KyCAD seniors explore conceptual terrain in thesis exhibition

By ELI KEEL
Source: Insider Louisville
May 11, 2017

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A decade ago, Churchill Davenport and Owsley Brown II began investing in what they saw as a crucial yet missing element in the Louisville art scene: a dedicated fine arts school.

They founded a school in the urban hub of Louisville, partnering with Spalding University. In the decade since, the school has grown from nine students to 130 and has taken the name Kentucky College of Art + Design at Spalding University, or KyCAD if you’re hip to trends in art-school abbreviations.

One of the best measurements of KyCAD’s success is the yearly senior thesis show, which showcases work by the school’s graduating class. Insider caught up with two students presenting work in this year’s show to talk about how they got started making art, KyCAD’s influence on their practice, and the work they’re presenting in their thesis.

Edward Taylor is an Oldham County native who discovered art at an early age.

“I grew up with my grandmother, and she put me into different activities when I was younger, and then I took a ceramics class … so probably 5 or 6 is when I started,” says Taylor.

He continued to focus on art, and his interest expanded to learning about art and art history.

He’s still mostly into making 3-D objects such as ceramics and sculptures, or fashion and costume-centered textiles. But the KyCAD curriculum has changed his understanding of his chosen medium by teaching him the fundamentals of other artistic disciplines.

“I’m not a painter, but taking a painting class was really helpful to understand color, to understand techniques which overlay into my sculpture, and designing and making outfits,” he says.

Developing a thesis involves a year-long process that starts in the fall. Students aren’t just creating a grab bag of assorted works, they are developing a concept with themes that can be explored through their art. Taylor has created an installation that apes the world of high-end department stores. There are pieces of couture clothing, intricately sculpted perfume bottles, and glamorous fashion photography.

But according to Taylor, the work isn’t as simple as an attack on consumerism. Instead, through his art he looks at these sorts of objects and images removed from their traditional context and examines them to see what they might say about our humanity.

“I feel like a lot of people, we’re so fast in criticizing something without really noticing what’s happening,” says Taylor.

He’s also looking at gender performance and ideas of masculinity and femininity in the fashion world. He’s created several whole lines of products, linking perfume to high-fashion photographs. He has even given his work a spokesperson, the imaginary celebrity Evangalique, which is actually his drag persona.

Coincidentally, Taylor’s work creates an interesting counterpoint to the art created by Heather Moremen, another KyCAD senior.

“My recent work … I actually use cosmetic products as a vehicle for my concept,” explains Moremen.

Instead of paint, she uses base, highlighter, eye shadow and other makeup. And instead of a traditional canvas, she has created more complicated vehicles for her vision.

“I used canvas drop cloths loosely stretched on canvases so it resembles a traditional painting, but it didn’t have that taut, flawless surface that a painting would have,” she says. “They had knots and pores, and I wanted it to be a metaphor for the skin.”

Her interest in nontraditional materials dates back to early in the Louisville native’s childhood.

“I was trying to make things with whatever I had on hand … (that) kind of transformed into my art now,” says Moremen. “I got away from focusing on traditional media like painting and drawing, and I started combining different things.”

While her practice diverged from traditional media early on, she says KyCAD helped her move beyond purely aesthetic concerns.

“They provided me with a broader conceptual understanding of art, as opposed to purely visual.”

Moremen says that as kids, most people are taught to only wonder how an artist can create, pondering the technique and skill that leads to an aesthetic.

“And (the faculty have) pushed me farther into thinking about why (an artist) would have done that, and what’s being said by the different contextual references,” she adds.

Her work is made of strange oily pools and eye-shadow blues. At times, lists of chemicals — the ingredients in cosmetics she utilized — will leer out from the bottom layer of her thick, textured work.

“We have all these imperfections, and we’re constantly trying to smooth them out and be more uniform,” says Moremen. “(We have) all these different products we constantly put on ourselves to make ourselves more beautiful, more enviable, more glamorous.”

See Moremen and Taylor’s work, as well as the work of the other seven graduating seniors, this weekend when the “Senior Thesis BFA Exhibition” opens with a reception on Friday, May 12, at the 849 Gallery and Huff Gallery on the Spalding campus. The opening reception will be held 6-8 p.m.

The show hangs through June 30, but do yourself a favor and catch the reception, when the students will be on hand to talk about the artistic process and conceptual elements of their work.

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