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Irmak Canevi, “If Burkhard Heim Suspects That One Shouldn’t Fly But Fall, He May Prove Right” (2015), mixed media, on view in the Rhode Island School of Design MFA Painting Program Thesis Exhibition (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Ten recent graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) MFA Painting Program are debuting their work at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in Chelsea. The thesis exhibition reveals, through a few pieces, each of the emerging artists’ perspectives.

Art by Jon Merritt (click to enlarge)

The online exhibition text, which is a bit heavy on artspeak, cites a few themes as “attempts to reverse-mirror the everyday, the felt contradiction that often what’s perceived as more personal is more easily and collectively valued when shared; a sense of social responsibility,” adding that they “seem to be trying to make sense of the world around them via art’s capacity to contest the very privilege of a worldview.” It’s a roundabout way of saying that their work is perhaps very aware of a viewer’s perception, and its place in the art world. And there does seem to be an affirmation of a lot of the dominant trends currently in contemporary art, with heavy abstraction, intensely layered and gravity-defying paint, and a playfulness with unorthodox materials while still creating within the boundaries of the right-angled traditional canvas.

Viewing the exhibition, there may not be many moments of surprise or extreme experimentation, but there are several standouts. Whitney Oldenburg’s two pieces — “Unpeeled” (2015) and “Hurt” (2014) — mix everything from acrylic to rocks and car polish in huge textural assemblages that have a tactile messiness giving them a visual edge, and Irmak Canevi’s “Burkhard Heim Suspects That One Shouldn’t Fly But Fall, He May Prove Right” (2015) is a grid of found materials, some arranged in configurations like small machines, suggesting (through its name and design) the deciphering of some theoretical physics puzzle.

In the back room, Anthony Bragg’s “New Fire (shelves)” (2014-15) is an illuminated tower of yule logs that contrasts its fake fires against his small, studied “Rope” (2014) of two climbers in the snowy outdoors, and just across Jon Merritt’s “Arboreal Model” series of acrylic on panel works deftly take an 8-bit style to tree totem shapes.

Below are more photographs of the work on view from the recent RISD MFA painting graduates.

Art by Anthony Bragg at left and Andy Giannakakis at right

Anthony Bragg, “Rope” (2014), acrylic on canvas

Art by Whitney Oldenburg

Art by Andy Giannakakis

Art by Michael Leon

Art by Suzy Gonzalez

Art by Sarah Pater, with a sculpture by Fernando Pezzino at center

Art by Sarah Pater at left and Fernando Pezzino at right

Art by Katie Darby Slater

Rhode Island School of Design MFA Painting Program Thesis Exhibition continues at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts (529 West 20th Street, Suite 6W, Chelsea, Manhattan) through August 15.

Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

4 replies on “Highlights from the RISD MFA Painting Exhibition in Chelsea”

  1. There are a few that seem concerned about strong visual qualities and the deeper human conditions. Hope remains. Not seeing this in person, I am probably missing some strong ones, but for now I like Canevi and, perhaps, Gonzales.

  2. It’s fairly easy to cut down a work of art as derivative and leave the room without backing up that statement. How are these specific works derivative (in the pejorative sense)? Isn’t it all derivative? Even your face is derivative. Personally, I find the move of not working in 10 foot scale to actually be a fresh departure from the usual.

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