Arely Morales, Arely, Guadalupe, Juan Jose. Photo by Robert Wade

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This month, students across the country graduate and say goodbye to college life. In Seattle, students of the Master’s of Fine Arts or Design at the University of Washington’s School of Art + Art History + Design part with a thesis exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery. Their paintings and installations feel remarkably mature, and the following three works make a visit to the gallery a must. 

“I Love You Are You OK.”
 Cicelia Ross-Gotta

The work: Six generic waiting room chairs face each other timidly, like the strangers bounded by uncertainty they usually carry. Here they are empty. Two artificial plants in the corner are the closest thing to breathing specimens. The visitor is supposed to fill the empty space. “Please sit in the chairs and gently handle plants to fully experience the installation,” the artist instructs via a plaque on the wall. 

When you sit, the first surprise hits you: Ross-Gotta has taken most of the stuffing and parts of the structure of the chair out. The sagging sets the scene for another unbalancing discovery: With green thread, the artist has embroidered the leaves of the plants with sentences, text messages she exchanged with her father. I just want to know that you are ok, I love you too or Happy Father’s Day. Some are darker. I first started have drinking problems as it is the depression and PTSD that eventuat (sic) in drinking, bc other meds I take haven’t been working well enough to contain my pain, etc. The typical table covered with magazines to distract is not the only thing missing here. We can only wonder, and fill the gaps when we look further. 

What she says: “Some people missed the embroidery entirely. With my work, I want to reward looking, so you get to see that there’s more going on. My work is about risking being vulnerable, staying sensitive. In order to trust people, you have to take that risk. It’s necessary for a connection. Not simply to look harder, but to look well—to try to see just this one thing well.”

Where she’s been: Originally from Kansas, Ross-Gotta earned her BFA in sculpture from Colorado State University in 2015 and now lives and works in Seattle. Her work has been on view at last year’s Strange Coupling’s at King Street Station, Jacob Lawrence Gallery and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. 

Where she’ll go next: Ross-Gotta will stay at least another year in Seattle, further integrating her poetry with sculpture and performance. Recently she printed a poem so small that a microscope was required to read it. She’ll also keep working on performances and places to stage them with her performance collective PER4M4M. She’ll give an artist talk June 25 at the Henry.

Hermeneutics I, II
Clare Halpine

The work: Art can be funny, even when it explores problematic power structures, the status of women throughout history, neoliberalism and language games. Clare Halpine’s video work fuses all of these themes, yet it’s humorous. Recently, she made a Ophelia-esk hot tub video overlapped with profit-margin lingo and quotes of, among others, Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. It is titled Ne-Yo Liberalism.

In the video Hermeneutics I, II, projected onto opposing walls in a side gallery at the Henry, Halpine pits her puns and characters against each other. Two white-wigged figures dressed in white overalls clap in each other’s faces, paint their faces white, their cheeks and lips red. One attempts a handstand on a plush red theatre chair. The seat claps back. Bright white letters spell out “(Art is serious)” on the screen. “Don’t ask me about my feelings. Ask me about Foucault.” The song “Lady in Red” and a generic laugh track accompany quotes and wordplay such as Simulacra, Simulycra, Leotard, Lyotard or Let’s play politically oppositional and economically complicit. It’s as funny as it is discomforting.

What she says: “I was thinking about Marie-Antoinette and the powerful feminine figures in history. She has a bad rep in a way that men that fall on the wrong side of history might not have. Her husband goes down in history as the Sun King and she’s known as Madame Deficit. I’m interested in finding nuance in label by splintering meaning with word play. Using the language employed in a lot of writing about art, I’m calling into question the so-called logic and rationality of theory privileged over experience.”

Where she’s been: Halpine, born in Toronto, completed her BFA at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada and now works and lives in Seattle, where she has shown at Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, King Street Station and WeWork.

Where she’ll go next: Halpine will stage the performance Between Authority and Pretense, a TAD-talk (as spoof of TED talks and grandiose motivational speeches) at the Henry Art Gallery on June 24 at the Henry. She’s currently working on curating a show with Rafi Laz that will open on August 3 in the WeWork Holyoke building. The as-of-yet unnamed show coincides with the opening of the Seattle Art Fair. 

Arely, Guadalupe, Juan Jose
Arely Morales 

The work: Three big, bright oil canvases depict people who’ve rarely been portrayed or hung on gallery walls. A man, Juan Jose, holds a blue bucket full of tomatoes on his shoulder. His open shirt suggests stifling temperatures. In the background, more people are picking fruit. In the painting next to it, a woman looks tired, her hair sticking to her face, rivulets of sweat running down her neck. It’s Guadalupe, one of the artist’s closest friends, tired after a long shift. The Kehinde Wileyesque backdrop is reminiscent of the colorful patterns of the Huichol, a Native group living in the Sierra Madre Occidental range in Mexico. The artist, Arely Morales, who studies labor in the US, calls it a “celebration of Guadalupe’s culture.” The last painting to the left is titled Arely. The woman in the painting—her head and hat covered to protect from the heat during apple-picking—looks slightly older than Morales, but it is in fact a self-portrait. 

The three portraits have more than style and subject matter in common. Their gaze, straight back at the viewer, are a deliberate attempt to confront the viewer with people they usually don’t see—or want to see. 

What she says: “I moved to Texas from Mexico when I was 14. The experience of merging into a new culture made me who I am. My culture and roots are a driving force in my work and all that I do. Being part of a targeted minority group has influenced my subject matter: Immigrant workers, and more specifically domestic and farm workers and the class-based exploitation, physical and emotional suffering, invisibility and dehumanization that they have to confront in the United States.”

Where she’s been: Morales attended Stephen F. Austin State University where she graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Painting and Photography. She’s shown work at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery and Sand Point Gallery in Seattle. 

Where she’ll go next: This summer, Morales will teach drawing classes at the University of Washington. She’s moving back to Texas in August to teach drawing classes at the Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches in the fall. She’s going back home, she says, and looks forward to talk to the people she knows, continue her research and work with people from her community. 

The MFA + MDes exhibition is on view at Henry Art Gallery through June 25. Courtesy of the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design.