“That Will Be Our Little Secret”

The end of the semester is the season of senior shows, readings and, for the Studio Arts department, theses. The first thesis exhibition includes art from Hannah Gardner, Mike Sutton and Emily Villarma. Located in the Southwest Annex, the exhibition is open until April 29 and features a culmination of each artist’s education and work at SFUAD. “I believe in preparation so I’ve been trying to think of my senior thesis since I was a sophomore,” says Gardner, whose mixed-media work attempts to subvert the idea of perfection as it relates to the body, specifically the female body. “But it wasn’t until I went to Marfa that everything solidified.”

Hannah Gardner’s thesis draws from the work of artist Roni Horn. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer.

Marfa, Texas, is home of the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum that has housed the work of Roni Horn since 1988. “It’s like this beautiful, perfectly built copper cylinder,” Gardner says. “It’s gorgeous — it doesn’t sound gorgeous, but it’s gorgeous. And it got me thinking about image and body and how history affects us now.” Gardner incorporated this cylinder into her work by using it as a means to enhance previous work. She placed it over the body of Venus in the historic Birth of Venus to illustrate beauty as it is perceived in the past and present. “I refound these paintings and I drew the piece on it, just kind of caged the figures and gave it this perfection — you can’t see the bodies but they’re there and that’s the perfection of their time.” Her work also includes a contour drawing made of cord wrapped around nails on the wall in the form of a cylinder. The three-dimensional nature of the piece imitates “the way people are literally painting themselves with makeup to make it look like they have muscles — the ridiculousness that is our society at the moment. So that’s the reason it’s all lines and not just painted on the wall.”

Mike Sutton’s paintings are based on a group of Tibetan monks he saw. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer.

Sutton’s work features more traditional paintings as well as animation of the painted figures in a video. “I had an epiphany one day when I saw these Tibetan monks and they were at a park and they were engaging with people who weren’t dressed like them.” That epiphany brought him out of the depression inflicted by the 2016 election and threw him into a mode of creativity. What initially began as drawing became small paintings and then the full-sized images presented at his thesis. “I thought, ‘Oh, I think I want to do big paintings of the monks and make them not overpowering but present.’ So that was the idea, being present individually, not as a group.” Sutton later enlisted the help of fellow SFUAD student and Digital Arts junior Dylan Tenorio to animate his paintings to be projected on the wall of the gallery. “There was a way that it looked — it was an organic sort of feeling that was there and that’s what I tried to capture throughout the actual animation,” Tenorio says about Sutton’s work.

Emily Villarma is also one of the 2016-2017 SITE Scholars. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer.

Emily Villarma’s multimedia work fills the middle of the gallery space and takes the form of video, painting and sculpture. She tackles the subjects of the theatricality of life and miscommunication. “My artwork is very theatrical…and also bring out the high expectations of performance, like how we all have to perform to be ourselves.” A video of a glass head used as a microwave to cook the fabric brain inside illustrates this idea of theatricality that has been present in Villarma’s work since she arrived at SFUAD. Her work has developed in many ways during her time in school and the exhibition exemplifies that. “My professors have been super helpful making me think about my art practice differently to take it much more seriously and communicate so much better and it’s helped me expand to other mediums. So coming up with the pieces for the show actually wasn’t the hard part, it was just making the work and getting it done on time.”