Mercer University’s McEachern Art Center has offered its space to a choice group of MFA graduates to exhibit their theses and tell their stories. Each exhibit offers a glimpse into the artists’ worlds, and each piece has a unique story to share. Additionally, the McEachern hosts “artist talks,” where each artist has the opportunity to talk about their work and process.
Caroline Ennis is a visual artist who creates work inspired by her experiences living near the Gulf of Mexico. In her thesis, “The Gulfs, The Shallows, The Deeps,” Ennis explores the duality between shallow and deep water and incorporates those themes into many aspects of her work.
“My thesis is a culmination of three years of creative practice and academic research that sources from a lifetime of personal experiences on the water, specifically the Gulf of Mexico,” Ennis said during her artist talk.
Ennis received her MFA from Florida State University in 2020. During her time there, Ennis explored various mediums to depict her vision of the coastline, including unfired clay, ceramics and drawing. Ennis took to unfired clay, and, as she continued to work with the medium, related the movement of the clay to water.
In her thesis, Ennis depicts the multifacetedness of the shallow and deep waters on the gulf. The piece consists of three glazed ceramics sculptures placed equidistant from each other, meant to emulate the texture and feel of the gulf’s seafloor.
Various nets hang above the sculptures. The nets are made of dyed fabric, and they are inspired by the relationship Ennis’s family has with cast net fishing. In cast net fishing, the fisher stands at the dock and looks to catch passing schools of fish, a skill that takes time to perfect. Ennis connects cast net fishing to her interpretation of shallow water.
“The gulf has been the constant driver in my work, and it is intrinsically etched into my upbringing, my ways of thinking and my way of life,” Ennis said.
Toni Ardizzone received her MFA at Florida State University in 2020. She is a painter who uses her skills to explore the cyclical themes of loss and death and their relation to the living.
“Death’s within life. It’s a very heavy statement, but it’s an expression that I’ve been referencing for my practice and my work for quite a while. This idea has evolved into attempting to create objects that reflect the contradictions in survival,” Ardizzone said during her artist talk.
Her work has been partly influenced by a traumatic medical event she experienced during graduate school. The event influenced her piece, “Combat Zone,” which depicts a bouquet of wilting flowers, emulating the wilting flowers that friends and family gifted her while she was in recovery.
Her thesis, “Triage,” reflects her experience with creating her work and cultivating her message while also shifting under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece serves as a timestamp of the work created during the pandemic.
Ardizzone finished her artist talk Jan. 21 with a quote by Francis Bacon that she feels emcompasses her work: “The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.”
Jude Anogwih is an artist who strives to bend the conventional definition of art as “aesthetically pleasing” by instead conceptualizing the artistic process as an authentic expression of thoughts, experiences and aspirations.
“I am intentionally looking into the intra/interfaces between the edge and the center of painting and a painting; the rhetoric of mark making, lapping and overlapping constraints and speculations with tapes and lines,” Anogwih said during his artist talk.
Anogwih completed his MFA at The University of Alabama. His work has been recognized both nationally and internationally, with pieces featured in the International Society of Experimental Artists 29th Annual Juried Exhibition, Videonale, an art exhibition based in Lagos, Nigeria, and at Gund Gallery at Kenyan College.
“My work deals with my personal travels, my assumptions and how I want to explore issues around shelter, issues around migration, movement, mobility, community—how I really want to deal with the multidimensionality of art-making,” Anogwih said.
In his thesis, Anogwih experiments with relationships, encompassing how those relationships work with each other. He uses duct tape to emphasize personal and global tension, stretching the medium across his canvas to emulate the feeling of restriction. Anogwih also takes great care in the installation process of his pieces, believing installation shifts the work from individual pieces into a cohesive meaning.
“It’s all about the question of my own encounters and how I try to create a vision message that allows that layer of engagement, that layer of entanglement, in what I do,” Anogwih said.
Heather McLelland received her MFA in ceramics at East Carolina University in 2020. In 2018, McLelland began making ceramics that related to her home life. Living with a Korean mother and Scottish-American father, McLelland drew inspiration from the elaborate dinners her parents would make for her.
“I love how, if I look at my pots, it kinda tells a story about my own personal timeline, what I was doing and when I was doing it,” McLelland said at her artist talk.
In her thesis, McLelland strives to express her familial experiences through the clay. Her piece, “Family Table”, represents her experience growing up as an only child. The piece features an array of plates, mimicking the many plates set on the table at dinners she would eat with her family.
McLelland draws inspiration from other creators, including Rirkrit Tiravanija, who performed live installations making pad thai in galleries, and John Neely, a professor at Utah State University who practices wood firing and specializes in making detailed teapots.
One piece in her thesis, titled “Conversations over coffee,” encompasses the warmth of family and connecting to others.
“The fact that you can sit down with somebody, and have a conversation with someone over coffee—that’s really important to me, kind of getting this connection with people,” McLelland said.
Christina Foard completed her MFA at the University of Georgia in 2020. Foard’s thesis, “In the Cacophony of Voices, I Only Remember What Wasn’t Said,” is currently on display at the McEachern Art Center.
Foard’s past work was influenced by surrealism, utilizing bold colors and stark lines to accentuate different shapes in her pieces.
“The images nod to shifts in time, movement, and hint at narratives. Each is an autobiographical sensation or memory —dream-like symbols of figures and relationships,” Foard said in an interview with VoyageATL. “The occlusion of information (blockades and blurred spaces) is a primary theme in my work.”
Foard will speak more about her work at her artist talk on Thursday Feb. 11. Tune in at 4 pm to hear about her process via the McEachern Art Center’s Facebook page.