work and what you hope to convey to your audience. How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

TW: This is a big question.

I think I try to convey what any artist tries to convey.  It’s hard to put into words, but it’s a little like saying everything and nothing all at once (that’s not very clear, I know).

Making the work, I try to include everything from small bits of self reference, bits of feelings and opinions about day to day things, to the big ideas about why we make art, or why we do anything for that matter.  I think these are the same sentiments that drive anyone in his/her chosen profession.  How can I make the world a better place by doing what I do best?

For me, as the artist, it’s difficult to describe the work.  Because I know each piece so intimately, it’s hard for me to describe how the art functions for everyone else.

In this case, the works are oil paintings; some on panel and some on canvas.  They are mostly realist paintings painted with a, somewhat, limited palette.   I like to think that paintings depict the things I see, but only when the things I see look like the things I imagine.  By this I mean, they are pictures of scenes one might see in real life, but they have a quality that makes them seem not quite real.

Q:  Why did you choose to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts?

TW: I live in Philly now, but I’m originally from NJ, and I liked the idea of coming to live here.  Being from the region, and being interested in art, PAFA is one of those places that just kept popping up.   I heard about the school in a lot of different ways.  I have a cousin in the certificate program, and I liked the idea of us going to the same school.

My decision about grad school happened pretty quickly and I applied and was accepted.  I am happy now that I was able to attend PAFA as I think I have grown as an artist through my experience.   

Q: What do you think makes PAFA’s M.F.A. program unique? In what ways does it differ from other M.F.A. programs?

TW: PAFA has very good facilities for students which I think is something that sets it apart from other programs.   I also believe PAFA’s MFA program has more students that most other MFA programs which makes for a communal atmosphere. 

To me, one of the best aspects of PAFA is its history.  Both PAFA, and Philly itself, have a very rich art history.  It’s great to be in the studios at PAFA and know of all the other artists who have worked and studied in the same place, and then walk downstairs and see their work in the museum.

QHow has PAFA’s M.F.A program influenced your development as an artist?

TW: The program has influenced my art in many ways.  Technically and theoretically, it has pushed me to better define what I am trying to achieve in my work, and it has provided me with a community in which to do this.

More specifically, I like to think that I can now attempt to join the lineage of Philadelphia artists with whose work I have become very familiar through the Academy.  From Thomas Eakins, to Walter Stuempfig, to Sidney Goodman, to Vincent Desiderio…all of these and more have influenced me.  Historically, there is a bleakness to Philadelphia realism.  Perhaps it started with trips to The Philadelphia Museum of Art as a child, but I am drawn to this sentiment, and I don’t think I would have been able to hone this taste as easily if I hadn’t attended PAFA.

Q: You mentioned that PAFA has a very communal atmosphere and came back to the concept of community several times. How this communal atmosphere has influenced your experience as an MFA student and to what extent, if at all, has it impacted your work?

TW: One of the most beneficial parts of the community was the availability of other student input.  At PAFA the individual studios are all in one building.  Working that close, there is always someone around to give a second opinion.  For students especially, I think this is very beneficial.  Having a group of other artists around to share ideas with really helps to incorporate the values of many different types of art, and to build confidence in one’s own work.  Also, it is important as a young artist to take a break from your own work sometimes to stop by friends’ studios and have conversations about their work.

Q: Could you tell me what it is like being an MFA student, and if the experience has taught you anything about life?

TW:I think the experience has taught me about life.  Having two years to work on my art taught me a lot.  I use my art as a way of understanding and thinking about the world.  Becoming more a more capable artist has allowed me to do this more effectively.

PAFA offered me the opportunity to be with people like myself, other artists who think in the ways I do, even if their work is not similar to mine.  At PAFA we spent a lot of time in the studios.  Many times, at night, instead of going out, we would just sit around the studios and talk.  I am still in touch with a lot of these friends, and we continue to support each others’ art.  Being surrounded by talented artists, to me, is one of the best motivations to work hard and make better work.

Q: What have you learned from both the M.F.A. and PAFA’s M.F.A. program?

TW:Like graduate study in any field, PAFA’s program has definitely pushed me to think much more deeply.  I studied art in college, so I had some understanding when I started the program, but my studies at PAFA pushed me to expand and sharpen these ideas, while developing new ones.  For the most part I think one of the most important things I learned at PAFA was how to approach and think about art in a more mature way…and perhaps even more important than that how to keep on growing as an artist. 

Q: Could you elaborate on what you mean by mature? 

TW:The work and the process are more patient – there is more time invested in serious looking and serious thinking.  This contemplative approach begins to affect or take place in all aspects of the work.  An artist thinking in this way comes to know that it is his/her job to address every aspect and every detail of the work be it physical or conceptual.  And, if there is something in the piece that isn’t working right, then it is entirely the responsibility of the artist.

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Jill Fannon

Q: First off, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about the ideas behind your work and what you hope to convey to your audience. How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

JF: I am interested in the relationship the camera has with the world, in both identifying, creating and cataloguing images; and in blurring boundaries of order and proving atmospheres of fiction. I am curious about the possibilities of order, order between objects, figures, and environments. It’s playful this sort of game. I think my work looks like photographs that someone who likes performance and drawings makes.

Q: Why did you choose to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County for your Masters of Fine Arts?

JF: I chose to attend UMBC because the program is three years, it is a small program, which I really like, and it offered me a different vanishing point to start from. UMBC has brilliant professors and faculty members. I was so happy to work with them and I am lucky for that. UMBC also has a great research assistantship component.

Q: What do you think makes UMBC’s M.F.A. program unique? In what ways does it differ from other M.F.A. programs?

JF: UMBC has a heavy research and writing component, which I found both challenging and incredibly useful. I really like writing now. I think the best feature of the program is that it brings artists from very different experience levels and disciplines together…which is great and important. The colleagues you study with and meet illuminate your work in unanticipated ways, and at rapid rates.

Q: How has UMBC’s M.F.A program influenced your development as an artist?

JF: Oh, it has influenced my development incredibly. I had time to really search…and this search, or process rather, was very challenging and highly emotional, but is exactly what I needed. From begin to end, I became a different artist. A disciplined artist.

Q: Tell me about the experience of being an MFA student, what is it like?

JF: Devastating and Wonderful.

Q: Finally, what have you learned from both the M.F.A. and the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s M.F.A. program? 

JF:The MFA offered me the valuable and integral community that I craved, one that was stewing with ideas, perception, wit, candor, controversy, everything….the process was wonderful and insane, and could best be described (by one of my former classmates) as something quite similar to a reality television show…well, this may be an extravagant description; most importantly, the MFA opened me up again, to a world full of facts and fictions. UMBC did that for me, I am very thankful for the wonderful individuals I studied with.

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Joseph Cypressi

To hear Joseph Cypressi’s thoughts about Masters of the Visual Universe, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooW3i1hJjw8&NR=1

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Sean Glover 

Q:  Tell me a little bit about the ideas behind your work and what you hope to convey to your audience. How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

SG: I often describe my practice as making art with whatever is laying around.  However, I try to impart upon the viewer a sense of potential for each object while also providing some kind of acknowledgement for the histories behind these materials.  Some of these histories are derived from the object’s/materials design, manufacturing, consumption, and post-consumption.

Q: Why did you choose to attend Carnegie Mellon University for your Masters of Fine Arts?

SG: Carnegie Mellon University is a school that is at the forefront of the conceptualization and development of technology.  I was intrigued at the prospect of immersing myself in an environment where science, art, and technology are encouraged to mix.

Q: What do you think makes Carnegie Mellon’s M.F.A. program unique? In what ways does it differ from other M.F.A. programs?

SG: CMU’s MFA program is uniquely small (roughly six per class) and offers three years to each grad to complete their degree.  They have resources and facilities that are world class.  In addition, their connections to such major institutions such as Google and NASA provide unique opportunities that would be nearly impossible to approach were it not for CMU’s reputation.

Q:What type of opportunities

SG: I apologize if I was a bit broad, but here at two links to these opportunities.  Please bear in mind that I did not participate in either of these endeavors, but they are great illustrations of what kind of wonderful programming that happens at CMU:

http://www.streetwithaview.com/
http://moonarts.org/

Q: What other opportunities/experiences have you had as a result of the MFA?

SG: I have to say that it is a bit early for me to talk about my opportunities/experiences since I have graduated.  I feel I can say that I feel more relaxed about how I pursue opportunities than I was three years ago.  I think that my standing as an MFA along with the many things I learned during that journey has allowed me to find a clarity that might have been difficult to achieve if did not pursue a master’s degree.

Q: How has Carnegie Mellon’s M.F.A. program influenced your development as an artist?

SG: CMU’s program has sharpened my focus and awareness of how technology is shaping our world today.  It would have been difficult for me to achieve this if I went to an art school for my MFA.  Understanding the processes behind the development of technology was crucial to my education.

Q: How the emphasis on technology at Carnegie Mellon has impacted your work?

SG: Much of the focus on technology at Carnegie Mellon is to do with the digitized and mediated experience.  I am interested in what is left behind when technology moves forward.  I spent the first year or so at CMU making work and researching about planned obsolescence.  What is at stake and who is to benefit from these advancements?  Many of these new technologies are developed to facilitate a seamless interaction between the human and machine and are predicated on speed and data storage.  I try to make work that reminds the viewer of the importance of being hands-on without mediation.  However, I know that these newer technologies have great potential.  My experience at CMU has enabled me to become more sensitive to these tensions between the analog and the digital.

Q: Finally, what have you learned from both the M.F.A. and Carnegie Mellon’s M.F.A. program? 

SG: The challenges posed in striving for an MFA has deeply affected my perception of the hierarchies within academia.  I am grateful for the opportunity to make art and just as grateful for the opportunity to acquire two art related degrees.  CMU has given me an understanding about the complexities behind art pedagogy.  I hope to take this new understanding forward in my practice and also as an aspiring professor.

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David Armacost 

I asked David about his participation in the MFA Seminar, his work in the MFA Biennial, the skills he has gained as a result of the MFA and his experience as an MFA student. This was his response. 

The class is very interesting to me from an art historical standpoint, because I simply don’t know much about the type of work that we are discussing.  I suppose it all falls under the term “relational aesthetics”.  It’s all about moving towards an art that’s more social, educational, participatory, and democratic, basically more inclusive. 

I think Maiza must have shown five or six different slides of artists who created either bars or social spaces in galleries or museums.  We are only a couple weeks in, but it seems like most of us (in the class) don’t regularly make this type of work. So Maiza sort of challenged us to create a piece that was participatory and supposedly educational about our thoughts on the MFA degree. 

It was difficult for the class to come to a consensus about what form the project would take.  I think everyone is in the program for different reasons, so we had to find a way to let each artist sort of do their own piece as part of the whole.  

I thought that it would be important to make fun of my identity as an art student in the piece. This is one of the themes I want to cultivate in my work. Understandably, some of the others wanted to portray themselves or their practices in a different way than that. It’s funny in a way though, I see so many of the finished videos of the MFA students as parodies of themselves as artists.

By doing the project the way we did (individual video clips as a part of a larger video installation), every artist could interact with the viewer in whatever way they want (albeit on a projection or whatever).  My video is sort of a meditation on taking a break in my studio.  I always think about what artists do in their studios. Now that I’m in school, I get to see it, which is amazing.  Basically, I think I’m leading the charmed life right now, and so is everyone here. We are so lucky that we chose this life over getting an MBA or going to med. school.  It’s just so rad!  We pretty much look at art, talk about it and make it. We read articles and then we can eat at the cafeteria across the street if we want.  That’s what this place is to me, and I feel like I have a genuine appreciation for this because I had been out of art school for almost nine years before this semester. If that’s all this ends up being, I’m ok with that – a place where you make work with your friends and other people have to look at it and talk about it, for three years.  Also, this place has Internet, a coffee maker and a refrigerator, a cafe and air conditioning.  I think it’s possible to lead this type of life without being in school but of course it’s much more difficult! 

I asked David a follow up question:

Q: You mentioned that many of your classmates have various reasons for being in the MFA program, what is your reason? Why did you decide to pursue your MFA?

I’m pretty much just doing it so I can live this lifestyle for three years. It’s way better than working full time anywhere. I certainly don’t look at it as a means to an end, and I’m not so sure about the life lessons or skills that you ask about. I think that you probably learn a lot more about being an artist when you’re not in school. My advice to undergrads would be to take some time and try to be an artist before you go to grad school. Then, you’ll probably enjoy it more.

I do think it’s curious that everyone asks you if you’re going to teach when they hear you’re getting an MFA. Do they ask law students that?  Ultimately, I just want to show my work internationally. While I’m not sure if the Towson MFA program will help me achieve that goal, what I do know is that right now I have enough money and time to make the work that I want to make. 

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Rachel Timmins

Q: Could you elaborate on your individual contribution to the work created for Masters of the Visual Universe? What would you like your viewers to take away from your artwork? 

RT: My contribution to the video piece is a 2 minute short clip of an 8 month long saga that I have just finished.  This piece has been filled with frustrating moments but I adore the outcome. 

My work is about feeling alienated and building a foundation for myself within a society that I don’t feel I belong to. This piece, Tiny, is a friendly mutant who spews glitter and beeps whenever it gets close to an object. I’m interested in my creatures’ interactions with this world and I’m interested in how the general public views and interacts with these creatures.  

Tiny is one of the many things that I have made that helps to keep me grounded and offers me a sense of belonging.  Tiny also allows viewers a glimpse into the world that I want to live in … the world that I’m beginning to create for myself and whomever else would like to be a part of it.  

Q: How did you approach this project?

RT: I chose to enter a piece that has played a significant part of my MFA experience and a piece that is hot off my press. This work has not even made it up to my website or FB … yet.  

Q: What have you learned from your participation in this project? Has the project changed the way you view curating or art making? 

RT: I learned that everyone has a different view of what an MFA is.  It’s a shame that there are so many MFA students who don’t take this opportunity seriously. I believe that it is the duty of MFA students to push their fields in a new direction. I also learned that if the view is that everyone/anyone can be an artist, then I guess that everyone can be a curator, too.  We each individually decided what pieces we wanted in the show, which made us the curators for this piece.   

Q: Tell me about the experience of being an MFA student at Towson, what is it like?

RT: I work my ass off. I have a lot of sleepless nights because I’m always thinking and always making. I teach as adjunct faculty and create my own course work for those courses, participate in critiques with upper level undergraduate students and assist them with improving their technique and in growing their concepts. I also have an assistantship as a metals and jewelry studio tech/studio manager which keeps me very fluent with how a metals studio functions. I have weekly grad meetings with my main advisor, digital faculty and grads from metals and jewelry and ceramics. My committee is hard on me but it’s because they know I can always do better. The pressure is always on and I’m milking this experience for every last drop that it’s worth.  

Q: How has the MFA influenced your development as an artists and a person? What life lessons and skills have you gained so far? 

RT: I’ve learned about dealing with university politics and I’ve learned to pick my battles.  Most importantly, I’ve learned how difficult it can be to change my work. I came in to Towson with work that I was very happy with and that got me a lot of recognition and success. It was extremely difficult to step away from that and run as fast as I could in the other direction of making. That being said, because I learned how to change my work, I believe I am a better, more rounded maker. I thank my committee for that. I feel fortunate to have them.