The latest round of Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibitions opened Tuesday at the Grunwald Gallery.
The works on display range from photography to painting and more and included the work of MFA students Kelvin Burzon and Mitch Raney.
Each exhibiting MFA artist will speak during a gallery talk starting at noon Friday at the gallery.
Burzon said his work, collected under the title “Noli Me Tangere,” comes from a larger body of work with a thematic focus on how Catholic identity and homosexuality can coexist.
“I take religious narratives, characters and language that root from growing up as a Roman Catholic Filipino and re-contextualize them using LGBT community members,” Burzon said.
His photographs depict traditionally religious icons, including prolific saints and prophets, re-imagined using friends, family and other members of the LGBT community as models with elaborate costuming and colored light.
The work has opened the door for conversation and the unity of two identities, Burzon said.
“This body of work has been a cathartic experience,” Burzon said. “I was hesitant to face the subject matter or this existential crisis of being in conflicting communities, but this work made a space for me to do just that. In the space of my artistic practice I’m able to exist harmoniously as both being religious and being queer.”
The works were inspired in part by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Burzon said he had never before felt the need to take a political or activist stance in his work in this way, but the RFRA made him feel compelled to speak out.
“This event made it difficult for me to avoid the conflicts I was experiencing inside and out,” Burzon said. “I’m inspired by my upbringing as a Filipino Catholic as well as the diverse and colorful people in my queer community. I’m obsessed with parallels that can be formed in the church’s opulence and theatricality with American queer culture.”
Raney’s work deals more in found objects and repurposing those objects into abstract works that combine paint and sculpture. The colors include pastel pinks and blues covering the shapes of soda can tops and shoes, among many other objects.
“I was curious to see what would happen if I poured house paint on a canvas and started putting junk into the paint bath,” Raney said. “I was just exploring the possibilities of these easily found, cheap materials.”
Raney said he finds inspiration in other artists’ work including songs, poems, paintings and more. This series is different from past works in both medium and the sort of nontraditional methodology.
“I was making big abstract oil paintings,” Raney said. “This was expensive. This work is more sculptural, but the spirit is similar. I wanted to create bright, expressive paintings, and I think I’ve done that.”
The other artists included in this MFA III and BFA IV exhibition are Abigale Brading, Cameron Buckley, Jen Clausen, James Kidd, Jessica Leuther, Simon McCool, Dylan Quackenbush and Madison Wagner.
Burzon said he is excited to be exhibiting alongside the others exhibiting in this show.
“I’m even more ecstatic to be right next to the work of Abby Brading, whose conceptual concerns are similar to mine,” Burzon said. “Side-by-side our works create an interesting dialogue with one another.”
Brading’s work, though more sculptural in nature, revolves around themes of faith and religion as Burzon’s does.
Having the opportunity to showcase work alongside so many different artists stands out as an experience, Raney said.
“It feels awesome to have my work displayed alongside these talented artists,” Raney said. “Everyone’s work strikes me as personal and authentic. This final thesis show represents the culmination of a lot of hard work – it really is an important time for us.”